Changed landscape in Albany for school-aid backers

This is a first grade classroom at Branch

This is a first grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Long Island school superintendents unhappy with their state aid allocations in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget once again will rely on a coalition of local Republican senators to make things right.

Such has been the pattern, year after year, governor after governor, in the region's continuing battle to wrestle a fair and equitable share of state monies for local school districts.

But things have changed.


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A state cap on property tax increases has forced districts to rein in spending -- even as demands for services have increased.

More districts are pooling purchases of paper and other items, and an increasing number are pressing for union concessions.

The landscape of the State Senate could be changing too.

With the departure of former Sen. Charles Fuschillo, of Merrick, the GOP bloc known as the Long Island Nine is now the Long Island Eight. Also, Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is challenging Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), for Congress and will give up his seat at the end of this year.

The LI delegation's leader, Sen. Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, is no longer the senate's majority leader. He shares that duty with a Democrat, Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein, who represents parts of Westchester and the Bronx.

School advocates are serious about the fight for state funding. Long Island districts got more money from Albany in 2008 than they get now -- despite the region's significant contribution to state revenue through income and other taxes.

Wednesday, spokesman Scott Reif said Skelos would work to increase funding from the levels proposed in Cuomo's proposed budget. ". . . The funds should be distributed fairly and equitably," Reif said.

It's also an election year for Cuomo and state lawmakers, and the last thing they need are angry Nassau and Suffolk voters.

Republicans predict they will hold onto the Fuschillo and Zeldin seats. They note that although Cuomo has not slated a special election for Fuschillo's seat, the resignation of a Senate Democrat is keeping the sides in balance -- for now.

They say they're confident of winning an increase in Long Island school aid in the horse trading over Cuomo's proposed budget this year.

But Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said that even if Republicans lose the Fuschillo and Zeldin seats -- which he believes are competitive -- the fight for aid would go on.

"There is a recognition by Democrats that support from suburban voters is necessary," Levy said.

"And there was a lesson [in] what happened to two Long Island senators, Brian Foley and Craig Johnson, who were defeated after they sided on a variety of issues with New York City Democrats."

Either way, the fight for school money should continue.