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Assemblywoman says state school aid formula is "rigged"

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Assemblywoman says state school aid formula is "rigged"
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As schools try to figure out what the Governor's budget plan means for them, one North Country lawmaker says instead of forcing schools to try to do more with less, how about leveling out the aid that's already being handed out. Our Brian Dwyer has more on a new piece of legislation that Assemblywoman Addie Russell says would give each school its fair share.

WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- "The system has been rigged to the benefit of these wealthy schools."

In her office Friday, Assemblywoman Addie Russell outlined some changes she wants to see in the state's school aid formula to level the playing field. As she says, let's give each school its fair share.

"This is sharing the pain," Russell said. "You cannot allow the vast majority of students to go without the education that they're going to need to lead us into the new economy."

As part of her plan she's hoping will be added to the state budget, Russell wants aid to be based on only the last five years, to help those with student fluctuation. She wants to eliminate the provision that guarantees all schools a certain amount of aid. She also would, when it comes to the wealth ratio the state uses to determine aid, get more specific and not just lump schools into what she calls unfair groups.

"Let's let the actual numbers be used in the formula and let's not arbitrarily cut it off somewhere to the detriment of our poorest schools," Russell said.

"This is an intelligent way for our lawmakers, school officials and people in the community to understand that we have to look at all the nuances of how money is appropriated to school districts," Sackets Harbor Superintendent Fred Hall said.

Hall says his school, Sackets Harbor, has received the exact same amount of aid for the past four years. As a result, even though costs have gone up, he hasn't allowed his budget to increase one penny.

"We have drawn down reserves to make up the difference," he said. "We have cut programs for kids. We have done everything we can."

But Hall says it can't continue. While aid this coming year for Sackets is increasing nearly $60,000, that's not taking into account what's called Gap Elimination.

Four years ago when the state needed to make up a budget deficit of ten or so billion dollars, money came out of school aid to help. Since then, Sackets lost more than $2,000,000.
Some of that money is now being restored, but only some.

"We are not even at the level we were four years ago before they instituted the gap elimination adjustment," Hall said.

The same can be said for a lot of school across the state. So, many of these poorer schools are rallying behind Russell's Act.

"More with less was a good description in years' past," Watertown City Schools Superintendent Terry Fralick said. "Now we're at a point where it's almost a cliche because it's not really working. We can't do more with less and still do our jobs they way we're supposed to."

Fralick and Hall both say if this trend continues that public schools will be depleted beyond repair. Russell says the money for many of those downstate schools means little, while Upstate, it can mean everything.

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