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Group seeks $2 billion aid increase

A coalition of New York education groups are requesting a multi-billion state aid increase for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The New York State Educational Conference Board on Thursday called for a $2.2 billion state aid hike. The proposed increase includes $1.31 billion for foundation aid, which is the base funding for school districts, and $400 million for expense-based reimbursements. The board also requested $500 million in funding for support services, school safety and other education-related priorities.

The Educational Conference Board consists of six organizations, including New York State United Teachers, the state's leading teachers' union, and the New York State School Boards Association.

A $2.2 billion aid increase, the Educational Conference Board contends, would help school districts fund existing programs and respond to the needs of students.

The board noted that over the past decade, the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch rose by 15 percent, and the number of English language learners increased by 18 percent. There are 14 percent more students with disabilities.

Despite these increases, the board claimed that the state is behind on its foundation aid commitments by about $4 billion.

"The premise of foundation aid is that school districts will have the resources to meet student needs and provide them with a quality education," said John Yagielski, the board's chair. "The changes in the last decade underscore the importance of a foundation aid formula that is funded and functioning in our state."

The board also recommended other education-related changes. In a paper released Thursday, the coalition called for updating the foundation aid formula. This has been discussed in state government for years, but the formula hasn't been adjusted.

Some of the reforms suggested by the board include updating the costing out study to determine the appropriate aid amount per student, update student need factors and restructure the regional cost index.

Changes to the property tax cap were also recommended by the board. The tax cap has been in place since 2011 and limits property tax levy growth to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

One of the board's ideas is to establish an "allowable levy growth factor" of at least 2 percent and adopt adjustments related to BOCES capital improvements and properties with payment in lieu of tax agreements.

Education aid has long been one of the major topics of discussion in state budget negotiations. But the 2019 session will be different. For the first time in a decade, Democrats will control both houses of the state Legislature. Democrats received significant backing from educational groups, especially NYSUT, in the most recent election.

However, state legislative leaders will still need to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has proposed billion dollar aid increases in past executive budget proposals.

Lawmakers to get first pay raise in 20 years

ALBANY — New York lawmakers will soon make the highest state legislative salary in the country after a state compensation panel voted Thursday to raise their pay for the first time in 20 years.

The 63 percent increase will be phased in over three years, with legislative pay going from the current $79,500 a year to $110,000 on New Year's Day. Additional increases in 2020 and 2021 will bump up the total to $130,000.

New York now trails only California and Pennsylvania when it comes to how much it pays its legislators. By comparison, members of Congress make a base salary of $174,000, while members of the New York City Council make $148,000.

Many lawmakers — especially those from high-cost areas in and around New York City — have long argued that their pay hasn't kept up with inflation and doesn't reflect work they do outside of the six-month legislative session. But those same lawmakers have been reluctant to vote themselves a pay raise, especially following a number of high-profile political corruption convictions in recent years.

Members of the pay committee also voted to limit how much money lawmakers can earn from outside jobs, which were found to be conduits for bribes in some past corruption cases.

About a third of all lawmakers earn a significant amount of money from outside work. The proposal suggested by the committee, similar to the rules for members of the Congress, would cap that amount at no more than 15 percent of total salary, beginning in 2020.

Similar proposals have been blocked in the Senate in the past, but that chamber's new leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said Thursday that she believes her colleagues would support a cap on outside pay. Democrats won control of the Senate from Republicans in last month's elections.

"My Senate Democratic colleagues and I continue to support that," she said in a statement.

Good-government groups have long pushed for broader reforms to be included with any salary increase. Blair Horner, director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said Thursday that New Yorkers aren't likely to support an increase in legislative salaries that doesn't come with greater ethics reforms.

"I think it will resonate poorly," he said of the pay hike.

The four-member pay committee is made up of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall, who is also a former state comptroller; and former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

The committee also recommended increasing the pay of the governor from the current $179,000 salary to $250,000 in 2021. That increase would need to be approved by lawmakers.

The legislative pay raise will go into effect automatically on Jan. 1 unless lawmakers vote to reject it. The pay committee must submit its decisions in a formal report by Monday. Lawmakers aren't scheduled to reconvene until the 2019 session begins Jan. 9.

Auburn sex offender sentenced for failure to register social media accounts

AUBURN — An Auburn sex offender was sentenced to prison for failing to report social media accounts.

Steven Strecker, 28, was picked up on a warrant in September and an investigation revealed that he had various social media accounts and phone numbers that were unreported. 

In Cayuga County Court Thursday, Strecker was sentenced for two counts of failure to register internet accounts under state corrections law, class E felonies, as well as violating probation.

Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said Strecker was on probation for a 2014 conviction of second-degree rape. Strecker must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life for having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl in the summer of 2013.

