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Finding relief from state mandates dominated discussions Saturday during the 35th annual Legislative Breakfast of the Erie County Association of School Boards.

Several speakers, including legislators, recognized the urgency of the issue because many school districts are still suffering under the weight of several years of rising expenses and steep budgets, in spite of state funding increases under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed 2013-14 budget

“We cut the fat out, not that there was a terrific amount. We hit the muscle, we hit bone last year and we are on internal organs right now. We’re ready to cut the heart out, and that’s what’s scary,” Lynn Fusco, superintendent of Alden Central Schools, said during the gathering in Michael’s Banquet Facility, Town of Hamburg.

“We can’t continue to do this – we just can’t,” she added, “even with consolidations, mergers, sharing resources. We just can’t continue to absorb these state mandates.”

Fusco said that in Alden it has meant reducing advanced placement programs that help give students from a small rural district a competitive edge for college. Also, art classes have been reduced, sports programs are on the edge, and – in general – the district is winding up with a minimal educational program compared with other districts that are better financed.

“Please give us the resources so we don’t have to shrink our programs to the bare-bones basics, because these children will never have this opportunity again,” Fusco said. “This is happening in every district.”

The concerns addressed by Fusco and other speakers were met with sympathy and some calls for action by the legislators.

“I think the biggest problem we have is when we see the state do a lot of micromanaging, and the Legislature does a lot of micromanaging on the financial side of things,” Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, told the 125 board members on hand for the annual gathering.

“In my opinion, what we need to be doing is giving you the money, and letting you decide what to do with it,” she added. “Our society is changing, and the needs of our students are changing, but unfortunately in the system we have right now, [the state Education Department] – the big dinosaur that it is – can’t move very fast or be as innovative.”

email: msommer@buffnews.com