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Proposed state aid budget shows increases for North Fork schools

As budget season begins for school districts across the state, local administrators are evaluating how much of the $27.7 billion in state aid they can expect.

The figures from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget show a year-to-year funding increase of $956 million, or 3.6 percent, according to documents released by the Department of Education. Most districts in Southold and Riverhead Towns are expected to see varying levels of increases.

The governor’s proposed budget does not account for separate aid each district applies for which includes federal and state agencies, and the final numbers in the proposal can change due to Legislative and Senate budget discussions.

Some North Fork administrators have said state aid standards and amounts should be modified to comply with ever-changing student needs. 

Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jill Gierasch said the district will receive an estimated $3.1 million in aid for the 2019-20 school year, a 1.24 percent increase from last year’s proposal. She said in an email that the minor increase does not add significant funding to improve extracurricular activities, sports and student programs. The district will release a tentative budget to the public at the Feb. 14 board meeting.

“The district’s goal is to balance what is fair to the community while creating an exceptional program for the 2019-2020 school year and beyond,” she said in an email last Tuesday.

With the increase in funding for school safety, Ms. Gierasch said, the state should consider creating a category devoted specifically to school security to reimburse school districts for expenditures related to security.

“Changes in the funding from both the legislation at the state and federal level with a plan to support the social emotional and mental health of students is needed,” she said. “The share of state aid to Mattituck needs to be adjusted to reflect our well-documented shifts in student needs.”

David Gamberg, superintendent for both Southold and Greenport school districts, said both districts are expected to see slight increases. The aid expected for Greenport is $1.6 million and for Southold it’s $2 million. The figures represent a 1.03 percent increase for Greenport and 1.04 increase compared to last year’s aid.

Mr. Gamberg said the projected state aid for both districts allows them to maintain their current programs and lower the amount the district would need taxpayers to fund the tax levy. Mr. Gamberg said state aid makes up about 8.4 percent of Greenport’s revenue budget and 6.3 percent for Southold. Mr. Gamberg said both districts rely on receiving state aid each year to maintain staff and continue their “diverse programs.”

Last year Greenport faced a shortfall in its budget and needed to pierce the state tax cap to avoid cuts in staff and services. It was the third time the district asked residents to pierce the tax cap since it was enacted in 2011. Voters approved the budget with more than 60 percent approval to allow the district to pierce the cap.

In Riverhead Town, districts will see an increase in state aid. Riverhead will receive about $32.3 million in state aid, an increase of $1.1 million from the 2018-2019 budget. 

Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said state aid represents 22 percent of the district’s revenue. She said she believes the state aid formulas need to be updated to consider changes, like the tax cap and increases to the number of English as a New Language students.

“Since the Riverhead district has moved toward the Whole Child approach, it is critical that students are not only supported academically, but that they are also supported socially and emotionally,” she said in an email. “The arts, clubs, athletics and extracurricular activities are critical to our students’ success.” 

Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district will receive a proposed $10.3 million in state aid, a decrease of $77,088, or 0.74 percent, from last year’s total.

In a message released on the school’s website, Mr. Poole said the decrease does not reflect the rising costs in all areas of district operations. 

“Long Island communities, including Shoreham-Wading River, receive a disproportionate amount of school aid back when compared to our contribution to New York State’s budget,” he wrote. “It is only fair to the Shoreham-Wading River community that foundation aid increases reflect rising costs and support the continuance of all of our programming for students.” 

Last year, as a result of support from local legislators, he said, the district was able to receive $100,000 more than what the executive budget originally proposed.

On Feb. 2, some local districts, including Mattituck-Cutchogue, met at the Longwood Legislative Breakfast to advocate for Long Island’s fair share of state aid.

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