Cuomo Launches ‘Charm Offensive' to Slash School Budgets

Andrew Cuomo is making a series of stops around the state to try and win support for his proposed education aid cuts -- a tour one observor dubbed his "charm offensive."

Cuomo spoke at Hofstra University in Hempstead Wednesday where he laid out his blunt fiscal message -- state school aid must be reduced and schools need to cut costs.

"The answer is not send us more money because there is no more money to send," Cuomo told reporters after his speech.

In his first budget, Cuomo has proposed reducing education aid by one and a half billion dollars and he has also voiced support for a yearly cap on school spending.  His speech Wednesday continued those themes.

"Schools have seen record increases in aid the last ten years," Cuomo said.  "But administrators now need to better manage the system."

Among his suggestions for belt tightening: A wage freeze for teachers and school administrators, forty percent of whose annual salaries, Cuomo said, stand at 200-thousand dollars or more; and greater financial contributions from teachers for their health insurance coverage.

Programs to reward schools with cash for academic performance and administrative efficiency were also outlined by Mr. Cuomo.

"I reject that we can't find efficiencies in the system," Cuomo said.  "That's baloney because I know government."

West Babylon schools superintendent Anthony Cacciolo countered that "There's always room to cut but at what cost?"

Like many educators, Cacciolo expressed fears that Cuomo's proposals will hurt education programs and remove local control of school spending.

"Schools are run efficiently," said the superintendent whose own annual salary stands at $210-thousand dollars.

The governor insisted he will not raise taxes for education and argued that schools have the cash to absorb his proposed cuts.  NY schools have reserve funds and unspent federal stimulus money totaling some $1.8 billion, Cuomo pointed out; more than his proposed $1.5 billion in cuts.

But educators said that money is already being used to keep property taxes down and would vanish quickly under the weight of more state cuts.

"How many years could we sustain cuts?" Cacciolo said.  "Most schools would be out of money in a short period."

The debate is sure to rage on, with the state legislature to have its say on how much is spent for education.

But Larry Levy, the executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, insisted Cuomo may be able to push through changes.

"He has the message," Levy said, "and he seems to have the chops for it."

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