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Long IslandEducation

State leaders look at rewarding school wage freezes

ALBANY - Facing the prospect of teacher layoffs because of less money for education, some of New York's leaders Wednesday expressed interest in a New Jersey plan that gives more state aid to school districts that freeze employee salaries.

"It's . . . apt that we would be trying to reward the districts where there are extra sacrifices," Gov. David A. Paterson said. "That's certainly a conversation we would be willing to have."

Paterson, a Democrat, wants to reduce school aid by more than $1 billion in 2010-11 to help close a deficit of $9.2 billion. Superintendents warn of widespread teacher terminations and slashed programs. To prevent this, about a dozen districts have won wage concessions from teacher unions, including Roslyn and Port Washington.

New Jersey faces an even more severe cash crunch. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has proposed trimming $819 million in school aid to help close an $11-billion state deficit.

Last month, he called on teachers and staff to forgo a wage hike to save jobs and programs. School districts that did so would receive the money the state saved on Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes because of the freezes. The extra aid totals about $27 million.

While not ready to endorse the proposal for New York, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said, "Anything that saves school districts money is something they should generate on their own, and if we can be helpful to them in some capacity we should look at it."

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the minority leader, applauded Christie's initiative but said he could not support the plan if it increased spending.

The New York State United Teachers union and state School Boards Association expressed reservations. The union opposes forgoing negotiated pay hikes. School boards are concerned they will be penalized for not securing concessions.

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