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Most LI school districts to get extra federal dollars after $12M state error

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to members

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks to members of the state Board of Regents on June 11. Credit: Hans Pennink

More than 100 school districts across Long Island will get extra federal dollars for the 2018-19 academic year, while a handful of local systems and charter schools will lose money, all because of a computational error, the state Education Department said Friday.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, in a news teleconference, said the agency had miscalculated by $12 million the money distributed to schools statewide during the 2017-18 year under a federal program known as Title II. That program provides training funds for classroom teachers nationwide. 

As a result, Elia said, 677 school districts across the state got less money than they were entitled to and will be reimbursed, mostly during the coming school year. Meanwhile, 275 charter schools statewide and three tiny districts in eastern Long Island received more aid than they were due and will be docked for the over-funding in installments during periods of up to five years. 

The total amount of aid at issue is relatively small — about 7.8 percent of $153 million in Title II support distributed statewide. New York State receives an overall total of about $1.6 billion in school aid annually under the federal government's most expansive education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. 

 However, Elia told reporters Friday that she believes it is important for the Education Department to acknowledge its mistake publicly and release a list of all the affected school systems and charter schools.

The commissioner said the error occurred last year when the agency tried to calculate how aid should be distributed under a new federal formula, and staffers discovered the mistake several weeks ago.  

"This is our error and we own it," Elia said. She went on to pledge that her agency is strengthening its internal financial controls in an effort to ensure that similar mistakes don't happen. 

In Nassau and Suffolk counties, school officials that are slated to receive more financial assistance welcomed the state's announcement and thanked the commissioner for her candor. Charter-school leaders who will lose money said the small sums involved will have little impact on their student programs. 

 "It's exciting news that we got additional money, so that's terrific," said Richard Loeschner, superintendent of Brentwood schools, the Island's largest district, who said the aid would be used for teacher mentoring and training. 

Brentwood stands to gain an extra $57,375 in September, bringing its total Title II allocation this year to $722,588. That's the biggest aid boost in the two-county region stemming from the state's miscalculation.

In contrast, the Sagaponack district, which operates a single school in Southampton Town, is due to lose $10, while the Fishers Island system will lose $9 and New Suffolk, $7.  

At the Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead, founder Gil Bernardino described the expected funding loss there as "insignificant".

"I'd prefer that those funds would be replaced by the state instead of having this passed on to the charter schools," Bernardino said. "At the same time, as far as Evergreen is concerned, we can operate this year without any change in implementing our programs." 

The Evergreen school, under the state's financial plan, will see its aid reduced by $8,638, bringing this year's total down to $14,378.   

The biggest gain will be in New York City's school system, which stands to collect an extra $130,728 this year, followed by a total of $6.9 million disbursed in installments during the following three years. 


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