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Bloomberg puts back $1.3B in education funds

"I think he understood we weren't going to back down," said Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), standing on the steps of a school chosen for the news conferencebecause of its severe overcrowding and the large impact the cut would have had on its improvement projects. Miller, City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) and United Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten were joined by teachers, parents and students, some holding signs welcoming the group to "Sardine-zo High School."The City Council had vowed to reject Bloomberg's budget outright unless the $1.3 billion was restored. The funds were supposed to be matched by the state, but education money from Albany has become linked to a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, an advocacy group, charging that city schools have been shortchanged. A State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan ordered the state Legislature last month to devise a plan within 90 days to provide $5.6 billion more in yearly operating costs for city schools, phased in over a four-year period, and a one-time $9.2 billion infusion for construction spread over five years. Gov. George Pataki appealed the ruling.Bloomberg and the Council previously agreed on a five-year school capital plan starting this year and ending in 2009. A staff member at the Independent Budget Office, a non-partisan group, earlier told the TimesLedger that Bloomberg's initial decision, which entailed delaying the $1.3 billion and adding a year to the capital plan, was a bow to reality.But Council members said the city could not worry about what might happen in Albany."We said that's ridiculous," Weprin said. "The bottom line is we can't wait for the money."Of the $1.3 billion, $167 million was already earmarked for specific projects, including roughly $8.5 million for improving the auditorium, stopping flooding, fixing electrical systems and replacing broken windows at Cardozo. The councilmen said all the city's projects should be back on track with the restoration.Bloomberg, who is running against Miller for re-election, said under his new plan the state would be asked to make up its $1.3 billion contribution later on. If the Council's pressure encouraged him to change his mind, he did not directly acknowledge it."Albany's failure to fulfill the obligations of the CFE lawsuit should not impact our school children," Bloomberg said.Miller said the new plan still held leaders in Albany responsible for their share of the money."This is not an excuse for the state of New York to abdicate its responsibility to meet the (state) Constitution's requirements for a quality education for our kids," the speaker said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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