James Macallair (Retired social studies teacher from Nottingham High School in Syracuse; a local representative with the Alliance for Quality Education. ). The Post-Standard. 7/22/2004.

Rather than budget extensions, parents, educators and Syracuse residents need to lobby for a budget that includes a school aid plan.

So far the Assembly plan comes close to providing enough state funding to ensure that all school districts around the state can give children a "sound basic education." Gov. Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Bruno each blamed Assembly Speaker Silver for the failure to reach an agreement over school aid at the end of the regular legislative session last month. But it is Speaker Silver who tried to comply with the court decision for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Pataki and Bruno are the ones shirking their responsibility and breaking the law.

In June 2003, the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, made its ruling in the landmark CFE case. The court agreed with the New York City parents who brought the lawsuit charging that students had been "placed in overcrowded classrooms, taught by unqualified teachers, and provided with inadequate facilities and equipment," and therefore denied an opportunity for a "sound basic education," as required by our state constitution. Everyone agrees we have to address inadequate funding on a statewide basis.

Speaker Silver's plan would provide $19.5 million, or 12.7 percent more next year for the Syracuse city schools than the executive budget, plus $27.2 million in new capital aid. These funds would make a critical difference for Syracuse schools, which are struggling to close a $33 million budget gap, while maintaining programs that serve a student population, three-quarters of which is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Every other Onondaga County school district would also receive more state aid under the Silver plan than the Pataki plan.

At this date, district-by-district comparisons between the Assembly and Senate plans are not possible, because the Senate hasn't released its numbers. However, I know the Senate isn't providing enough school aid statewide at the end of its plan to meet the requirements established by the court in CFE.

Neither the governor nor Sen. Bruno in their plans have joined with Speaker Silver to support a new funding system that would determine school aid levels based on the actual cost of educating each child through a "foundation formula." The two leaders fail to address the deficiencies in the present irrational school aid system - a system that prevents local superintendents from planning effectively and is too complex for the public to understand.

As the July 30 court deadline looms, all of our legislators, including our Central New York Democratic and Republican representatives, must elevate the needs of kids over party loyalties, just as most did last year when they reversed the governor's proposed crippling school aid cuts. An inadequate plan that gives only lip service to real school aid reform without actually changing anything is worse than no plan at all.

I am sure voters will be watching legislators - irrespective of party - to find out if they are "walking the walk," not just "talking the talk" when it comes to our kids.



The Associated Press

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (left) speaks to reporters Tuesday after calling a special session of the Legislature today to deal with public school funding. At right, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (left) and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno talk outside the governor's office after meeting with Pataki Tuesday. Color.