Denise Richardson. The Daily Star - Oneonta. 1/18/2006.

The governor’s proposed budget for public education mostly decreased aid to many area schools, sparking disappointment Tuesday from several school district superintendents.

"It’s always a battle," said Michael Virgil, superintendent at Morris Central School, which was budgeted about 2.5 percent less money, excluding transportation and operating aid, in Gov. George Pataki’s 2006-07 budget. "You never like to lose money."

The Oneonta City School District would see a 0.19 percent increase in funding, excluding transportation and building aid, in the governor’s proposal.

"There’s no increase in our basic operating aid," said Michael Shea, Oneonta superintendent. "I find it distressing. ... I was hoping to see more than what the governor’s proposal showed."

While the governor’s office said it was increasing spending for public education by $634 million to $17 billion, several local superintendents said they didn’t see where the money was going. Schools could benefit from some of the projected $2 billion surplus, they said.

However, the state budget process is just starting, and it’s too early to tell the impact of the governor’s budget on local districts, several superintendents said. Last year, the governor’s proposal for 2005-06 increased aid to districts, and the Legislature further boosted spending for schools.

"We’ll wait," Shea said. "We’ll hope that Legislature will counter this as it has done in the past."

For Laurens Central School, the governor’s plan cuts funding by 3.57 percent, excluding transportation and building aid.

Romona Wenck, Laurens superintendent, said she would withhold comment until after studying the governor’s plan.

But Virgil said he is basing the Morris district’s budget on the governor’s plan. Virgil said it appears funding for Morris has been cut in programs for special-education students, but more questions about the estimates must be asked.

"You never know what the governor’s saying," Virgil said. The governor will indicate that the budget includes more money for education, but often it turns out to be funding for charter schools, he said.

Even with a flat budget proposal from the state, Morris will "lose terribly" because of rising costs for health care, fuel and retirement, Virgil said.

"We’re huge losers," Virgil said. "It would be nice to see some extra dollars come our way."

Under the governor’s plan, Jefferson Central School would get 0.72 percent more aid if transportation and building aid are included but 0.4 percent less without including that aid.

The figures are disappointing, said Carl Mummenthey, Jefferson school superintendent. Districts are facing higher expenses, which are hard to meet in budgets when a significant revenue source — state aid — is frozen, he said.

"It makes it very difficult for school boards," Mummenthey said.

Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, criticized the governor’s plan.

While the proposal’s $634 million increase in state school aid would be the highest increase ever and provides a base for work by the Legislature, the budget is "salted throughout with spending designed to support public school alternatives or to drive wedges between public schools and their communities," Kremer said in a prepared statement.

Kremer added that Pataki could have made "a meaningful down payment toward a resolution of the school-funding court case" with the state’s projected $2 billion revenue surplus.

New York State United Teachers also blasted the Pataki’s proposal, particularly "the governor’s failure to acknowledge a potential settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and his proposal to cut Medicaid," according to a media release.

Richard C. Iannuzzi, NYSUT president, said the governor’s proposal was reckless and irresponsible for cutting aid for children in special education programs and putting the burden on middle-class New Yorkers to fund back-loaded tax cuts for the wealthy.

"To millions of New York’s public school children and elderly New Yorkers, this budget is a very sad symphony," Iannuzzi said in a prepared statement. "And it will sound even more off-key to New York’s middle-class taxpayers, who’ll be stuck paying the bill in the future."