Legislature's plan offers more state aid to LI schools
Prospects of more state aid than Long Island schools had planned for leaves education leaders with welcome choices: either apply the extra money to holding down next year's tax rates, or retain the money as a hedge against even tougher times in 2011-12.
Under a measure approved by state lawmakers Monday, but vetoed by Gov. David A. Paterson last night, Long Island schools would get $2.56 billion in aid next year. That's about $65.2 million less in state aid than they got last year - the first significant loss in nine years - but about $83.6 million more than Gov. David A. Paterson proposed last winter. The chances of overriding the veto were uncertain last night.
Lawmakers are pushing for tax curbs as they head into re-election campaigns in November. A legislative budget amendment, introduced Monday, would require districts to apply at least half of any extra aid money toward next year's taxes.
On the Island, taxpayer representatives also are pushing for curbs on taxes.
"Since the taxpayers are suffering a hell of a lot more than the school districts, why not route the aid that way?" said Andrea Vecchio, of East Islip, an activist in the Long Islanders for Educational Reform taxpayer group.
Monday, state lawmakers approved a $20.86-billion statewide aid package that includes $2.56 billion for the Island. In doing so, they rejected a $20.69-billion plan put forth by the governor that was more than he proposed last winter, but less than the legislature's plan. Albany insiders are betting that legislators will win on this issue, even though they'll have to override Paterson's veto issued Monday night.
"I've always had confidence that the legislature understands its constituency - it's better connected to grass-roots issues," said William Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools and past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
Rockville Centre, which is located in central Hempstead Town, would get about $7.97 million in aid in the next school year - about what it had expected. The amount is $574,000 less than the district received this year, but $482,000 more than Paterson's original proposal.
Reaction was also generally positive in Suffolk County, where schools are generally more dependent on state aid than those in Nassau.
"Anything we can get back is welcome money," said Thomas Shea, South Huntington superintendent. He said his district's extra money would probably be used to hold down taxes during the 2011-12 school year.
A Newsday survey in April of all 124 systems found that 88 used the governor's aid plan in calculating their spending and taxes for the next school year. Forty-nine of those districts planned to use any extra aid to curb tax rates, while 50 said they had not yet decided. Most others provided no response.