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New York faces some tough choices on education, and next year's fiscal picture looks even bleaker, State Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol said Wednesday evening.

Sobol addressed about 800 persons in the Buffalo Convention Center during the Buffalo regional conference on the State Board of Regents' proposed strategy for improving education during the decade.

"We're in bad times," Sobol said. "There will be pain this winter, and next year will be worse."

Sobol said the state Education Department is working with state legislators and Gov. Cuomo's staff to lessen the impact of cuts in state aid.

Cuomo has proposed cutting $200 million in education aid as part of his plan to reduce state spending by $1 billion to avoid a deficit this year. State Comptroller Edward V. Regan has estimated a budget deficit of $3 billion for next year.

"We're looking at removing mandates where they don't compromise educational goals," Sobol said. He said the department agrees with Cuomo's plan to cut more from wealthy school districts and less from poorer districts.

The board will not act on the educational-improvement strategy -- "A New Compact for Learning, a Partnership to Improve Educational Results" -- until the spring. Regents and top members of the state Education Department have been traveling around the state gauging public opinion on the plan during regional conferences, such as the one in Buffalo Wednesday evening.

Addressing reporters before the conference, Sobol said the approach will follow an old African proverb: "It taskes a whole village to raise a child."

More facets of society must be involved in education, and districts will have greater flexibility on how to achieve goals set by the state, Sobol said. Both he and Regent Emeritus Willard A. Genrich emphasized that many aspects of the new strategy will not require more funding, just a redirection of existing resources.

"I think that we probably all agree that we have too many rules and regulations," Genrich said. "But the hard part is, 'What ones do we do away with?' "

"It's going to be a tough time for education, but this is a long-term plan," Sobol added.

During the conference, Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, told Sobol and others on the panel that crowded classrooms and the lack of funding will make improvements to Buffalo's schools difficult to make.

"You have to have certain things first or it's like teaching a child who hasn't had breakfast," Rumore said.

Dr. Henry J. Durand, who recently moved to Buffalo from Cincinnati to work at the University at Buffalo, said he is "very disappointed" with the Buffalo school system.

His 13-year-old daughter, Anitra, explained that her junior high math program is two years behind her previous school's, and the English program doesn't give students an opportunity to "express their analytical thinking."

"I think they ought to be preparing you for the future -- high school -- not going back to the past," she said.

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