Hiawatha Elementary School in Lake Ronkonkoma on Thursday.

Hiawatha Elementary School in Lake Ronkonkoma on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

The Sachem district in Suffolk County is the latest school system on Long Island to announce proposed staffing cuts because of multimillion dollar deficits for the 2024-25 school year, district officials said Wednesday night.

District officials at a Board of Education meeting said at least 60 teachers — 30 staffers at the elementary level and 30 at the secondary level — could be let go because of a nearly $12 million shortfall in the district’s $384.6 million budget. A total of 10 teacher assistant positions could also be cut, as well as clerical and facilities workers.

The Riverhead and Amityville districts have announced proposed staff cuts in recent weeks. Riverhead schools plan to lay off 18 teacher assistants in addition to eliminating nearly 38 faculty positions, school officials said.

School officials there said the district must make the cuts because it added nearly 180 staff positions since 2018 and faces a “fiscal cliff” of nearly $20 million — the amount of COVID-19 recovery grant funding that is set to expire.

In Amityville, 25 teachers have received notice that they will not have a job in the district after June 30. The school board has approved cutting 47 staff positions to fill a $3.6 million budget gap.

In Sachem, part of what is contributing to the deficit is $22 million in federal grants the district was issued because of COVID-19 are expiring, as well as increases in retirement and employee health benefits, Sachem Superintendent Chris Pellettieri said.

A total of 35 teachers and eight teacher assistants who have retired or are planning to retire this year have been factored into the proposed spending plan. There also could be cuts to sports and extracurriculars. School officials discussed piercing the state's tax cap or tapping into the district's $60 million reserve fund, but no decision has yet been made.

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“We are looking at every option,” Pellettieri said.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is April 3, but school officials will likely meet before then. The district's budget is not yet finalized and goes to voters May 21. They are hopeful, Pellettieri said, for state funding that will help the district to “remain looking like we look like now.”

The state budget is due April 1.

Earlier this month, the state budget director said Gov. Kathy Hochul would be willing to consider shelving her proposal to end a longtime policy that guaranteed no school district would receive less state aid than it did the previous year. Hochul, a Democrat, proposed ending the policy, known as “hold harmless,” citing declining school enrollments over the last decade.

In addition, both chambers in the State Legislature recently called for an increase of about $1.3 billion in school aid over the current funding. The Senate and Assembly said their proposal would mean an increase in aid of at least 3% for every school district.

The state’s largest teacher’s union, NYSUT, has been rallying statewide and on Long Island since the release of the executive budget in January that it says underfunds the state’s Foundation Aid formula.

Ken Girardin, research director for the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, said there's “often a level of theatrics involved in these proposals because they often come out when lawmakers are pressuring the governor to hike school aid.”

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