Local school officials are displeased with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s preliminary state aid figures for the 2013-14 school year, which were released last week as part of the proposed state budget.
Under the proposal, the East Rockaway School District would lose more than $250,000 in aid, while the Lynbrook School District would receive about $182,000 in additional aid — but administrators from both districts were surprised when they saw the proposed figures.
“We were counting on this money,” said Marcy Tannenbaum, East Rockaway’s director of finance operations. “The decrease in aid is not in our expense-driven columns. The decrease in our aid is in a category that we have no control over.”
The East Rockaway district would have a net loss in state aid under the proposal because of a $400,000 reduction in “high tax” aid, which the state has traditionally given to districts with higher costs and property tax rates. According to Tannenbaum, high tax aid acts as an equalizer between upstate and downstate districts, with much of it going to schools on Long Island.
Lynbrook also saw its high tax aid cut, by a little more than $277,000. “We’re criticized for levying taxes that are high,” said Dr. Melissa Burak, the district’s interim superintendent, “and that particular aid is supposed to help districts, especially those of us on Long Island, to help offset that. The fact that it decreased of course is alarming.”
Tannenbaum, who said she was “flabbergasted” when she saw the proposed budget figures, added that the East Rockaway district doesn’t have many options to compensate for losing state aid. “Just think of your home budget,” she said. “There’s only two ways to do this: You either have to increase the levy over the tax cap or you have to decrease your expense. Maybe we have to take it out of programs. Where else are we going to find that money?”
New York state school districts are beginning the second budget cycle under the 2 percent tax levy cap, which Cuomo signed into law in June 2011 and which took effect last January. A school board has the option of adopting a budget that exceeds the district’s cap, but it must be passed by a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters.