Hochul’s budget bid slashes aid to local schools

Cuts to state aid projections for the 2024-25 school year have galvanized North Fork school districts to fight for their funds.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul released her preliminary budget for the 2025 fiscal year, including the Education Department’s school aid runs. The budget allocates $35.3 billion for the state’s approximately 700 school districts, which educate approximately 2.2 million K-12 students.

Overall, education spending will increase $825 million compared to last year. However, the governor’s proposed figures will slash aid for some North Fork districts, ending the long-standing “hold harmless” policy, which guaranteed school districts would receive at least as much funding as they had in previous years. Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District will face a particularly deep cut — 19.07%, or $611,779 — in their overall state aid.

“We were definitely shocked to see these initial numbers,” Mattituck Superintendent Shawn Petretti said. With these figures still in the proposal stage, he said that he and his district intend to lobby for the return of these funds.

“There’s many districts throughout Suffolk County and the state that have taken very significant hits in state aid, unmanageable hits,” Mr. Petretti said. “We are looking to band together with the help of our local legislators as well as the professional organizations we are a part of [such as] the New York State School Boards Association [and] the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. Also, our teachers union is advocating on their end through [New York State United Teachers] to get these amounts adjusted so that it’s more manageable.”

Most drastically, the governor’s preliminary budget proposes to cut Mattituck’s Foundation Aid, which, according to the governor’s budget briefing book, is “the state’s main education operating aid formula. It is focused on allocating State funds equitably to all school districts, especially high-need districts, based on student need, community wealth, and regional cost differences.” Foundation Aid went into effect in New York for the 2007-8 school year following a New York State Court of Appeals decision in the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, which asked whether the state was providing enough funding for schools.

Statewide, the governor’s proposal calls for Foundation Aid to increase from just under $24 billion to just over $24.5 billion. Meanwhile, Southold Union Free School District is slated to lose $486,010 in Foundation Aid come next school year. However, the calculations in the budget proposal reflect an overall decrease of only $268,540.

“We’re disappointed in the numbers that came out in the first proposal,” Southold Superintendent Anthony Mauro said. “The numbers they came out with, I think they’re very convoluted because state aid runs include the anticipated revenues from your BOCES expenditures and your anticipated pre-K revenues … They’re not real numbers right now. When it comes to the Foundation Aid, that’s a real cut that will hold true through the next couple of budget cycles and it’s going to impact us negatively. We’re going to have to figure out how to keep all of our programs intact with less state aid.”

According to the figures in the governor’s preliminary budget, Greenport Union Free School District’s foundation aid will decrease $125,237, but calculations project a $27,061 increase in total aid.

No North Fork district is encountering calculation confusion quite like Oysterponds Union Free School District. The school of fewer than 100 students is slated to receive a $119,603, a 27.43% overall boost. The executive proposal calls for Oysterponds, which is not a charter school, to receive $117,882 in charter school transitional aid, which is reserved for charter schools in which enrollment exceeds 2% of resident public school enrollment. Oysterponds Superintendent Justin Cobis said this line item is “most likely an error.”

“We’re pretty much in the same boat as the End East districts and our neighbors at this point,” he said. “We’re looking to get that number clarified, but we are down [$111,583] in foundation aid, which is really the most significant number.”

The state budget must be passed by April 1 and school districts will hold budget votes on May 21. There is still time for school districts and elected officials to advocate for a return to “hold harmless” and the protection of Foundation Aid students in their districts could lose.

“This is the beginning of a process,” Mr. Petretti said. “We’re counting on our local representatives to support their schools and make the necessary alterations to this budget.”