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Long Island

Cuomo cuts include $250M hit to LI school aid

Photo Credit: John Paraskevas

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday proposed cutting nearly $250 million in Long Island's school aid - the biggest planned reduction in 20 years - as part of a broader plan that, he said, would erase the state's deficit and set it "on a new path toward prosperity."

Locally, however, many educators contend their schools would be taking a disproportionate share of the statewide hit. As a region, the Island would lose about 11 percent of its state aid, with all 124 districts taking reductions. Statewide, Cuomo is calling for $1.5 billion in aid cuts, or 7.3 percent on average.

Complaints were loudest in districts that are relatively poor and most dependent on state assistance. "Oh, my God, it's devastating, to put it bluntly," said Pless Dickerson, superintendent of Wyandanch schools.

He added that the governor's proposed $2.42 million cut for his district could result in losses of varsity sports teams as well as a popular junior ROTC unit. The statewide plan requires approval by state lawmakers, some of whom have already expressed reservations

Cuomo aides contend the reductions are "fair and targeted" - that is, that richer districts face bigger losses in terms of the percentage of aid subtracted. On the other hand, poorer districts lose far more money as a percentage of their overall spending.

Wyandanch, for example, would give up the equivalent of 4.40 percent of its total budget. Brentwood would lose the equivalent of 3.71 percent; Middle Country, 5.12 percent; and Sachem, 5.79 percent.

In contrast, wealthy districts such as Cold Spring Harbor, Manhasset and Westhampton Beach would each lose aid equivalent to less than 1 percent of their budgets.

Joe Bond, Brentwood's schools chief, said the governor's plan would "further increase the gap between high-wealth and low-wealth districts."

Cuomo Tuesday took his own shot at schools for overspending, citing districts on the Island and elsewhere that pay superintendents more than $200,000 annually. Specifically, the governor pointed to the $386,868 salary of one superintendent - Syosset's Carole Hankin, though he didn't mention her by name.

"I understand these superintendents have a job to do, but why they have to be paid more than the governor I do not know," Cuomo said. He is paid $179,000 a year, and returns 5 percent of that to the state.

A Syosset spokesman contacted late Tuesday had no immediate comment.

Under Cuomo's plan, schools in Nassau County would lose $88.1 million in aid overall, while Suffolk schools would lose $161.4 million. That's operating aid, and does not include state assistance for school construction and renovation, which is based on how much districts spend.

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