A report released this week by the state Education Department estimates that some 74 percent of school districts outside of New York City have enough fund balance to pay for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state aid cuts.
The numbers show that districts - excluding those in the city - have about $1.16 billion in reserve accounts and a little more than $355 million in federal stimulus funds leftover from last year.
But opponents of Cuomo's fiscal plan say that's just not true, claiming the aid cuts will, in fact, force thousands of teacher layoffs and result in increased taxes.
The Cuomo administration is using the Education Department report as ammunition, stating that districts won't need to cut back on programming or layoff teachers.
Instead, the new governor wants schools to cut out the fat and make districts more efficient.
Advocacy groups, however, are digging in their heels. According to a second report, released this week by the Statewide School Finance Consortium, hundreds of school districts will run out of money next year if Cuomo's school aid cuts are approved by the Legislature.
Rick Timbs, a spokesman for the finance consortium, told the Associated Press that some schools won't be able to "meet the minimal state and federal requirements for even a basic educational program."
The report released by the school boards group says districts would exhaust their general funds sometime during the 2011-12 school year. In past years, those districts would simply raise taxes to make up for the budget shortfall.
But that option comes off the table if Gov. Cuomo's property tax cap is enacted. That plan aims to cap local property tax growth at two percent - and the proposal is gaining ground in Albany.
Here in the North Country, lawmakers and school administrators say an across-the-board approach to slashing school aid just doesn't work.
Janet Duprey represents New York's 114th Assembly District.
"I think some of the cuts are going to be incredibly difficult," she said. "Because they are going to be large."
Duprey says the formula for school aid often makes districts like Tupper Lake look wealthier than they really are.
"Because of some of their assessments - the second homes - it appears to be a wealthy school," she said. "Those who are there, attending the district, don't reflect what some of the assessments reflect. It certainly should not be considered a high means school."
Seth McGowan is superintendent of the Tupper Lake Central School District. He says Cuomo is making assumption based on districts he's familiar with - districts where fund balance may, in fact, be plentiful.
"In larger school districts, perhaps the case is that state aid is not a major factor in their spending plan, and therefore they put it into reserves," he said. "Not in schools that I know of, of our size. He also makes the assumption that there are large reserves to begin with - that's certainly not the case."
McGowan says the entire state system for funding schools is dysfunctional. He adds that Cuomo's proposal to cap property taxes won't help that matter.
According to McGowan, state aid to schools should be based on income tax and sales tax within the district.
"Not only would property owners be participating in school funding - anyone in the entire community would be," he said. "In a community like ours, the school is central. People that don't own property certainly value the school as well."
Up to this point, state Senator Betty Little has been a vocal supporter of Cuomo's executive budget.
But she, like Assemblywoman Duprey, says cuts to school aid need to be handled in an "equitable" manner.
"Any decrease in school aid has to be fair," Little said. "And if some areas of the state are only losing two, three, four, or five percent and we're getting 10 or 12 percent - that's not fair."
Little adds that a Cuomo proposal to consolidate administrative staff at school districts is one way to cut budgets and fend off decreased state appropriations.
"I do think that the governor also mentioned the idea of consolidating administrative services," she said. "We've talked a long time about the possibility of one superintendent being able to run two smaller schools. State law currently doesn't allow for that. But those are the things we need to start looking at."
Lawmakers will continue to hash out Cuomo's proposed budget in the coming weeks.