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LI school officials poised to review detailed state-aid figures

Superintendents are “really going to sharpen their pencils” and take a close look at the governor’s proposed funding, Suffolk schools leader says.

With New York facing a deficit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo scaled back an expected spending boost for elementary and secondary education, proposing on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 a 3 percent hike. Cuomo, a Democrat now in his eighth year in office, outlined his ideas for a $168 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

ALBANY — School officials on Long Island are poised to review the nuts and bolts of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s funding plan, especially detailed numbers in computerized “school runs” released Tuesday night.

Lars Clemensen, superintendent of Hampton Bays schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he had looked over the state’s figures as best he could, but was unable to do a full and immediate analysis of all districts in his county and would continue his review on Wednesday.

The district-by-district breakdowns are a key indicator for superintendents to gauge how well their districts did in the annual scrum for state money.

Public schools statewide would get an extra $769 million in financial aid in 2018-19 under Cuomo’s proposed budget — a 3 percent increase.

Clemensen, in a phone interview after 8 p.m., said he had noticed apparent discrepancies in some local figures — for example, a two-tenths of 1 percent increase in foundation aid for his district, in contrast to 2 percent increases for some systems nearby. Foundation aid is the core of state school support.

“A 3 percent overall increase from the governor’s budget means so many different things for so many districts,” the schools chief said. “I think tomorrow school superintendents throughout Suffolk County are really going to sharpen their pencils and take a closer look at this.”

School aid statewide would rise to a total of more than $26.3 billion under the governor’s budget, with additional funding for public prekindergarten classes, school breakfasts and other services. The biggest increase would be $338 million for foundation aid.

“Seven hundred and sixty-nine million — that’s a lot of money,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

Flanagan added that many other state-aided programs that received smaller percentage allotments in the proposed budget — for example, transportation — “would all graciously welcome 3 percent.”

Some other state leaders were lukewarm to Cuomo’s plan.

Betty Rosa, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, and MaryEllen Elia, the state’s education commissioner, issued a joint statement, commending the governor’s support for programs such as prekindergarten, but adding that the $769 million increase was less than half that recently proposed by the 17-member Regents board.

Charles Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, agreed that the $769 million proposed hike was too small.

He acknowledged, however, that recent federal actions have created financial uncertainties for the state. Those moves have included restrictions on deductions for state and local taxes that could cost New York State homeowners considerable money.

“The state’s fiscal outlook is volatile and uncertain, and we respect the difficulties Governor Cuomo and the legislators will face in constructing state budgets for next year and beyond,” Dedrick said in a prepared statement.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the state’s chief fiscal watchdog, reported in November that state tax receipts were lower than projected, threatening some of the biggest deficits in nearly a decade. Tax collections reportedly improved in December, however, leaving the state’s prospects a bit brighter than before, though still cloudy.

Michael Borges, executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials, described the most recent revenue increases as “dramatic.” He cautioned, however, that the state’s full financial picture would not be clear until the end of the fiscal year on March 30.

Clemensen noted that the legislature is not required to adopt a final assistance package until April 1 and that much negotiating remains ahead.

“It’s the beginning of the legislative session, and we hope this number [in Cuomo’s budget proposal] represents a floor and not a ceiling,” he said.

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