Southold BOE President: Relief from mandates could be on the way

A break from state education mandates could be on the horizon for school districts anticipating substantial cuts in state aid, Southold Board of Education president Paulette Ofrias said last week.

During a recent breakfast meeting with state legislators, “They led us to believe that there would be mandate relief,” Ms. Ofrias said at the board’s Feb. 16 meeting. With Southold anticipating an 18 percent state aid cut for the 2011-12 school year, it would be difficult to comply with all the unfunded state mandates that affect district spending, she said.

In past years, it was typical of whoever sat in the governor’s chair to propose sharp cuts to aid to education, only to have much of the money restored by the legislature. But few expect that’s possible this year, given the state of the economy and Albany’s depleted coffers.

Ms. Ofrias is encouraging educators from throughout the state to fight for mandate relief and those from Long Island to continue to lobby for a new aid formula.

“We need to be there in front of our legislators and let them fight for us,” she said. “We’re all in it together.”

Long Island school officials have long complained that because the area is seen as wealthy due to on its high property values, it’s penalized in state school aid. Their rallying call has been that while property values escalated prior to the 2008 recession, they don’t reflect Long Island salaries or the plight of seniors on fixed incomes.

The formula also overlooks the reality that it costs more to educate students on Long Island, Ms. Ofrias said. Those costs include bus transportation and higher salaries necessary to attract teachers to the area.

“We can do more in the way of shared services” to save money,” Ms. Ofrias said.

In addition to the yearly operating budget, the district is planning a $417,606 building-repair project and purchase of two or three school buses costing not more than $250,000. The money for both the repairs and the buses are in reserve funds and so would not raise property taxes. Still, voters will get the final say as both projects will be separate ballot issues in the May elections.

The building repairs include:

• Air conditioning equipment in the server room to keeping computer equipment from being damaged
• Roofing
• Damaged floors in the cafeteria
• Concrete sidewalks along the parking lot and at the edge of the athletic fields
• Masonry work on interior and exterior walls of corridors, classrooms, the gym and café
• Interior doors that aren’t functioning correctly at the library, computer lab, art and music rooms, kindergarten toilets and various classrooms and administrative offices
• Piping and mechanical components and replacement of the existing controller for the chiller unit.

None of the repairs are cosmetic and are necessary to protect the integrity of the buildings, Ms. Ofrias said.

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