David Saltonstall. New York Daily News. 3/24/2006.

The city won another round yesterday in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, but it doesn't take an eighth-grade education to see that the battle is far from over.

If history is any guide, Gov. Pataki will appeal the ruling, likely pushing the matter back into the courts until next year - when he will no longer be governor.

Any resolution will then be left to the next governor, who stands to become the hero who finally settles the lawsuit or the goat who doesn't.

Meanwhile, as usual, the only group that suffers is the 1.1 million schoolchildren of the city's public schools.

"The governor will be able to walk away and leave it in the lap of his successor," said Baruch University political science Prof. Doug Muzzio. "And that means the students of the city of New York will once again be deprived."

Mayor Bloomberg already has laid out exactly what will not be built next year if a resolution is delayed beyond this spring: 21 new schools; 40 new science labs; 15 new libraries; 60 new athletic facilities; 40 new arts facilities - the list goes on.

But the fact remains, experts said, that the politics of delay works right now for Pataki, who is actively eying a long-shot run for President.

An appeal allows him to say the matter is tied up in the courts, while also providing a handy talking point with conservative Republican voters in the heartland.

"If he goes out to Iowa and New Hampshire, he can say he didn't give in to those awful tax-and-spend liberals in New York City," said Hunter College Prof. Ken Sherrill.

More complicated is how yesterday's decision plays out for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the presumed Democratic front-runner in this year's gubernatorial race.

As attorney general, Spitzer is duty-bound to do whatever Pataki demands of him in the case - as he has for the past seven-plus years in filing one appeal after another.

But as a candidate, Spitzer will likely face increasing pressure to say what he would do as governor about the battle, a topic he has largely avoided to date.

"We are studying the court's decision" was all Spitzer spokeswoman Juanita Scarlett would say yesterday. "It is now up to the governor and the Legislature to determine how to proceed."

Meanwhile, the kids wait - again.