Updated 03/30/2012 07:12 PM
Work remains for districts, despite extra state funds
School districts forced to say goodbye to teachers and programs at the end of this year because of budget cuts got some good news this week. The state legislature is releasing an extra $250 million in competitive grant funds to help lessen the financial blow. Our Sarah Blazonis talked with districts in the Mohawk Valley about how they plan to use the extra money and why they say they're not breathing sighs of relief just yet.
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MOHAWK VALLEY, N.Y. -- Amidst the news of 217 layoffs and major cuts to programs like all-day kindergarten and sports, there was good news for the Utica School District this week. It's getting an extra $1.2 million in state aid to help close its $10 million budget gap.
"Obviously, we're happy to get any additional money, but the problem is it just doesn't go far enough," said Utica City Schools Superintendent Bruce Karam.
In total, Mohawk Valley schools will receive an extra $6 million from the state this year, but many are facing the same problem as Utica: Years of state cuts have left them in financial holes much deeper than that money can fill.
"One of the reasons the high-need districts have not been doing so well is because they've been freezing that aid that we depend on and made our gap so wide it was just impossible to keep programs," said Gary Tutty, interim superintendent for the Herkimer Central School District.
The Herkimer district was set to lose seven teachers and see cuts to extracurricular programming this year. Now Tutty says some of those positions can be saved.
Utica's superintendent says he has similar plans, but that the funds aren't guaranteed just yet.
"The extra money that we will be getting, of course, is tied into the principal and teacher evaluations, which we are still negotiation. If we get those agreements, we will use that money to restore teachers," said Karam.
Up to 95 positions could be restored between the new funds and another $2.8 million promised earlier from the state.
Superintendents say they are happy to have any extra help.
"With each amount of extra money we get, I'm saving someone's job, I'm saving a program," said Tutty.
But say real reform of the state aid distribution formula is needed to ensure quality education for future generations.