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New report puts Utica on list of most financially stressed school districts

By ANNA MEILER

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Central New York has the highest percentage of fiscally stressed schools in the state, according to a report released Thursday by the state comptroller's office that examined over 600 districts in New York.

Utica landed on the worst list; it's one of 12 school districts in New York with significant financial stress.

But, for the one crunching the numbers, this came as no surprise. In the last four years, they've had to lay off nearly 400 staffers.

"It hurts the students and you know that they deserve better than that. They need- the state really needs to look at our funding. That's what we want is our equal share," said Maureen Albanese, budget official for the Utica School District.

Albanese said the district has lost about $20 million in state aid in the last four years because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, leaving them with a bare bones foundation that takes on hundreds of new students each year.

"Now we're to the point that no matter what we do, it's going to hurt the students," said Albanese.

"Most of the teachers got fired in the past few years because of budget cuts and what not and a lot of teachers that I actually like are gone," said Anthony Rodriguez, a student at Proctor High School.

As a result, class sizes are ballooning and students are already feeling the effects.

"It's a lot harder to focus. All the kids are talking at once, you can't focus at all," said Ashley Bibik, also a student at Proctor High. "It affects your grades. They go down, it's not easy."

The state has cut over $2 billion in aid since 2009, hurting several districts. An Oneonta Republican says he's taking on this problem in 2014.

"We've been slowly crawling out of that hole with the increases we've seen such as last year, but we need to once and for all get rid of this Gap Elimination Adjustment," said State Senator James Seward, (R) - 51st district.

It's the sound of hope for Albanese, but for now, all they can do is make more cuts.

"It does bother you when you see the amount of people that you're going to have to lay off and also how it affects the students. It's depressing. I mean, you don't even want to face it because you know that that's what's going to happen," she said.

The district finds out next week what aid they'll receive for the 2014-2015 school year.

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