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Pandemic double whammy: Schools face cuts as they adapt through crisis

This week's top stories

1. 50 LI school districts would lose state aid under Cuomo's proposal

Under the state's latest aid proposal, 50 school districts across Long Island would lose money — the biggest reversal of its kind since the aftermath of the Great Recession 10 years ago. Potential aid reductions are driven by a state budget crunch, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and uneven distribution of federal school funding. A Newsday review of the state's budget plan, released Jan. 19 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shows potential dollar losses spanning the map, from Sag Harbor and Southold in the east to Elmont and Floral Park-Bellerose in the west.

"It's very frustrating for suburban districts, because we felt for many years that we didn't get our equal share of aid," said Donna Jones, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford schools, where a $1 million aid cut is proposed. "Now in the midst of the pandemic, we need the aid all the more … We don't know what's going to come out of Washington. We don't know what's going to come out of the state. We're so dependent on them for our aid, and it's so challenging to develop a budget with all these unknown variables."

Systems taking the biggest hits of $1 million or more include Valley Stream Central, Bayport-Blue Point, Connetquot and Smithtown. Local school officials have taken issue with the state's plans, noting that the announcement of potential aid cuts comes just as they are drafting their budgets. Some local officials also point out that, while many of their schools face potential aid reductions, urban systems, including New York City, Buffalo and Rochester, are gaining aid by double digits, percentage-wise.

A total of 156 districts out of 673 statewide, or 23%, are marked for reductions in state support during 2021-22. The Nassau-Suffolk region would be hit particularly hard, with more than 40% of systems facing losses.

Read the full story.

2. 26% more LI educators filed for retirement in 2020, data shows

Retirement applications from Long Island public school teachers, principals and other educators spiked last year, data shows, reflecting the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on education and possibly worsening a teacher shortage.

  • More than 2,000 educators in Nassau and Suffolk counties filed for retirement in 2020, a 26% increase over 2019, when some 1,600 put in their papers, according to data provided to Newsday by the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System. Statewide, nearly 8,000 educators in the Teachers’ Retirement System filed for retirement last year, an 11% increase over 2019, not including New York City public school teachers, who have their own retirement system.
  • Fears about the safety of in-person instruction and difficulties adapting to remote learning fueled the trend, local educators said — and at no small cost. One local teacher said she’s missing out on $10,000 in annual pension earnings by retiring sooner than planned.
  • "I had loved my job more than I can tell you. My community, my school district, was everything to me. I just couldn't risk my health and my mother's health," said Linda Tucci, 67, of Greenlawn. Tucci retired last summer after teaching for 40 years in the William Floyd school district.

Read the full story.

3. 16 Suffolk high school teams must quarantine on first day of high-risk sports

Long Island high schools were coming to grips with the challenges of playing high-risk sports during a pandemic on Tuesday, the opening day of games for boys and girls basketball.

  • In Suffolk County, 14 basketball teams and two wrestling programs had to pause activities for either positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing, according to Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, the county's governing body of high school sports. There are 16 teams in quarantine, but Combs would not say which teams were affected.
  • In Nassau County, 10 basketball games had to be canceled or rescheduled because of district COVID-19 test results or contact tracing on one or both teams, according to Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli.
  • Nassau County does not require athletes to undergo weekly testing, but Suffolk County does.

Read the full story.

4. Rosa named permanent education commissioner of Board of Regents

Betty A. Rosa, the first Latina to head the state Education Department and a longtime advocate for changes in standardized testing, was named permanent commissioner Monday afternoon. Her promotion from interim commissioner was unanimously approved by the state's Board of Regents.

  • "Now, more than ever, we must address the equity gaps our state faces, and I am eager to partner with the board and the education community to further these efforts," Rosa said after the vote. Rosa, 69, is a former Bronx educator with an educational doctoral degree from Harvard University and more than 30 years' experience.
  • The state education department plans to seek federal waivers from required student testing for the second year in a row. Officials contended that state tests could not be safely and fairly administered during the pandemic. Rose previously called for rethinking the state's use of Regents exams, which have been required for high school graduation for more than 140 years.

Read the full story.

5. Panel: At-risk Long Island kids face steepest learning curve amid pandemic

Long Island’s most vulnerable children face the steepest challenges to learning during the pandemic, and educators are scrambling to respond, panelists said last week at a Long Island Latino Teachers Association webinar.

  • Participants representing school districts in Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch said chronic absenteeism, a problem sometimes associated with food and housing insecurity, had grown worse during the pandemic.
  • "I have students who are absent a week, two weeks: They’re the only one who’s COVID negative" in their households, said Ricardo Campos, a Central Islip math teacher. "They’re becoming the guardian" of older relatives. "Math is so sequential, if a student is out for a week, they’ve already lost the foundation they need to proceed."
  • Some students in Wyandanch attending fully remote school might go days without logging in, said Christine Jordan, assistant superintendent for administrative and instructional accountability for the school district. The district responded with dialogue and outreach and has connected students with social workers or services through the Wyandanch Community Resource Center.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • For decades, Highlights Kids has offered kids stories, adventures, brainteasers and puzzles to support their creativity and imagination. The website offers activities ranging from matching games to science experiments that allow children to learn while still having fun. Visit highlightskids.com.
  • At Storyline Online, each book includes supplemental curriculum that aims to strengthen comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language learners. Visit storylineonline.net.
  • Youngzine is a nonprofit that aims to help children learn about current news and events shaping their world in a simple, engaging and interactive manner. Visit youngzine.org.

Round of applause

A student at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale was named Volunteer of the Year by the Long Island Junior Soccer League. Jessica Lee, a senior, received the league's Marg McGory TOPSoccer Volunteer of the Year Award, which is named for a longtime advocate for special-needs individuals.

Lee, who has played soccer since she was 3, plays for the league's Garden City Park Shooting Stars and is on the varsity soccer team at Kellenberg, where she served as captain this past fall season. She has been involved for nine years with the West Hempstead Chiefs Soccer Club, which her family founded.

"I believe that all kids should have the same opportunities in life," Lee, 17, said. "TOPSoccer helps make that happen. Seeing the players every week and their faces full of excitement, ready to play soccer, never fails to put a smile on my face."

TOPSoccer is a community-based program for children and young adults with physical and intellectual challenges.

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to ednews@newsday.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Some high school sports are back, but will there be state championships this spring?

The New York Public High School Athletic Association has decided to cancel all state championship tournaments for 2021 spring sports in a vote by its executive committee on Wednesday.

"[We] really looked at how can we maximize participation for students," NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas told Newsday. "When you look at the condensed season already, and the desire of our schools to play as many games as they can, it became very apparent that we had to make the unfortunate decision to cancel the spring championships."

Due to coronavirus pandemic considerations, spring sports in New York can begin practice and play in mid-April, at the earliest this school year. It means that the seasons will be starting more than a month later than usual, and programs would be losing four to five weeks from a typical season. Rather than have a schedule where only a small number of schools are playing at the end in a state tournament, the measure seeks to allow more programs to play longer regular seasons.

On Long Island, there still may be county championships in spring sports, and there could even be a window for Long Island championships.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at catherine.carrera@newsday.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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