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No surprise, but it still hurts

Under the law, the annual school budget vote would be replaced by a vote on the tax levy. If it is defeated twice, the district would be forced to assume no increase in its levy. Also, a supermajority vote of 60 percent would be required to pass any hike above 2 percent.

Administrators argue the law is an unfair one unless they're given greater control over their budgets, and some said they'd sign on if that happens.

"I fully support the concept," Tebbano said of the tax cap. "If they could reduce those [mandates] just by half, then we'll be in a better position to say a 2 percent tax cap is a wonderful thing."

Cuomo has formed a council to study state mandates.

Wiles noted a tax cap could be particularly onerous for smaller districts without 8-figure budgets, where even small changes could shift the tax burden significantly.

"It's a very blunt instrument," she said. "2 percent on our levy is different that a school district that is very tiny."

Cuomo introduces competition

Though Cuomo's plan slashes aid, it also includes a proposal to make available $500 million in competitive grants to school districts, divided equally between Performance Improvement Awards and School District Management Efficiency Awards.

There's still not much clarity on the criteria for these grants, but in the suburban areas of the Capital District superintendents generally said their districts might only qualify for efficiency rewards.

"Our graduation rate is high, we are a school that is not in any danger of failing because our scores are wonderful," Tebbano said.

A merit-based rewards system is one that is gaining footing in the American education system, albeit with some detractors. President Barack Obama has been a notable proponent for such a change, and as such has been pushing the Race to the Top Fund.

Ultimately, schools here that are facing similar challenges will be engaging their communities in similar ways, with public budget workshops and surveys. For more on the schedules for such forums, read The Spotlight or visit district Web sites at bcsd.k12.ny.us, rcscsd.org and guilderlandschools.org.""

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