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Hollis forum examines state plan to fund schools

Money is not everything, but when it comes to fixing New York City schools, it means a lot.

That was the message brought by northeast Queens political leaders to a spirited Sunday forum at the Hollis Hills Jewish Center on the subject of the state’s funding formula for city schools.

In June, a state appeals court ruled that the state’s education financing method unfairly shortchanged New York City public schools. The state has until July 30 to figure out the actual cost of providing city children with a sound basic education, come up with an equitable funding formula and devise a system of accountability for the reforms.

“Education is the one place where there is a sharing of resources with New York state,” said Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw, who sat on a panel with state Sens. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) and Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis).

But Shaw said that although education took up 32 percent of the city budget, improving schools entailed more than funding increases.

“It’s not all about money,” said Shaw, touting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s taking control of city schools as a major step toward accountability.

But Weprin said “it is about money to a certain extent,” citing the need for quality facilities such as science labs and gymnasiums so that students could learn.

Weprin said that for the first time, the City Council will have a say in the schools’ capital budget plan. The mayor has proposed a $13.1 billion plan, with funding sources divided in half between the state and city.

Padavan said the state had increased funding for city schools by 64 percent, or $2.1 billion, in the years since the 1993 Campaign for Fiscal Equity case was filed.

“Otherwise we’d be in worse shape,” Padavan said.

But Rosalie Roseman, a teacher at Francis Lewis High School, said schools’ needs were more immediate.

“Capital budgets take years to build,” Roseman said. “We need textbooks.”

Stavisky, a former high school teacher, said Monday that Pataki had cut $360,000 from the state’s textbook funds in his executive budget but the redistributed money from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit could be used to pay for them.

Other audience members weighed in on the mayor’s reorganization of city schools, with one woman questioning Bloomberg’s qualifications to undertake such a task and another man insisting that improving schools meant removing disruptive students.

Teens at the synagogue had the opportunity to ask questions of the legislators. In response to one query, Padavan said that since the states had no control over immigration policy, governors had sued the federal government to recoup the increased costs of educating children from other countries.

The answer, said Padavan, lay in smaller class sizes and more qualified teachers.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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