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The school aid run distribution route

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The state Capitol is, by very definition, built on tradition.

In no way is that more true than the annual way in which school runs -- showing how education aid is distributed to the state's nearly 700 districts -- are distributed to lawmakers. Tonight, that happened shortly before 6 tonight when legislative staffers left the Capitol, walked across the street in a fallling mist to the state Education Department building, and returned 15 minutes later with several boxes containing the documents that soon will be given to lawmakers. The Senate and Assembly staffers go over at the same time, return together and come up the Capitol elevators at the same time.

Within an hour, lawmakers will be on the phones calling their local superintendents to tell them how much state aid they will be getting in the coming school year.

What follows is a short, edited description from an article The Buffalo News published in 2012 about Albany's inside players. This is the one about the education aid crafters:

"The work is secretive, demanding and closely scrutinized by lawmakers. For state residents, the work ... (they) ... perform helps shape the kinds of programs schools can offer, and the size of their property tax bills. The job demands attention to detail -- algebra, geography and Politics 101 are job requirements -- and an ability to turn numbers into bill copy that, while in English, few people in Albany can actually decipher.

The two (staffers) understand better than anyone the complex funding formula -- and its many variables with terms like "building aid," and "combined wealth ratio," and "tax effort aid" - - to accommodate New York's vast and varied student population.

Producing the annual school "runs" -- ending with a total state aid allotment for each district in New York -- is a high-stakes ritual. Using Excel software, (they) ... trade, in some years, more than a dozen "specs" for how the school formula should be shaped in what is the annual budget's most secretive set of negotiations. When it's over, they sign a document releasing their work from a vault in the nearby Education Department and, with hand carts, haul copies across the street -- at precisely the same time -- to anxiously awaiting lawmakers.

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