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Money talks at Shenendehowa

In school districts across the state, Gov. David Paterson's proposal to cut $585 million in school aid for the ongoing school year is being met with talk of extreme measures, and in Saratoga County's largest school district, the conversation is no different.

The Shenendehowa School District Board of Education held a special session Tuesday, Nov. 18, to discuss a possible $3.7 million decrease in aid this year. It would be a 10 percent reduction of aid, the maximum decrease levied under Paterson's proposal.

Even with a 10 percent reduction, the district would realize a 0.78 percent increase in aid over last year's figures, bringing total 2008-09 state aid to over $41.5 million.

Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson presented a number of avenues for the district to study, which broke down into three categories: a hiring freeze, or shifting of personnel; reductions or freezes in spending; and dipping into some savings the district has already realized this year.

No matter what is done, a long-term outlook must be adhered to, said Robinson.

It's not a crisis mode; we're in a discipline mode, he said. "We don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction and say 'nothing goes,' we want to have a measured response."

The district does keep a reserve fund balance that currently stands at 2.98 percent of the operating budget, but spending all of it could have consequences later, as it is primarily used to mitigate fluctuations in the tax rate year to year.

The state Division of the Budget has suggested that schools use such funds to offset the aid cuts. Though the board said this is not a school versus state situation, they openly criticized the government for that advice, as the state plans to leave its own coffers untouched.

"That's poor fiscal management, and it's poor stewardship," said Robinson.

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