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New Grants Aim to Reward Cost Cutting in Schools

ALBANY, N.Y. – A competitive school grant program worth $75 million in funding was announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but school district officials in Westchester say the money won’t bring substantive relief from tax cap budget cutting.

Districts have until June 6 to apply for a piece of the $75 million in funding. The money will be disbursed over the next three years, $25 million per year. Grants will be given to districts with the most innovative proposals to save money in administrative, management and transportation costs.

School districts will be reimbursed by the state for 25 percent to 35 percent of what they saved using these innovative proposals. The grant money cannot be used for bonuses, salary increases or capital projects.

Karen Zevin, president of the Croton-Harmon school board, said the money won't help districts trying to plan their 2012-13 budgets. Many districts are approving budgets this week to meet state deadlines before the budgets go to voters on May 15.

“You cannot base a budget where people are counting on you for their pay, kids are counting on you for their books and their lights and their computers and all that kind of good stuff, on the possibility you might get a grant,” Zevin said.

She added, “It’s not sustaining in the long term.”

Lisa Davis, executive director of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, said all school districts would benefit if the Legislature would reduce some state mandates.

“There are certainly a lot of other things that could be done,” she said. “This is not the way we would have liked to see the money allocated.”

Davis said the state Legislature had plenty of regulatory options, in which changes would create efficiencies or save money. Just a few she named were changing the Triborough Amendment , which allows public employee labor contracts to continue after their expiration date; to do away with “last in-first out” employment policies; and loosening the Wicks Law, which sets prevailing wage requirements on public construction projects.

Davis said altering busing regulations, bringing New York’s special education regulations in line with federal requirements and allowing BOCES to perform back-office work for districts would make districts more efficient.

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