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Half Hollow Hills school district seeks full state funding

The Half Hollow Hills school board is banking on a full restoration of state education funding to cover its proposed $241.7 million budget for 2016-17.

Officials said the district proposal to increase spending by $3 million, or 1.26 percent, is feasible without busting the 0.18 percent tax cap or cutting education programs — as long as Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and his colleagues in the Senate deliver on their promises to restore funding.

Specifically, Republicans have called for a restoration of funding cuts known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA. It’s money school districts say they are still owed since the state cut school funding during the financial crisis in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The funding was never restored and Cuomo has proposed repaying the $434 million in statewide GEA cuts over two years.

The Half Hollow Hills budget proposal assumes the district will get an additional $1.7 million through a full GEA restoration. That would bring total state aid for next year to $32 million, said Anne Marie Marrone Caliendo, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and facilities.

“That’s a big risk,” Marrone Caliendo said Monday at a school board meeting. “But I’m doing it because of what Sen. Flanagan has communicated to us.”

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Flanagan and State Senate Republicans, said Thursday that restoration of the GEA is one of their “top priorities.”

“Sen. Flanagan has made clear that it needs to be part of the enacted budget,” Reif said.

Flanagan and other Senate Republicans have been working on a one-chamber budget proposal. Reif said the Senate is expected to vote on on the proposal this week.

It’s critical for Half Hollow Hills to get the restoration that Flanagan has promised, officials said.

The 0.18 percent tax levy increase will provide an additional $350,000 for the district — but that’s not much help in a nearly $242 million budget, Marrone Caliendo said.

The district is also offsetting the low tax levy increase by using $5.9 million of its reserves to help fund next year’s budget, officials said.

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