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LI schools get extra $129M in state aid under budget deal

Massapequa schools Superintendent Lucille F. Iconis speaks at

Massapequa schools Superintendent Lucille F. Iconis speaks at a meeting on Thursday, April 6, 2017, during which the school board voted to adopt the proposed 2017-18 budget. Regional school leaders welcomed the overall 4.3 percent state aid increase for the Island's 124 districts. Credit: Syntax

Long Island schools will get an extra $129 million in state financial aid for the 2017-18 academic year as part of a $1.1 billion expansion of education funding statewide under a tardy budget expected to get Senate consideration Sunday.

The aid agreement brings overall state assistance to public schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties to $3.1 billion for the coming year.

State aid makes up about 25 percent of district revenue, which has a big effect on homeowners’ taxes. School taxes account for about 65 percent of Long Island homeowners’ total tax bill.

Regional school leaders welcomed the overall 4.3 percent aid increase for the Island’s 124 districts, which matches up well against a 2.7 percent inflation rate.

“At the first blush this morning, it looks like it’s really positive for all school districts,” Charles Russo, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of East Moriches schools, said Saturday, hours after late legislative action.

Details of the state assistance package were released at about midnight Friday, a week after the statutory April 1 deadline for budget passage.

Earlier Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and leaders of the state Senate and Assembly announced that after repeated impasses they had agreed on an overall $163 billion spending blueprint. The plan addresses a range of issues, including a pathway to free tuition at state colleges for some families, extension of the so-called “millionaire’s tax” and future spending on clean water infrastructure.

Assembly members took final votes on budget bills Saturday. The Senate, which adjourned Wednesday, is expected to return late Sunday afternoon.

The overall aid for education includes both assistance for day-to-day operations and reimbursement for school construction and renovation. Operating aid alone next year will be up Islandwide by nearly $109 million, or 4.05 percent.

Many analysts consider the latter figure the best indicator of funding improvement.

Gains for the Island’s districts are not as large as the 6.2 percent hike in total and operating aid received for the current school year, when Albany, in effect, repaid schools for millions of dollars in cuts imposed during the Great Recession.

The financial assistance for 2017-18 includes a $700 million increase statewide in Foundation Aid, which is meant to provide greater equity in dollar distribution, depending on districts’ wealth. Many educators had feared the system would end next year and were relieved to hear it will continue.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), in a joint statement with the governor and other key lawmakers, said the education portion of the budget “ensures all of our schools have the resources they need to give students a high-quality education.”

School leaders are keeping their eyes on a potential catch, though.

Cuomo has repeatedly warned that the state faces possible loss of federal dollars, the scope of which will not be known until after districts put local spending plans to a vote on May 16.

As a result, the budget deal includes language authorizing the state to make reductions in its spending, including school aid, in response to any federal cuts of $850 million or more.

Under that provision, the governor’s budget office would map out uniform reductions in state programs to take effect automatically unless legislators passed their own plan within 90 days after the budget division took action.

Cuomo, in a briefing last week, urged school districts to stick with “cautious planning.”

Henry Grishman, superintendent of Jericho schools, said he and colleagues still have concerns over the governor’s authority to impose midyear budget cuts. The veteran school administrator expressed gratitude for the extra aid just approved.

“We thank the state for coming together and finalizing a budget that continues to increase its investment in public education,” said Grishman, a former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Some districts continue to feel a financial pinch.

Among them are five systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties that did not win renewal from the state recently of 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. Money from the grants has paid for after-school and summer programs, especially for children from low-income households.

Districts with expiring grants are Amityville, Central Islip, Freeport, Uniondale and Wyandanch. Officials in some of those districts now worry that shifts in federal funding under consideration by President Donald Trump’s administration will further crimp student services.

“We had a great summer school. We’ll still have it in secondary school, but we’re losing it at the elementary level,” said Jeannette Santos, first vice president on Amityville’s school board. “And now, the federal aid issue is going to kill us.”

The annual tug-of-war over state-aid distribution has taken on greater urgency since Albany first imposed caps on local property taxation during the 2012-13 school year. As a result, many Island residents and educators voiced frustration last week as the governor and legislators struggled to agree on funding upon which schools increasingly depend.

In Massapequa, Susanne Smoller, the mother of an 11th-grader, stood up at a school board meeting to voice her feelings about state lawmakers.

“Nobody’s playing nice in the sandbox,” she said.

So far, all districts in Nassau and Suffolk have indicated they plan to keep within cap limits in proposed 2017-18 budgets — the first time that has happened since caps were imposed.

However, some school administrators said their spending plans may stick to projected tax-levy hikes that were announced in January, even if extra state aid would allow them to lower the increases. That reflects concern over possible midyear aid reductions, they said.

“For school districts, midyear cuts in aid would be devastating,” said Joseph Famularo, superintendent of Bellmore schools and president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents.

Aid for LI schools

Here are overall amounts of state aid to Long Island’s public school districts since the 2008-09 academic year.

  • 2008-09: $2.38 billion
  • 2009-10: $2.40 billion
  • 2010-11: $2.18 billion
  • 2011-12: $2.06 billion
  • 2012-13: $2.14 billion
  • 2013-14: $2.23 billion
  • 2014-15: $2.36 billion
  • 2015-16: $2.51 billion
  • 2016-17: $2.97 billion
  • 2017-18: $3.1 billion

Source: Eastern Suffolk BOCES

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