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Cortland/Ithaca

Another tough budget year expected for districts

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Another tough budget year expected for districts
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While it's still early in the budget process, officials say another challenging year lies ahead. Sarah Blazonis tells us why some say help from Albany is needed more urgently than ever.

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- There's one skill that doesn't become simpler with practice here at the North Syracuse Central School District. That's putting together the annual budget.

"The first round of cuts was easier than it is now because we're cutting muscle and bone programs and course offerings that are critical for our kids," said Don Keegan, the district's associate superintendent for business services.

The budget process is in very preliminary stages, but right now the district is looking at a potential $5.1 million deficit. An expected three percent increase in state aid could help matters, but not much.

"The challenge there is that our health insurance costs are going up, our retirement costs are going up by double digit amounts, so we're really having to find places to find money," said Keegan.

The North Syracuse district likely won't be the only one to face such dilemmas. The Central New York School Boards Association says many of the 48 districts it represents are low wealth, high needs districts that have dealt with four years of state aid cuts.

The association's executive director, Charles Borgognoni, says research from the Statewide School Finance Consortium paints a bleak picture.

"Many schools across the state are looking down the barrel right now of insolvency," he said.

Borgognoni says data shows it's a fate that about 100 school districts could face within the next two years unless dramatic changes are made. The association is pushing for a more equitable formula for distributing aid to poorer districts. He says some progress was made with new aid last year, but work remains.

"Equitably distributing $300 million in new aid or $20 billion in existing aid is a large discrepancy. We need to get that equitable formula changed for the large pool of funds," said Borgognoni.

For now, districts have to await the governor's budget proposal to get a better idea of how much money will come their way.

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