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Mayoral control of schools dies; tax rebates live

ALBANY – Deals have been tentatively made at the Capitol providing a $1.3 billion property tax rebate to homeowners and new money for private schools.

Dropping off the negotiating table was a plan promoted by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown to give him control over the city’s school district. The proposal never had much in the way of political life at the Capitol, where it was opposed by a number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders announced the broad agreement at a Capitol news conference this afternoon. The event was held – before legislative leaders give their traditional briefing to rank-and-file lawmakers – to accommodate Cuomo’s plans to attend one of his daughter’s high school graduation this evening.

“This is a great agreement,” Cuomo said while flanked at a table in the Capitol’s Red Room by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Erased from the talks was a plan to provide a tax credit program to chiefly benefit private and parochial schools. It is being replaced, Cuomo said, with $250 million in additional payments to nonpublic schools for state-mandated services they provide.

Details were fuzzy but the tentative agreement also calls for more transparency for teachers and parents about Common Core-based standardized tests.

Cuomo said the property tax rebate program, pushed by Senate Republicans, will provide “hundreds” of dollars in tax breaks for upstate residents. Exact amounts by county were not released, but Western New York taxpayers will end up getting far less per household than downstate counties whose residents pay far more in total property tax bills.

“The tax rebate is real money to real people,” Flanagan said.

The state’s property tax cap program, due to expire next year, will be extended an additional four years to match an extension of a rent control program in New York City.

An effort to raise from 16 to 18 the age at which teens can be tried for most crimes in New York was not agreed to. Cuomo said he will issue an executive order banning those under 18 from serving time in state prisons, putting that relatively small population of inmates into other facilities.

Mayoral control of the New York City school system was extended for one year. But the effort by Buffalo’s mayor to oust the existing city School Board and replace it with a nine-member panel of his choosing never got off the ground at the Capitol. The proposal also would have given Brown the power to select a superintendent.

Critics have said Brown never made a forceful case for the idea and that it would undo a democratic system of electing school board members.

“We’ll just have to reintroduce it next year,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat and the sole majority party member in either house to publicly back the idea. “I’m disappointed for the sake of the children. I think it would have been a better method for the city of Buffalo,” she said.

Albany being Albany, nothing has gotten a final sign-off. That’s because the actual language of the agreements made by Cuomo, Heastie and Flanagan still has to be ironed out at the staff and rank-and-file member level.

“We still have a lot of negotiations to do on the smaller issues,’’ Heastie said.

The 2015 session was due to end last Wednesday. There is no certainty yet when the session will close down, presumably sometime this week.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com