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LI schools would benefit from Cuomo's budget

This file image shows teens sitting in a

This file image shows teens sitting in a classroom and raising hands to answer aquestion. Credit: iStock

Long Island schools generally would make modest financial gains under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget blueprint, with a regional increase of $59.14 million in operating aid, or 2.77 percent.

The Island's education analysts said Tuesday that they see room for negotiating a more favorable package and possibly avoiding some of the cuts in teaching jobs, student services and sports teams experienced in many districts this academic year.

The 2.77 percent increase for the Island's districts represents only money for general school operations and does not include additional state reimbursement for school construction and renovation.

Local analysts' optimism stems from an unusual twist in the 2013-14 school aid plan that the governor presented Tuesday. It calls for an extra $230 million statewide in assistance that would be guaranteed for one year only. It is not yet known how the extra money would be parceled out among local districts.

The extra, temporary aid translates into a 1 percent hike statewide. Aside from that, total aid statewide is increasing 3 percent, include building construction and renovation aid.That increase is pegged to statewide growth in personal income -- an approach adopted by Cuomo and legislators as part of broader efforts to balance the state's budget.

"That extra 1 percent is going to be a gift that Governor Cuomo is going to give to the legislature to help districts that feel they've been hurt," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "But districts can't count on that extra bump the following year."

In a political scenario that has grown familiar over the years, the Island's Republican state senators face the likely task of restoring tens of millions of dollars in "high tax" aid that the Democratic governor cut in his latest budget. Such aid is especially tailored to the needs of many districts of modest wealth in Nassau and Suffolk counties that bear a heavy property-tax burden.

Under state law, lawmakers are supposed to adopt a final budget by April 1.

Cuomo's plan would cut about $50 million in "high tax" aid statewide, including $38 million on the Island, while increasing other forms of assistance. The governor contends the shift would make distribution more equitable statewide.

Such redistribution would produce winners and losers.

Bay Shore would get a 6.53 percent increase in operating assistance; Elmont, 8.38 percent; and Glen Cove, 11.9 percent. Babylon, on the other hand, would experience a 1.54 percent loss in aid, Bethpage, 2.7 percent, and East Rockaway, 5.72 percent.

"If this cuts high-tax aid, that could have a disproportionate impact on Long Island schools," said Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of the regional Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Bixhorn, at the same time, welcomed Cuomo's offer to throw an additional $230 million into the pot. The BOCES chief described that, in essence, as an acknowledgement that the $611 million in regular aid added to next year's budget was inadequate to meet districts' needs.

Schools face particular financial pressures because they are operating under a statewide cap on local property taxes. The cap -- one of Cuomo's principal initiatives -- is intended to curb high rates, and has another four years to run before it requires reauthorization.

Basically, the cap sets a 2 percent limit on annual growth in property taxes. It exempts certain school expenses, such as approved construction projects and unusually high increases in employee pension costs. Districts are allowed to exceed caps with 60 percent voter support.

Districts that remain under caps in one year are allowed to carry over their unused taxing authority in the following year, up to a limit of 1.5 percent. In a June study, the New York State School Boards Association found more than 470 districts statewide, and more than 50 on the Island, that could choose to use that extra authority for the 2013-14 school year.

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