Federal stimulus package could benefit schools

Area schools may have finally caught a break, or at least a temporary reprieve, in the midst of state aid cuts, economic downturns and budget crunches.

A federal stimulus package that has passed the House of Representatives, and is being debated in the Senate, includes about $3.4 billion in federal school aid for New York City and $1.6 billion for upstate counties over two years.

New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, has said the stimulus package includes about $825 billion in programs, with $737 million in upstate Medicaid relief and at least $860 million in education aid.

Capital District schools are expected to get $87 million of the funds over two years if the stimulus package is passed. It was backed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and passed the House on Wednesday, Jan. 28, with a vote of 244 to 188, with Republicans unanimously voting against it.

The money could mean two-year totals of $25 million for Albany County schools, including $1.3 million for Bethlehem Central, $1.48 million for Guilderland Central, $1.15 million for Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and $320,000 for Voorheesville Central.

The money could certainly be useful in Bethlehem since the state budget proposed by Governor David Paterson in December included a more than $2.2 million reduction in state aid. State funding accounts for nearly a third of total district revenue.

However, district officials say the money isn't a solution to the economic problems facing schools.

We know that we cannot simply transfer that loss of aid to local taxpayers, said Bethlehem Superintendent Michael Tebbano. "So, as we must plan for the worst case scenario, we can anticipate some reduction in programs and services to bring the tax rate to a level in the budget that we believe is responsive to what our community can bear.

"However," he added, "we have a responsibility to make sure that any reductions we do make are done as carefully as possible to leave a high quality educational experience for all students intact. Some people will likely think that we did not cut enough, while others may think we reduced too much. This is why the public's input, through the forums and the entire budget process, is essential to helping us balance these multiple and varied concerns."

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