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State says schools can cover cuts

A report released this week by the state Education Department estimates that some 74 percent of school districts outside of New York City have enough fund balance to pay for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state aid cuts.

The numbers show that districts - excluding those in the city - have about $1.16 billion in reserve accounts and a little more than $355 million in federal stimulus funds leftover from last year.

But opponents of Cuomo's fiscal plan say that's just not true, claiming the aid cuts will, in fact, force thousands of teacher layoffs and result in increased taxes.

The Cuomo administration is using the Education Department report as ammunition, stating that districts won't need to cut back on programming or layoff teachers.

Instead, the new governor wants schools to cut out the fat and make districts more efficient.

Advocacy groups, however, are digging in their heels. According to a second report, released this week by the Statewide School Finance Consortium, hundreds of school districts will run out of money next year if Cuomo's school aid cuts are approved by the Legislature.

Rick Timbs, a spokesman for the finance consortium, told the Associated Press that some schools won't be able to "meet the minimal state and federal requirements for even a basic educational program."

The report released by the school boards group says districts would exhaust their general funds sometime during the 2011-12 school year. In past years, those districts would simply raise taxes to make up for the budget shortfall.

But that option comes off the table if Gov. Cuomo's property tax cap is enacted. That plan aims to cap local property tax growth at two percent - and the proposal is gaining ground in Albany.

Here in the North Country, lawmakers and school administrators say an across-the-board approach to slashing school aid just doesn't work.

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