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State panel close to issuing ed reform plan for borough

By Alex Davidson

Members of a state panel charged with studying how to reform the financing of New York’s public schools said Friday they will focus their efforts on coordinating recommendations from a host of groups to form a united front so issues are not ignored during the upcoming state budget process.

New York State Commission on Education Reform Chairman Frank Zarb, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, said in Manhattan at a meeting of the commission that he is hoping to bring together all interested parties who have suggested models on how the state allocates its education funding to city and borough schools.

Zarb said he wants groups such as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Standard and Poor’s Corp. and the state Board of Regents to come together to ensure key reforms, such as smaller class sizes and incentives to keep qualified teachers at underperforming schools, are enacted.

“If we lose the momentum, if we lose the goodwill, I think that would be a terrible mistake,” Zarb told the 22-member commission. “If we could reform the politics of education, this would be a lot easier.”

The commission, appointed by Gov. George Pataki last summer in the wake of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s lawsuit victory, will recommend how much additional money New York City will need to provide its schoolchildren with a basic education that satisfies the state constitution. The final decision will be made by the state Legislature.

Zarb said the panel will have its final slate of suggestions finished by mid-March. He said the group will consider studies performed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the coalition group that won a lawsuit leading to a court-mandated reform of the state funding system, and Standard & Poor’s — both of which examined how much it costs to educate individual students of various socioeconomic backgrounds.

A 4-1 decision by the New York State Court of Appeals in June said schools in the borough and the rest of the city were not getting enough money to educate their students.

Chief Judge Judith Kaye said New York state violated its own Constitution by considering an eighth-grade education the fulfillment of its obligation for a sound, basic education in New York City.

Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said during a presentation at the meeting that his organization is planning to ask lawmakers for at least an additional $9 billion in state funds to satisfy the court’s ruling.

The court found that city students were being shortchanged by a state formula that gave them too small an amount of money, based on the city’s large contribution to the state’s tax pool.

The ruling requires state lawmakers to formulate a more equitable method for distributing education funds that will raise borough and city students from near the bottom in terms of the money per student received from the state.

Rockaway resident Frank Macchiarola, a former Charter Revision Commission chairman, reiterated Zarb’s comments that the commission needs to listen to all groups concerned with reforming the state’s education formula.

“Unfortunately, the Empire State is no longer the Empire State in terms of leadership,” Macchiarola said of the education formula. “We are moving to a point where we have got to come up with something credible in terms of a consensus.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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