Bob Rolfe (Retired editor of the Corning Leader). Corning Leader. 2/14/2005.

If anybody in this area is versed in the legal implications of education in New York state, it's Tom O'Brien. Like him or not, he's proved his expertise many times.


That's why The Insider was fascinated to read Tom's recent comments to the Corning Rotary Club regarding the court decision to force an enormous increase in the amount of money the state funnels into New York City schools.


The suit was brought by an incorporated outfit called The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, but Tom says that group is actually an amalgam of outfits with an axe to grind - "local city school boards, political groups and trade unions." All stand to profit from the decision, he warned.


According to a court-appointed panel of experts, the cost to provide "a sound basic education for New York City is $5.63 billion per year for operating funds, and $9.179 billion for capital improvements over the next four years.


That would be in addition to the average $5.5 billion already sent to New York City schools - a sum that comes out of a statewide operating budget of $15 billion. That's above and beyond the $7 billion already allocated to the city for capital expenses.


The bottom line? By the time the increase is fully implemented (in four years), New York City's per-pupil spending will be up from $15,000 (where it is today) to more than $20,000 per student.


"For purposes of comparison, the Corning-Painted Post School District's per-pupil expenditure this year is about $11,500," Tom said.


He cited a study that indicates full implementation of the court decision would mean a 10.2 percent tax increase for every state taxpayer, if the cost was raised via a personal income tax hike.


In addition, the study by The Manhattan Institute warned, implementation would mean the loss of "tens of thousands of jobs, based on previous research into the relationship between income tax rates and economic growth."


Yet indications are the New York City school system is so fouled up, and subject to mismanagement, that little, if any increase in student learning would result. And to make matters worse, the courts would replace the state Legislature as the agency that decides educational policy, no matter what the state Constitution mandates. That also means a loss of local control.


The court decision in the New York City case has generated numerous headlines in recent years, yet not enough seem to have shown such a fearsome bottom line. Nor have they indicated just how much the upstate would lose - and that's where all the extra money for the city would come from.


Makes one stop and think, right? And makes you wish more judges did the same.


Bob Rolfe, a retired Leader reporter/editor (1965-2002), can be reached at theinsider1@aol.com or write c/o The Leader, P.O. Box 1017, Corning, N.Y. He is also co-host of WENY-TV's "Voice of the People" public affairs program, which airs at 10 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. Sundays.