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AID FOR SCHOOLS

It almost seems inappropriate to discuss in the face of impending war, but lawmakers need to be mindful of the business that preceded Sept. 11. And one item needing immediate attention is state school aid.

The question of education funding ought not to linger. In fact, it should be treated as a priority item behind only the need to aid New York City.

Assembly Education Committee Chairman Steven Sanders thinks the Legislature may return next month to tackle this issue, but the school year has already begun. The clock for many districts is running. Any hope of persuading the governor into negotiating hundreds of millions of dollars more than the $382 million he proposed in his original budget proposal may be in doubt.

Buffalo Public Schools, alone, are in need of $28 million in state aid. The district is taking short-term measures, such as a hiring freeze, no unapproved overtime, travel, field trips paid for by the school district, consultants, capital spending for materials and supplies, clerical substitutes, substitute teacher aides -- except for prekindergarten -- and no unnecessary teacher substitutes.

There's no question that there will be a gap between what the school district needs and what it will receive from the state. The problem rests with trying to determine what the state will ultimately give, and when.

School districts that instituted measures to offset anticipated lower state aid may be shielded from the worst. However, even those districts that have increased local taxes and cut services may still find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

There's no question that funds for relief efforts and assistance to victims and families should take precedence over any other state business. And those efforts will affect the entire budget, said Republican State Sen. John Kuhl Jr. of Steuben County, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

School districts need to find out as quickly as possible what that effect will be.

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