Cuomo budget hits North Fork schools hard

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Educators aren’t surprised by news that there will be a lot less state aid for the 2011-12 school year, but the dramatic cuts Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed this week are hitting even harder than expected.

The cuts are part of a plan to eliminate a $10 billion state deficit, according to Gov. Cuomo.

The governor’s budget calls for an 18.9 percent cut or $346,802 for Southold; 17.9 percent or $64,294 in Oysterponds; a 15.7 percent cut amounting to $198,806 in Greenport; and 14.2 percent or $423,641 in Mattituck-Cutchogue.

To offset the cuts, Gov. Cuomo is proposing to distribute $250 million statewide on a competitive basis to school districts that demonstrate significant improvement in student performance, and another $250 million to those that undertake long-term changes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

What troubles Southold Superintendent David Gamberg is that the cuts are based on a state aid formula keyed to property values. That, he said, is unfair because it doesn’t reflect the actual wealth of local taxpayers.

“The formula is flawed,” Mr. Gamberg said, noting that North Fork residents are hard hit by a recession that has left many unemployed or under-employed, while also reducing the value of their property.

As for the local cutbacks that the drop in state aid will require, he said, “Everything is being looked at, up to and including personnel.” He and board members will strive to make cuts that will have the least effect possible on students, he said.

“We’re not unaware of the state’s position,” Mr. Gamberg said, but he had expected that draconian cuts would be coupled with relief from some state mandates. That hasn’t happened.

Southold is anticipating a 30 percent hike in its pension contributions at the same time that it’s being asked to absorb sharp cuts in state aid, he noted.

Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jim McKenna had been warning his district that it would see at least a 10 percent cut in funding for next year.

“Was I shocked, no, but it was a little more severe than we’d like,” he said of the 14.2 percent cutback the governor has proposed.
Mr. McKenna said that, between state cuts and federal cuts, Mattituck-Cutchogue will likely receive about half a million dollars less aid than it did last year. He predicted at a school board meeting two months ago that the district could be forced to cut as many as 10 employees. The district plans to have a first draft of its 2011-12 budget, including cuts, by March 10, he said.

“We’re looking for cuts that have a minimum impact on student services,” he said, “but people have to really understand that we’re getting a shellacking.”

In Greenport, Superintendent Michael Comanda said the governor’s proposal will have “a significant impact on our budget picture” because it comes as the district faces an 11.5 percent hike in costs to fund the Teachers Retirement System; a 16.03 percent increase in its funding for the Employee Retirement System for other staffers; a 9 percent hike in health insurance premiums; salary contractual obligations; and a 3.4 percent hike in FICA/Medicare costs.

Oysterponds Board of Education president Deborah Dumont said it’s too early to predict the impact on the 2011-12 budget, but that with less than 10 percent of its revenue dependent on state aid, the district will take less of a hit than some larger school districts.

New Suffolk gets virtually no state aid so is unaffected by the state cutback.

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