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Schools face bleak fiscal future

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Schools face bleak fiscal future
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A new survey released by the New York Council of School Superintendents has some shocking news for the North Country. It's no secret that money has been tight for those schools, but as our Barry Wygel tells us, the clock is ticking before money runs out.

NORTH COUNTRY, N.Y. -- Half of all North Country schools say they will not be able to provide a basic education within two years. Shrinking state aid, lower property values and dwindling fund balances have all contributed.

"I wouldn't feel as bad about it if I thought it was equitable and all schools across the state are being treated the same way, but we have a system of haves and have nots," said Stephen Putman, Brasher Falls Superintendent .

In the past couple years, the state has reduced funding to schools to try and fill its own deficits. This has left schools to raise extra money through property taxes, but for some schools, it won't work.

"For us to have made up the gap elimination, the money the state took back, would have been a 32 percent tax levy increase," said Putman.

In the past, the answer to budget deficits was to cut staff, cut programs, or use some of their reserve money, but superintendents are saying that all three sources have dried up.

"With these small poor districts, they have probably gone as far as they can in making cuts," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry says that there is only one answer to the problem: State action.

"Some of these districts simply need more help from the state," said Lowry.

But so far, that state action hasn't come.

"It is disheartening when you care about children and the governor and the legislature don't take actions that show that they care about children," said Putman.

Another part of this puzzle is the tax cap. For school districts to propose a budget that exceeds the tax cap, they need 60 percent voter approval and if a school budget fails twice, they are legally obligated to take a zero percent increase. Poorer districts also are wary of proposing tax increases, even though they need it.

"I think that's the sense that taxpayers either couldn't afford a larger tax increase or wouldn't approve it at the polls," said Lowry.

Schools will begin to get a sense for what the coming year will bring when Governor Cuomo unveils his budget in January.

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