State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport) predicted Saturday that financial aid to schools statewide would rise at least $1.5 billion next year, including complete restoration of $434 million cut from districts’ revenues at the height of an economic crunch in 2009 and 2010.
The projected aid increase is a half-billion dollars more than Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed in his budget message last month. School lobbyists in Albany contend, however, that they need an extra $1.7 billion just to keep student services running at current levels.
Flanagan, speaking to a Middle Island conference attended by about 300 school administrators, board trustees and others, said that a substantial boost in state assistance was the most practical way to help school districts cope with a near-zero state cap on local property taxes.
“I’d say we’d be at an absolute floor of $1.5 billion, probably higher,” he said.
As majority leader, Flanagan is one of three state leaders, including Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, with the greatest influence over state budget decisions.
Local school leaders reacted to Flanagan’s $1.5 billion forecast with a mix of disappointment and resignation. Some noted that intense negotiations lie ahead.
“It does need to be higher,” said Susan Bergtraum, president of the New York State School Boards Association, who attended Saturday’s breakfast conference. “I do understand that you need to start somewhere. But I hope his start is not where we really end up.”
Bergtraum, an Old Westbury resident, also is a board member of Nassau BOCES.
The breakfast meeting at Longwood Middle School is one of several regional conferences held in Nassau and Suffolk counties each year around this time to push for greater educational funding and other legislation. State lawmakers, under law, are required by April 1 to adopt their next budget, including school aid for 2016-17.
Another issue this year is the state’s teacher-evaluation law, which ties job ratings to students’ test scores. The law, amended last spring, has prompted widespread protests, including test boycotts last spring involving more than 200,000 students.
Flanagan, asked if he expected additional legislative action this year, noted that the state’s Board of Regents already approved a four-year moratorium in enforcing the law’s most controversial provisions. This action, he said, should be sufficient while the law is reviewed.
At a similar legislative breakfast Saturday at Jericho High School, Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) said even though he supports ending the requirement that student test scores eventually be used to help determine teachers’ and principals’ performance ratings, the governor would veto a repeal, and he doesn’t believe there are enough votes in the legislature to override a veto.
Instead of the legislature fighting a losing battle, Marcellino, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the Regents and local school districts should use the leeway they have within the law to limit the impact of the mandate.
Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the board, said the four-year moratorium on linking test scores and teacher evaluations that the Regents approved in December will give Regents time to improve the process.
“I believe the Regents will come up with a new evaluation system pretty much from scratch,” Tilles said.
But Gary Bettan, president of the Plainview/Old Bethpage Central School District board, said only the legislature can do away with the law.
“I don’t want a moratorium,” Bettan said. “I’d like to see the law changed. . . . Have the courage. Don’t let a governor bully you.”