The school district postings on Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s annual list were based...

The school district postings on Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s annual list were based on their financial status during the fiscal year ending in June 2023. Credit: Howard Simmons

Five Long Island school systems are among 16 statewide identified as facing varying degrees of fiscal strain, according to a report issued Thursday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. 

Among three school districts in the state facing "significant stress"— the highest level of risk — is tiny New Suffolk on the Island's North Fork. Residents there are scheduled for a rare vote March 5 on whether to shut down instruction in their local school and send students to neighboring districts.

Also on the "significant stress" list is the Amityville system in western Suffolk County.

Three other districts — Roosevelt in central Nassau County, Middle Country in Brookhaven Town, and Springs on the South Fork — were all classified as "susceptible" to stress, the state's mildest of three categories. 


  • Five Long Island school systems are among 16 statewide identified as facing varying degrees of fiscal strain, according to a report issued by the state comptroller. 
  • Two of those systems face "significant stress": New Suffolk and Amityville. Three — Roosevelt, Middle Country and Springs — were classified as "susceptible" to stress, the mildest of three categories.
  • New Suffolk residents are scheduled to vote March 5 on whether to shut down instruction in their small local school and send students to neighboring districts.

Designations were based on districts' financial condition during the 2022-23 school year, which ended June 30.

In New Suffolk, school leaders noted that enrollment is dwindling and that some parents feel that doesn't provide the best educational environment. Currently, six students attend classes in the district's three-room schoolhouse, and 17 others are sent to classes in the nearby Southold system, local officials said.

Consequently, residents are being asked to vote on a plan that would send all students to classes outside New Suffolk's boundaries on a tuition basis. The schoolhouse would remain in use, possibly as a community center.

One drawback of the plan posted on the district's website would be that New Suffolk would have to lay off two full-time teachers and other part-time instructors. The district calls this "a very hard decision to make." 

Pressures for small districts

Lisa Zissel, chairman of New Suffolk's school board, added in a phone interview that the district has found it difficult to operate under state rules that limit the amount of revenues it can raise through property taxes and also the amount it can hold in cash reserves. 

"We're just not allowed to have much headroom," Zissel said. "That's all we can do — provide an open forum for the community to discuss this. Then they'll have to come out and vote on March 5."

New Suffolk also showed up on the comptroller's list last year as in "moderate fiscal stress" and is one of 22 districts statewide considered "chronically stressed." 

Springs officials face pressures, too. 

"The reality is we get very little aid, and the burden falls on our taxpayers," said Springs schools Superintendent Debra Winter. 

Springs, which operates on a $35 million annual budget, receives about $2 million in financial assistance from Albany, according to state records. Winter said the district, which operates classes from prekindergarten to eighth grade, is struggling to pay tuition bills totaling about $10 million to send older students to high school in a neighboring district.

The number of districts identified statewide as fiscally stressed was higher than 14 named the prior year, but well below the 33 designated in 2019, the comptroller's office reported. 

"Although federal relief packages and state aid provided much needed assistance, school officials should remain diligent and closely monitor their financial condition in the current and future budget cycles as one-time federal funds are depleted and state aid is uncertain," DiNapoli stated.   

The comptroller’s office releases the report every year as part of its monitoring of school districts across the state. 

In its ratings, the watchdog agency uses three designations — significant stress, moderate stress and susceptible to stress — as part of its system to evaluate districts’ economic condition.   

Financial picture in Middle Country, Amityville

State designations are based on a combination of strictly financial criteria, such as the strength of district reserve funds, as well as factors beyond a district’s control, such as the number of low-income families served in the community.

In Middle Country, Superintendent Roberta Gerold said her district, one of the Island's largest, with more than 9,000 students, operates on tight budgets that provide an "outstanding" educational program, but with very little excess funds left at the end of each year. 

"We realize that this strategy is not sustainable," Gerold said in a statement. "Going forward, we will be looking at budgeting choices that will allow us to maintain the excellence of our programs while also starting the process of replenishing our reserve funds." 

Amityville's schools chief, Gina Talbert, issued a letter to her community Thursday, acknowledging that the district had closed the 2022-23 school year with a sharp decrease in "unassigned" reserve funds, from $4,219,216 to $686,244. Primary drivers for the reduction included costs of services for students with special needs, safety and security, and health insurance adjustments for retirees, she added.

Talbert added that the drop in reserves had originally been reported at a Nov. 8 board meeting and that a detailed plan had been adopted to deal with the problem.

"I want to stress our continued commitment to transparency, and the financial health of our District moving forward," Talbert wrote.

Roosevelt officials did not respond to a request for comment.

State ratings serve as an early alert for district voters who must approve school budgets each year before they go into effect. This year’s balloting for those budgets and board trustees is scheduled for May 21. The comptroller’s report covers more than 669 districts statewide.

Record boosts in state financial aid over the past three years have helped keep the number of stressed districts relatively low so far. Pressures are now mounting, however. 

On Jan. 16, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed a state budget that included aid cuts for dozens of districts on Long Island and statewide. One reason cited was a looming budget deficit. Some state lawmakers have vowed to restore much of the money before a final spending plan is approved — action that, under state law, is supposed to be completed by April 1.

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