ALBANY –- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is continuing his scorched-earth policy against what he calls big-spending school districts, insisting they can handle his proposed $1.5 billion cut through efficiencies –- and not teacher layoffs or property tax hikes.
“The answer can’t always be more money, more money, more money,’’ Cuomo said on Long Island Wednesday on his tour of the state to talk up his 2011 budget plans.
Cuomo has said schools can dig into their reserve funds –- a number he puts at $1.2 billion statewide and $51 million in Erie County –- to help cope with his cuts. It is the same call former Gov. David Paterson made last year.
“No one is going to look at me and say these school systems can’t find any waste whatsoever and the only idea is more taxes. I don’t believe it," Cuomo said.
But Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said the $1.2 billion reserve fund number comes from last May, and is likely lower, in part, because schools had to find money when the state reduced payments to districts after their budgets were already adopted last year.
Lowry said districts are well-accustomed to tapping reserve funds to deal with swings in annual state aid payments. He said property taxes would have risen an extra 6 percent on average last year had districts not dipped into their reserve accounts to fund operations. The poorest 20 percent of districts were even more aggressive; double digit tax increases would have occurred, he said, without the reserve accounts.
Lowry also noted that the public has probably more information about the school district spending –- and performance, thanks to standardized test score results –- than any other public entity in the state. “You can’t find out about the performance of the town highway office," he said.
To put matters into perspective, Lowry said, the governor's school aid cut is larger than all the central administration spending by all 700 districts in the state -- which includes salaries of superintendents, assistant superintendents, business officials and other staff and their office expenses.