Peter Simon. Buffalo News. 1/17/2001.


School districts in Erie County would receive average state aid increases of 2.7 percent in the budget proposed by Gov. George E. Pataki, and Buffalo would see a hike of $ 10 million, or 3.3 percent.

"It's certainly not an insignificant number, and it's a good starting point," West Seneca Superintendent Richard Sagar said of a proposed 2.76 percent increase for that district.

The State Legislature is sure to provide considerably more money than the governor is proposing, resulting in larger aid hikes for most of the state's roughly 700 school districts, superintendents and state lawmakers said.

"That is the case every single year," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo. "That's part of the budget dance."

Steven Sanders, chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, said the governor's proposal is inadequate and will be raised.

"His increase is at about the rate of inflation," said Sanders, a Manhattan Democrat. "It barely enables districts to keep pace with last year."

Buffalo Schools Superintendent Marion Canedo and James M. Kane, executive assistant to the superintendent, could not be reached to comment, but Hoyt said the the city's 3.3 percent increase could be illusory.

"My suspicion is that after we've done a thorough analysis, there will be a net loss for the Buffalo district," he said.

Buffalo and other urban districts would also be affected by these Pataki proposals:

That students in schools under registration review -- including six elementary schools in Buffalo -- be allowed to transfer to other schools in the district.

That pension incentives be established to encourage teachers to work beyond retirement age at hard-to-staff schools.

That the state's Big Five cities be required to at least maintain current school funding and not use increases in federal and state aid to decrease local contributions.

Niagara County's 10 public school districts would receive average aid hikes of 2.4 percent.

Among 38 districts in Erie and Niagara Counties, only one -- the Starpoint district in Niagara County -- would see a slight reduction in state aid. The largest local percentage increase would be in North Collins, where aid would jump 4.7 percent.

Superintendents stressed that the extremely complicated aid formula and the political nature of the state budget process makes it hard to determine the impact of the figures without detailed, category-by-category study.

For example, money is sometimes taken out of one budget line and put in another, yet counted as new funding, said John H. George, superintendent of the North Tonawanda schools. "Just looking at he bottom line doesn't tell the real story," he said.

And developments that unfold much later in the budget process often have a greater bearing on district finances than aid formulas spelled out Tuesday.

For example, the Kenmore-Tonawanda schools are seeking state assistance for the anticipated loss of $ 1.3 million in property tax revenue as a result of assessment reductions obtained by two utilities in the district.

Ken-Ton officials also stand to lose $ 6,800 in state revenue for every student who transfers to a large charter school expected to open in the district next year and are seeking financial relief from the state.

The outcome of those efforts will have a much larger impact on district finances than the $ 608,000 aid increase -- which equals 2.2 percent -advanced Tuesday by the governor, said Superintendent David A. Paciencia.

"I'm certainly not knocking it," he said of the aid hike. "It's always good to see a positive number. But we have problems of greater magnitude."