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Education Alliance Warns of Difficult Budget Season

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – With final exams still two months away, it would seem a little early to be worrying about the 2002-2003 school year. But in New York State, school districts are required to have budgets proposals in place to either be approved or rejected by voters on May 21st. But state legislators have not adhered to the same discipline.

The state budget deadline came and went April 1st, for the 18th year in a row. And that left schools, once again, preparing budget proposals -- and projected tax rates -- without knowing how much state funding they would receive.

For many districts, the funding makes up as much as half or more of school revenues. But forced to use Governor George Pataki's original bare bones proposal, most schools are adopting budgets that reflect conservative estimates.

Regina Eaton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, says Pataki is now saying he would like to see more money in his budget for education. But Eaton says it may be too little too late.

"Better now than not at all," said Eaton. "But we wish we had started the year with there being a decent amount of money in the budget. And we are very afraid if we go past the end of this month, when school districts have to go out and make their budgets public, without there being a state budget in place that has a significant amount of money, we're going to see worse than last year. We're going to see all the horror stories in the press come true."

Eaton say that means cutting not just extra curriculars, but also teachers and core programs, such as kindergarten. And, even knowing that, Eaton says it's likely voters will reject many district budgets this year. She says that's because residents will be facing an estimated average tax levy of nearly 13 percent.