Schools back Paterson’s call to end costly mandates

School superintendents, who bemoan Gov. David Paterson’s proposed school aid cuts, are cheering his proposals to relieve mandates to districts.

“This is the first serious legislative attempt to gain control of the uncontrollable,” Monticello Superintendent Pat Michel said.

Michel has worked in education for 23 years, and ever since he started, there’s been talk about getting rid of what educators call unfunded mandates.

From laws on busing private school students to pandemic flu planning, Middletown Superintendent Ken Eastwood has dozens of pages that list these requirements.

Many are laws passed with good intentions — such as putting defibrillators in schools — but they come with thousands of dollars in costs passed down to the local level, said Terrence Olivo, chief operating officer of Orange-Ulster BOCES.

Last week, Paterson called for a four-year moratorium on any new laws that would force schools to spend money. He also put forward eight measures to relieve cost burdens on school districts. He’s calling for things such as eliminating unnecessary reporting, allowing districts to file reports electronically and getting rid of the Wicks Law, which requires hiring multiple contractors on projects valued at more than $50,000.

State Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said he generally supports the governor’s mandate reforms, although he doesn’t favor proposed charges for early intervention services.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said he supports reforms that save schools money, but he hasn’t seen proof of what measures would actually lower education costs.

“They need to do their job and bring to us real, live, truthful facts that are substantiated, not rhetorical points,” Cahill said.

Eastwood said he and his colleagues have given his local leaders evidence of the costs.

Olivo also said proof abounds that mandates cost schools money.

In 1987, the state budget division released a study saying the Wicks Law increased construction costs by 24 percent to 30 percent.

E.J. McMahon, of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy, said the state should both reform laws and cut school aid. His group’s budget blueprint takes aim at the Triborough Amendment, which allows teachers annual pay raises while negotiating contracts.

Whatever mandates experts want reformed, everyone seems to doubt that lawmakers will take on the task. McMahon predicts that legislators will claw back money for schools but make no changes to laws.

Attempts to repeal or reform the 1912 Wicks Law have failed many times, even though it’s been proposed by the last four governors.

“We’re making the same old mistake again,” McMahon said.

Source: Times Herald Record

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