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LI lawmakers blast Gov. Cuomo's school-aid proposal

"These are probably the worst budget numbers I've seen," Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville) said of the governor's proposal, which calls for the lowest increase in seven years.

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood schools, asks a

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood schools, asks a question at the 15th Annual Regional Legislative Breakfast at the Longwood Middle School on Saturday. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress/David L. Pokress

"Show me the money!" was the theme of a regional educators' conference in Middle Island on Saturday, where a succession of state lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — blasted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's latest school-aid proposal as the lowest increase in seven years.

Those lawmakers, however, were short on details of just how much additional school funding they might be able to provide for the coming 2019-20 school year. The governor's budget division has said revenues from New Yorkers' personal income taxes are down $500 million from last year's projections as of December.

Final agreement on a statewide school-aid package, due by April 1, requires approval by the governor, the State Senate and the Assembly. 

"Two of my districts are losing money — they're not getting more," said Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville), referring to the local impact of the governor's proposal on East Islip and Connetquot. "These are probably the worst budget numbers I've seen." 

State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) was equally emphatic that school interests in Nassau and Suffolk counties needed to be protected in the annual tug-of-war for money between the Island and New York City.

"You have my full commitment that I'm going to fight for you," Martinez said.

The legislative breakfast at Longwood Middle School Saturday served as an annual kickoff of lobbying efforts by Long Island school systems, teacher unions and other groups to extract additional financial support from Albany. Leaders among the more than 300 school administrators, board members and others who attended said they were heartened by the bipartisan criticism of Cuomo's funding plan.

"It was nice to see some agreement across party lines," said Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. 

For next year, the governor has proposed distributing an extra $59.17 million in state operating aid to school districts across the Island, bringing the region's total to $2.97 billion.

The proposal, which amounts to a 2.03 percent increase, is the lowest percentage increase put forward by Cuomo in seven years.

Figures were calculated by Newsday, drawing on the state's computerized "runs," which include the bulk of state financial assistance used to support annual school operations and to reimburse expenses from past years.

Those numbers do not include state money used in school-building construction or renovation, which are available only to districts that obtain authorization for such work. Nor do the figures include special programs such as expanded preschool and after-school instruction.

Next year's aid increase has been described by the governor as a 3.6 percent, billion-dollar hike statewide.

Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget, said total aid to the Island's 124 districts would actually rise $99.3 million next year. 

Peters added that, since 2012, statewide support for schools has expanded by $8.1 billion, "strengthening educational outcomes and increasing access to high-quality learning for all students."

In the first year of his administration, 2011-12, the governor called for large-scale cuts in aid, including $250 million on the Island, in the face of a threatened budget deficit. 

Obtaining some additional money for next year shouldn't be a heavy lift for local legislators. 

Education analysts noted that the governor's budget includes $157 million in unallocated statewide "fiscal stabilization" money that lawmakers essentially can distribute among districts. Whether Senate and Assembly members can expand beyond that figure is an open question. 

In a political sense, Long Island has entered uncharted territory in terms of its ability to compete with New York City and other regions of the state in obtaining additional funding. Until this year, the State Senate had long been controlled by Republicans, whose leadership hailed largely from Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

All that changed in stunning fashion in the November elections, when Democrats captured eight additional seats in the Senate, including one held by Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay), who was ousted as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. 

Democrats now in charge of the Senate acknowledge they have something to prove. 

"That's one of the questions — whether we can deliver in the same way as the Republicans did — and we have to answer that question resoundingly," said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a leader of the region's reshaped Senate majority. 

Kaminsky, in a phone interview Friday, said he and his colleagues have just begun reviewing dollar amounts in detail, but that the "Long Island delegation intends to work as diligently as possible to make sure LI gets the same increases that it's accustomed to." 

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