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Education Union Flies Yellow Caution Flag

November 14, 2008

Albany, NY — Governor David Paterson is trying to save $2 billion by April, and the state's 600,000-member teacher's union is holding up a yellow caution flag, saying he may be moving too quickly.

Dick Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, suggests a new Congress and President might treat the states better than the outgoing administration. So, rather than force public schools to make difficult midyear cuts, he believes Paterson might do better to put off dealing with part of the fiscal crisis -- at least, for now.

"He has the right message -- we have to address the economic problems of New York State. But we think he ought to slow down enough to see what is available from the federal government. We also think everything really does have to be on the table, and that includes a more progressive income tax."

Governor Paterson proposes cutting $585 billion from schools this year to deal with what he calls "the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression." Technically, the budget must be in balance by March 30, 2009, although the state has a reserve fund that Iannuzzi believes can be tapped now if necessary.

According to Ianuzzi, Paterson deserves credit for making the proposed cuts proportional, so the poorest school districts would be subject to fewer cuts than those in better financial shape. Still, he says, tightening the belts at midyear means many districts face the possibility of having to scrap some key programs.

"After-school programs or Saturday programs that offer extra support and help for students who are at risk; those are costly programs, but very important. I would not be surprised if that isn't one of the first places that school districts have to go."

Next week's special legislative session will deal only with budget cuts. Revenue proposals, including the so-called "millionaire's tax" intended to make the state income tax more progressive, are not on the agenda. That's another reason Iannuzzi feels it makes sense to slow down until next year's regular session.

Michael Clifford/Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY