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Queens pols decry school funding appeal

How much do Queens school districts - the most overcrowded in the city - need additional funding?


In a word, that's how Queens state representatives described the borough's educational climate this week following Gov. George Pataki's decision to appeal a Manhattan judge's ruling earlier this month that the state must reform its educational funding formula to provide more money to New York City schools.

State legislators disagreed Monday on whether Pataki's appeal of the ruling, but there were no divided opinions on the need for financial reform in Queens' schools.

"It's desperate," state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said of the borough's schools. "Queens has the greatest shortage of seats and the most immigrant children."

Pataki said last week he would appeal the ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a nonprofit Manhattan coalition of parents and advocacy groups, that forces the state Legislature to change the way schools in New York's five biggest cities are funded.

Since Pataki's announcement that he would appeal the CFE ruling, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has defended the city's level of education spending as adequate. On Monday the mayor and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) urged the state Legislature to give the city more education funding.

"We put in a lot of money in education over the years," Giuliani said. "A lot of times we put in more money than the state has."

Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse issued his ruling in the CFE case on Jan. 10, nearly eight years after the group filed the lawsuit in 1993 charging the state with underfunding New York City schools.

Even though DeGrasse found in favor of the CFE, the judge also maintained that the city could be forced to make up the education spending gap that now exists if the state Legislature compels it to.

Throughout most of the state, school districts get a large portion of their revenue through property taxes. In the state's five biggest cities - New York, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers - the state determines how much money is given to run each city's public schools.

The city Board of Education has 38 percent of the state public school population but receives only 35.5 percent of the state's total education budget, CFE said.

As Pataki and the mayor jockeyed over who has put more money into city schools and the CFE appeal looms, Queens representatives warned that students continue to suffer.

While state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) said he agreed with the governor's appeal, he admitted that schools in his western Queens district "very desperately" needed reform.

"That decision had to be appealed," Maltese said. "I don't feel it's a prerogative for a supreme court anyplace to legislate."

But, he said, state spending on education has been "going in the right direction. I think we're on the right track - I wish we could do it faster."

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), who teamed up with state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) several years ago to create space for new schools on the campus of the Creedmoor State Psychiatric Facility, decried the appeal.

"I think he's making a political gesture," Weprin said of Pataki's vow to appeal. "The judge steps in when the Legislature isn't doing what it's required to do. This is what courts do.

"A solution would be good for students all over the city," he said. "No question. For now we have to get by with what we have - broken buildings and old textbooks."

In his State of the City address Jan. 17, Vallone said Pataki's threat to appeal "only delays the inevitable. Gov. Pataki is wrong, he's dead wrong. Albany must raise spending in New York City to the state average."

Padavan, who addressed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity last week, congratulated the group on making school funding a primary issue.

"Even with the governor's announcement to appeal the decision," he said "this lawsuit has been successful in bringing the issue of unfairness in school funding to the forefront."

In a statement, Padavan said it was too early to comment on the effects of Pataki's appeal.

Carol Gresser, former Board of Education president and a 2001 candidate for Queens borough president, expressed dismay at the appeal.

"I really think the governor is applying a stalling tactic," she said. "It's not going to go away."

In his speech to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity last week, Padavan underscored the need for education reform.

"You all know that investing in education is an investment in the future," he said "not just the futures of the young people in our schools but of all the people in our state and society. In the future when corporations and businesses are making decisions on location or relocation, we will compete based on the skills and education of our work force.

"Right now in too many places in this city and throughout our state we are not prepared for that competition. We must change that," he said.

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