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Officials: School district aid could be $100M less

State financial aid for school districts could be $100 million less than expected for the 2013-14 school year, education officials and aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

At the state Board of Regents meeting in Albany, a senior board member said financial figures indicate the aid hike for the 2013-14 school year could run below recent projections. The exact size of next year's state-aid blueprint won't be known until Jan. 22, when the governor proposes his annual budget.

The aid increase, by state law, is supposed to match growth in statewide personal income. Cuomo aides last month released an updated financial plan, projecting 3.5 percent growth.

But Regent James Tallon of Binghamton, a former state Assembly majority leader, told board members that recent state data showed 3 percent growth.

"If, unfortunately, it would fall to 3 percent, the Regents are saying that's too big a drop," said Tallon, who chairs a Regents subcommittee on state aid.

The 3 percent growth projected by the state's Bureau of Economic Analysis would mean a statewide aid increase next year of about $600 million, compared with a $712 million increase produced by 3.5 percent growth.

The actual aid increase for the 2012-13 school year was $805 million, including Long Island's share of about $89.7 million.

Tallon's subcommittee Monday called for a 3.5 percent aid hike, including $709 million in "foundation" aid focused on needy students and $75 million for full-day public prekindergarten. The Regents set educational policy, but state lawmakers and the governor have the final say on aid allocations.

A spokesman for the governor's budget division acknowledged that the growth figure could turn out to be 3 percent.

"It's not a drop -- it's still a 3 percent increase," spokesman Morris Peters said. "It still means the governor has prioritized education. But we can't ask for spending we can't afford."

Suggestions that state assistance could come in lower than expected cast gloom on Long Island. School administrators here describe their districts as caught in a squeeze between state limits that cap increases in property-tax revenue and state requirements for higher academic standards.

Many of those standards, based on national Common Core guidelines, are being phased in this year.

"Dealing with the tax cap is problematic for us," said Bill Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools and a former president of the State Council of School Superintendents. "It's meant that we look more to the state for assistance than we did in the past."

State law sets a cap of 2 percent on annual increases in district tax collections, with specific exemptions for expenses such as voter-approved construction. Districts may accumulate taxing authority from one year to the next if they don't use the entire 2 percent in a given year. For that reason, many districts for the coming year will have caps exceeding 3 percent.

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