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Reforming schools Funding issues in Cuomo’s plan

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Many of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposals in his State of the State address to improve elementary and second education have been long discussed with little progress for the same reason the governor’s education initiatives are being greeted with skepticism: cost.

Gov. Cuomo called for increased learning time either by extending the school year, lengthening the school day or a combination of both. He also called for full-day pre-kindergarten and creation of community schools in neediest areas to serve as a hub for a wide-range of services such as health care, nutrition, family counseling and other support services beyond schooling. But they come with a price tag.

The governor would leave to individual districts decisions about changes to an outdated school calendar linked to an agrarian economy either by lengthening the September-to-June school year or adding days during the year. An extended year will encounter resistance for cultural and social reasons, but the larger problem for districts will be paying for the increased salary and operating costs. As an incentive, though, Gov. Cuomo said the state would pay 100 cent of the increased costs.

The governor also offered state financial incentives to districts that extend pre-kindergarten programs to five hours a day. In neither case, however, did he elaborate on how long the incentive aid would be maintained nor how it would be paid for.

His proposal for improving teachers included a bar-type exam for new teachers as well as a $15,000 annual stipend for high-performing teachers to serve as master teachers to instruct other teachers.

Cautious districts will be concerned about how long state incentives will continue before their taxpayers are asked to pick up the costs.

Skeptical school officials also question new, targeted state aid incentives when they are cutting programs and staff now to balance budgets and are seeking additional state aid to support state and federal mandates.

“If the money is so tight, where is the governor finding more money to fund the extra days of the year?” Thousand Island Central School District Superintendent Frank C. House asked north country lawmakers attending a gathering of school board members from Jefferson and Lewis counties.

School boards will have a difficult time justifying longer school years or school days at the same time they are telling parents and students they cannot afford high school advanced placement electives, music programs or sports.

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