State lawmakers optimistic school aid will be restored

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Elected officials met with education advocates Saturday in Middle Island.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Elected officials met with education advocates Saturday in Middle Island.

Local elected officials told a group of Long Island educators Saturday that they believe the majority of education cuts in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget will be restored.

Educators attending the annual Longwood Regional Legislative Breakfast — including superintendents from the Shoreham-Wading River, Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchouge and Southold school districts — urged their elected representatives to help ensure Long Island doesn’t bear the brunt of the governor’s proposed cuts in his $146.6 billion budget.

While districts across New York would see an average state aid increase of 3 percent next school year, each of the districts in Southold Town is slated to lose money. In all, 23 Suffolk County districts would lose aid under the governor’s proposal. Fifteen of those school systems are on the East End.

Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which cosponsored the event at Longwood Middle School, suggested in his presentation that school administrators focus their rally on having a $65 million reduction in high cost aid restored, which is a budget line item that has been used to provide additional aid to districts that rely more heavily on property taxes to balance their budgets. He also said attention should be focused on restoring funding from the Gap Elimination Adjustment, another factor in the state aid formula. It should be split more equitably, Mr. Bixhorn said, because while schools across the state are only losing 9 percent of this portion of aid, Long Island schools will receive 12 percent less.

“We’re losing more and getting less back,” he said. “That is, basically, a double whammy.”

Local Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said after the meeting that he’s confident high tax aid and the gap elimination adjustment will be restored.

“We in the Legislature are going to do it,” he said. “It’s a priority … I think those two things will be restored in a way that’s beneficial to Long Island school districts.”

In Southold, where the school district would lose $190,000, high tax aid would drop by more than $200,000. While other aid lines would increase, the high tax support would drop dramatically.  Southold would receive just under $1.4 million in total state aid next school year.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said after the meeting that he believes the annual gathering of school officials and politicians plays an important role in making sure local districts get their fair share of support from the state.

“We come here each year with the hope that the voices of many districts are going to provide the ammunition our local legislators need to fight for us,” Mr. Gamberg said.

Riverhead is the only East End town where district aid would increase. Both the Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River school districts would receive increases of more than 5.5 percent next school year.

During the meeting, Superintendent Steven Cohen asked the panel if they would support legislation to exclude school security costs from the tax cap, as well as provide support for the newly mandated annual professional performance review plan, known as APPR.

“Our district will have to hire two new clerical positions to deal with the reporting process and that will be a permanent cost to the district,” he said.

Mr. LaValle said a provision was added in last year’s state budget to reimburse school districts for expenses related to APPR, but couldn’t immediately give a dollar amount.

No North Fork district was hit harder in the Governor’s budget than Oysterponds, which would see a 20 percent drop if the budget were approved in its current state, down to $245,000 from just over $300,000 this school year. Greenport’s state aid would remain nearly flat under the governor’s proposal, falling by just $10,000 to $1.12 million for the next school year. Administrators from both districts did not attend Saturday’s meeting.

Longwood officials said Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) couldn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict. The original date of the breakfast was changed from Feb. 9 due to the blizzard that fell that weekend.

The state Legislature is expected to approve its budget by April 1.

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