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School aid hike not just aimed at Buffalo State budget is generous to many districts

Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer will be in Buffalo today to highlight a $46.6 million -- or 9 percent -- increase in state aid to city schools.

But Spitzer, eager to capitalize on the state budget's generous school aid package, could hold the news conference just as well in Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Lackawanna, West Seneca or Springville.

That's because eight school districts in Erie County and another two in Niagara County surpassed Buffalo -- at least in percentage terms -- by receiving aid hikes of more than 10 percent.

Those districts are Cheektowaga, Cleveland Hill, Cheektowaga-Sloan, Springville-Griffith Institute, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Kenmore-Tonawanda, West Seneca, Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls.

In the push and pull of Albany politics, what started as an effort by Spitzer to direct a record school aid hike largely to poor urban and rural districts turned into a windfall for many suburban districts as well.

In fact, the overall statewide school aid hike of $1.76 billion is a percentage increase of about 10 percent.

"Everybody did quite well," said David Ernst, a spokesman for the New York State Association of School Boards.

But while Buffalo has come to depend on substantial state aid hikes for many years, the double-digit increases are highly unusual for other local districts.

Cleveland Hill, for example, is in line for a state aid hike of nearly 16 percent following at least seven years of increases that were below the rate of inflation and that prompted property tax increases and program cuts.
The district will likely use the new money to keep the tax rate steady while boosting intervention services for struggling students, establishing after-school programs and placing general- and special-education teachers in single classrooms, said Superintendent Bruce E. Inglis.

"This now gives us a chance to make up some of that lost ground and restore some programs," he said. "It's a very welcome budget projection."

Spitzer's initial budget proposal targeted large aid hikes for poor urban districts but offered only cost-of-living increases for many wealthier suburban districts.

State Senate Republicans, concerned largely with the impact in Nassau and Suffolk counties, added substantial funds for suburban districts, including many in the Buffalo area.

In the end, Buffalo received less than 1 percent more than the amount proposed by Spitzer. In contrast, Amherst received 12.1 percent more than Spitzer initially suggested, and both Williamsville and Cheektowaga Central saw their aid increase 8.9 percent over what the governor proposed.

Buffalo will now receive $562 million in state aid, second only to New York City and far more than any other local district. It counts on Albany for 80 percent of its funding.

When building aid is removed from the equation, Buffalo will receive a $41 million state aid hike for 2007-08, compared with a $36 million increase this school year, said Gary M. Crosby, chief financial and operating officer for the Buffalo schools.

"The amount is certainly good news," he said.

In line with new state requirements, about $9 million must be spent on class size reduction, expanded instructional time, professional development, middle and high school restructuring and full-day kindergarten or prekindergarten, Crosby said.

Spitzer and Buffalo Superintendent James A. Williams will discuss school aid at 9:30 a.m. today in Campus West Elementary School, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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