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Schools brace for loss of federal money

TICONDEROGA - The federal economic stimulus program helped many schools avoid difficult decisions last year. That's about to end.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has issued a report noting New York schools face a shortfall of more than $2 billion when the stimulus money runs out.

He said districts statewide will see the gap in the 2011-12 fiscal year unless the difference is made up by the federal government, the state, or local property taxpayers.

The analysis shows that could mean an average property tax increase of nearly 8 percent just to make up for the loss of federal money on top of annual increases in school spending.

The temporary stimulus money was allocated to help states suffering deep drops in revenue because of the recession, but the funding runs out in 2011-12.

The Ticonderoga Central School District will not have any stimulus hangover, Superintendent John McDonald said.

"We knew these were temporary funds and therefore only used them to fund temporary things," he said. "We have one position we filled with these funds, but were clear that it would only exist as long as the funds were available."

The current Ticonderoga budget includes $749,628 in federal stimulus money - 4.4 percent of the total $17.1 million budget.

The loss of federal stimulus money won't affect Schroon Lake Central School, Superintendent Mike Bonnewell said.

"Much of the stimulus money - $1.6 billion of this year's $2.8 billion - was to restore state aid cuts, aid that is to be paid to schools by state formula," Bonnewell said. "If the state returns to the old formula when the federal money supply ends, schools should not be in tough shape. Especially if, as everyone suggested, schools used the remaining $1.2 billion for non-recurring improvement expenses.

"At Schroon, for example, we used the state aid restoration for staff positions," he continued. "The other stimulus money has gone mostly to non-recurring expenses. We replaced a 40-plus year old oven with a special food service grant. We have scheduled some staff development activity. We have developed a pre-school parents education program. All things that we will have to use for years to come, but won't need to spend on each year."

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