Due to Strecker's mental health and learning disabilities, Cayuga County Judge Thomas Leone sentenced Strecker in October 2014 to six months in jail and 10 years on probation both for the rape charge as well as choking another victim in January 2014.

Budelmann said Thursday that community supervision is "just not working" and he hopes Strecker "will take advantage of treatment while he's (in prison)."

"I want to apologize for coming back into your court again," Strecker said. "It's no one's fault but my own ... I've made mistakes in my life (and I need) to learn from them."

For each count of failing to report internet accounts, Leone sentenced Strecker to one to three years in prison and for violating probation, Strecker was sentenced to a determined two years in prison with 10 years post-release supervision. The sentences will all run concurrently.

Also in court

• A former Auburn Correctional Facility inmate pleaded guilty to possessing a makeshift stabbing weapon in prison.

During a frisking at the prison in December 2017, Mark Brown, 25, was found with a 5-inch sharpened toothbrush that could be used to stab someone and two paper bundles of marijuana, police previously reported.

In court Thursday, Brown said he had the toothbrush for protection and admitted to knowing it was unlawful to possess a weapon.

While originally charged with first-degree possessing dangerous contraband in prison, a class D felony, and second-degree possessing contraband in prison, a class A misdemeanor, Brown plead guilty to one reduced charge on Thursday.

In light of Brown's guilty plea to first-degree attempted promoting prison contraband, he will likely be sentenced to 1 1/2 to three years in prison, which will run consecutive to to his current sentence for a 2017 conviction of second-degree burglary in Erie County. Brown will return to court for sentencing Feb. 21. 

• Christopher Vanetten, 44, pleaded guilty to purchasing a motorcycle in August with a check he knew wouldn't go through.

Vanetten, who is currently being held in Madison County Jail as he faces a number of charges in other counties, said he purchased a motorcycle in Port Byron with a bank account, knowing there were insufficient funds. The theft amounted to about $3,050.

While he could face up to seven years in prison, Leone said he would likely sentence Vanetten to two to four years in prison with a drug treatment order, given he is provided the appropriate documentation. As he is facing sentencing in another county Feb. 26, Vanetten is scheduled for sentencing in Cayuga County Feb. 28.

• An Auburn woman was sentenced to six months in jail for selling drugs to the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force in 2016.

Deanna Stone, 49, of 3 Wood St., previously plead guilty to her entire indictment including fourth-degree conspiracy, a class E felony, and two counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all class B felonies.

In exchange for her plea, Leone followed-through on his previously agreed-upon sentence of six months in jail with five years probation.

"I'm sorry for causing an unjust pain and suffering to my community at large," said Stone, who already served the necessary jail time prior to her sentencing.

Leone warned her that this was her "last stop," as she was also convicted of a felony drug sale in 1990, and she'll see prison time if she "screws up" again.

• A Sempronius woman, previously charged in a meth lab bust, pleaded guilty to violating her probation after authorities discovered marijuana in her home.

Theresa Estebanez, 36, was remanded to Cayuga County Jail on Oct. 18 when Probation Officer Nick Flanigan said that her home, listed as 6470 Frazier Road, was filled with dried marijuana and marijuana plants.

Estebanez plead guilty in court Thursday both to violating her parole, as well as a charge of first-degree identity theft, a class E felony, that she was charged with by Supreme Court Information.

Leone explained that Estebanez used another individual's social security number to obtain services from New York State Gas and Electric that exceeded $2,000, totaling around $3,800. Estebanez admitted to knowingly deceiving NYSEG.

Estebanez also pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal possession of marijuana for having more than 10 pounds of marijuana in her house, which is home to her and her boyfriend's eight children. She also admitted to violating her five year sentence of probation received in December 2014.

Estebanez will likely be sentenced to a determined two years in prison with one year post release supervision for violating her probation, two to four years in prison for her identity theft charge, and 2 1/2 years in prison with 1 1/2 years post release supervision for her marijuana charge. All of these sentences will run concurrent with a shock camp order, meaning Estebanez will likely serve six months in prison and whatever is left of her sentences will be served as parole. She is due back in court for sentencing Dec. 20.

Christmas Elf
Christmas Elf: Family with foster children struggling financially

Mom and dad just agreed to take in three foster children. They have two children of their own and are on a limited income. They would really appreciate it if the Elf could help them buy gifts for their foster children. Tyler is 9 and likes Batman and reading. Mathew is 4 and like construction vehicles and coloring books. James is 3 and would enjoy a Little People playset and building blocks.

Monetary donations may be made online at or by sending a check made payable to CSCAA/Christmas Elf to 89 York St., Ste. 1, Auburn, NY 13021. A list of in-demand toys is also online. Toys can be dropped off at Memorial City Hall, BJ's Wholesale, Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency at York Street, Wegmans and at C/SCAA's 48 Wright Ave. location by appointment. Only monetary donations will be taken after 5 p.m. Dec. 12