Gov. George Pataki's budget is a good start but not a solution to the state's school funding problems, area educators said.
"The governor at least now recognizes that there is a problem," said Maria Behncke, local coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group. "But he's not really addressing the problem."
The alliance joined with New York City-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity in its court battles to increase state funding to schools. Although the state's highest court ruled in favor of CFE, its mandate that Pataki and the state Legislature reform school funding wasn't fulfilled by the July 2004 deadline.
Pataki proposed increasing school aid by $526 million, to $15.9 billion. Of the additional money, $201 million would be in traditional aid and $325 million in a new fund called "Sound Basic Education Aid."
That new aid would be funded by revenues generated by video lottery terminals and would grow to more than $2 billion in the next five years, Pataki said.
Some education experts expressed concern about Pataki's reliance on gambling revenues.
"If it's important, you have to be willing to commit to the idea and find a way to fund it that's sustainable," said Jody Siegle, executive director of the Monroe County School Boards Association.
East Irondequoit Superintendent John Abbott said he was pleased to hear that Pataki proposed more spending to respond to the CFE case. "It appears to begin to address the problem," Abbott said, but might not be enough to "get to the heart of the problem."
Abbott noted that the governor's school aid proposal is always modified by the Legislature. East Irondequoit, for example, would get 2.5 percent more under Pataki's plan, which Abbott said might only cover increases in the district's contribution to the state retirement fund.
"The question is: What does it take you to run your schools?" he said.
For the Rochester School District, Pataki proposed a 1.8 percent increase to almost $304 million. Henry Marini, chief executive for business services for the district, said the $8.3 million Rochester would receive in Sound Basic Education Aid could cover the increase in retirement system contribution, which has risen from $1.2 million 2001-02 to an estimated $27 million in 2005-06.
But the aid increase wouldn't cover increases in health insurance, charter school costs and the nurse program that the district took over from Monroe County last year, Marini said.
Pataki also urged increasing accountability by tracking student performance, requiring improvement plans for schools not making progress, creating an Office of Educational Accountability and replacing principals' tenure with renewable contracts.
Siegle called the changes "puzzling." She said the state Education Department already tracks student performance, requires improvement plans and has accountability measures.
Pataki additionally proposed authorizing mayors in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany to appoint school board members rather than having taxpayers vote for them.
Rochester school board President Darryl Porter said that move wouldn't enhance accountability.
"The accountability should be in the elected people on the board. That's what the democratic process is all about."