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At first blush, the governor's plan for state aid got a thumbs-up Tuesday from many local school officials, who were pleasantly surprised by a total statewide aid increase that exceeded their expectations, as well as a proposal to mitigate the effects of spiraling pension costs.

But they were quick to qualify their enthusiasm.

“The overall increase of 4.4 percent is a little higher than most estimates I've been hearing,” said Brian Schulz, treasurer of the West Seneca schools. “But the devil's always in the details.”

That increase is a composite of increases in various specific aid categories and the introduction of some new types of aid.

The bottom line: As in past years, the actual aid increase will vary from district to district.

“It looks like a 4.4 percent increase. If we receive that in Williamsville, that will be very positive – however, I don't foresee that happening, based on how aid is distributed,” Williamsville Superintendent Scott Martzloff said Tuesday afternoon.

Later in the day, when aid projections for specific districts were released, it became apparent that he was right.

The Williamsville schools stand to get only $40,220 more next year – a 0.15 percent increase – under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget.

Buffalo – which accounts for more than half of the state aid to schools in Erie County – would see an increase of 2.15 percent, or $11 million.

The Springville schools would get slightly more than a 1 percent increase under the proposal. That district has adopted the national “community conversation” model for budgeting this year, and the discussion has been assuming aid will be flat.

“Anything else would be just wonderful,” Superintendent Paul Connelly said, prior to the release of the district's projection. “Last year we laid off over 10 percent of our workforce. We really can't do much more.”

In Erie and Niagara counties, four districts – Amherst, Cleveland Hill, Eden and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda – would see an increase of less than 1 percent. Another three – East Aurora, Lewiston-Porter and Wilson – would actually see a decrease of 2.5 percent or more. Aid figures do not inclde building aid.

Officials in many districts spoke to the challenges of implementing a growing number of state requirements in an era of limited resources.

Niagara Wheatfield interim Superintendent James Knowles said his district is preparing its budget for next school year, and making sure there are enough resources to pay for state requirements is key.

“Anything the governor can do to come across with some funds – it's all well and good to have mandates, but if there is no funding for the mandates, it becomes difficult,” he said.

Locally, the biggest winner under the proposed budget would be Sloan, with an increase of nearly 9 percent. Other districts benefiting most under the budget include Depew and Iroquois, which would each see about a 6 percent increase, and North Tonawanda and Lancaster, each with an increase of about 5 percent.

The biggest single chunk of the overall aid increase is a 3 percent – or $611 million – increase in general school aid. That means Cuomo is proposing a total increase of 3 percent statewide, but the specific increase will vary from district to district. That aid will be distributed using a formula that Cuomo has indicated will target most of the increase to high-need districts such as Buffalo.

He continues to link additional state aid to each district's approval of the teacher-evaluation process. Schools would have to have their 2013-14 teacher- and principal-evaluation plans in place by Sept. 1 to qualify for that year's increase in state aid.

Beyond that, the remaining 1.4 percent of the governor's proposed school aid increase is divided among several pots of money.

The one causing the most chatter among school officials is a one-time “fiscal stabilization” fund, intended to soften the blow of skyrocketing pension costs.

District contributions for employee pensions are tied to the health of the stock market. This year, for instance, districts have to pay 11.8 percent of a teacher's salary into the pension fund. Next year, that will increase to 16.5 percent.

Cuomo said schools would only pay 12.5 percent of teacher salaries toward pension costs next year, using his fiscal stabilization funds.

Local school officials welcomed that news from the governor, whose approach to school funding has generally found more critics than supporters in the ranks of district leaders.

“For him to take steps to smooth out the spike [in pension costs] this year is significant,” said Mark P. Mondanaro, superintendent in Ken-Ton. “It's something we ask for almost yearly. It's ridiculous what's been happening [with the increases], and this is a step in the right direction.”

Starpoint Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan was among those anxious for more details. The proposal to lock in pension rates is intriguing, he said.

But he echoed the sentiments of officials from schools across the region, saying it wasn't immediately clear how the plan would work.

The budget also builds on several initiatives proposed by the New NY Education Reform Commission. Cuomo's proposal:

• Encourages schools to extend the school day or school year with “academically enriched programming.” The governor included $20 million for schools that agree to extend their learning time by 25 percent.

• Provides $25 million in competitive grants for full-day prekindergarten for higher-need students in poor districts.

• Seeks to increase early college high school programs in the state, similar to Middle Early College in Buffalo, by offering another $4 million for such programs. Those programs provide high school students who are struggling academically with the chance to take courses on a college campus and earn an associate degree.

• Rewards high-performing teachers with annual stipends of $15,000, starting with math and science teachers. Fifteen million dollars is allocated for these stipends.

• Includes $15 million for “community schools,” which incorporate social services and medical services and also provide after-school programming.

Cuomo's budget plan was generally well received by a variety of statewide education groups, many of whom paired their praise with a call for more detail on how specific aspects of the plan would play out.

More aid for most schools

School aid varies by district; three in Erie and Niagara counties would lose money

Proposed state aid for 2013-14, percent change from 2012-13. (Numbers do not include building aid.)


Erie County:

Akron $10,028,616 1.04%

Alden $10,488,459 2.17%

Amherst $8,456,039 0.89%

Buffalo $525,637,681 2.15%

Cheektowaga $9,519,841 3.9%

Clarence $16,204,188 1.62%

Cleveland Hill $9,401,996 0.43%

Depew $13,445,248 5.84%

East Aurora $5,260,910 -4.37%

Eden $8,030,158 0.79%

Frontier $25,068,957 2.33%

Grand Island $12,709,430 1.94%

Hamburg $17,925,477 3.71%

Holland $6,560,478 1.14%

Iroquois $10,325,857 6%

Kenmore-Tonawanda $39,740,423 0.43%

Lackawanna $26,935,505 2.11%

Lake Shore $21,998,154 2.55%

Lancaster $25,531,995 4.93%

Maryvale $10,956,746 3.67%

North Collins $5,206,500 4.04%

Orchard Park $18,223,605 2.09%

Sloan $11,491,875 8.72%

Springville-Griffith $13,729,467 1.14%

Sweet Home $15,082,165 1.02%

Tonawanda $12,851,532 1.32%

West Seneca $35,094,560 3.41%

Williamsville $27,572,560 0.15%


Niagara County:

Barker $5,152,833 1.73%

Lewiston-Porter $9,829,034 -4.55%

Lockport $34,836,975 1.9%

Newfane $14,091,430 3.9%

Niagara Falls $83,390,613 3.03%

Niagara Wheatfield $22,437,456 1.49%

North Tonawanda $27,081,676 4.9%

Royalton-Hartland $10,096,234 4.08%

Starpoint $13,171,044 2.87%

Wilson $9,050,755 -2.5%

Source: State Division of Budget

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com and bobrien@buffnews.com