As another budget vote nears for New York schools in the 2014-2015 academic year, The Nassau County and Suffolk County School Superintendents Associations announced a legislative proposal on Nov. 21 that will eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment — a budgetary formula that has been used by the state legislature to reduce its allocation of school aid in alleviating the deficit of statewide revenue since the 2009-2010 year — in favor of restoring the maximum school funding entitled to districts across Long Island.
The proposal, as introduced by Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES and legislative chairman for the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, is designed to remove the GEA’s deduction of state funds to Long Island schools in the next academic year so that local districts may receive full state aid. Facilitated by a subcommittee of the SCSSA Board of Directors, Bixhorn said that they will work to generate a new statewide allocation system that delegates funding based on the needs of the region’s fiscal needs so that Long Island schools may earn a fair share of state aid.
Bixhorn said the GEA has reduced state aid to school districts by $6.35 billion in the past three years, causing Long Island schools specifically to lose nearly $1 billion in funding. While enrolling about 17 percent of the state’s students, Bixhorn said, Nassau and Suffolk school districts have received only 12 percent of the state’s allocation due to the GEA’s 18 percent reduction in its annual funding.
Bixhorn said that almost half of the region’s students are enrolled in 28 Long Island districts that are below the state average of income and property wealth, falling 10% from its position from 10 years ago at 40 percent above the income average.
“This happened because Long Island is perceived as being wealthier than it really is,” Bixhorn said about the reduced aid to Long Island schools. “Every time we get an opportunity to talk about the facts, we do try to reinforce the fact that Long Island isn’t as wealthy as other regions.”
Instated before the 2009-10 academic year, the GEA — initially known as the Deficit Reduction Assessment — reduced school aid by $1.5 billion as a way to ease the state’s fiscal shortfall, progressively decreasing its allocation in the next four years. Statewide districts later struggled to raise local revenue with the property tax cap in 2011, which resulted in increasing class sizes, cutting art and music programs along with other academic courses such as AP classes, and releasing teachers, administrators and other staff.
According to a property tax report from the current academic year, Nassau County schools have faced a budget deficit amounting to more than $105 million, losing around $520 per student.
David Feller, president of the Nassau County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of the North Merrick school district, which gleans 30% of its yearly budget from state aid, added that the implementation of Common Core standards has caused a “bad convergence of two forces at one time” as schools face these fiscal pressures.
“We’d like to make sure we have one voice in terms of restoring the GEA,” Feller said. “We know that these are still tough times, but we also know that Long Island has to be treated fairly.”
If the state legislature were to eliminate the GEA in one year, Bixhorn said, districts statewide would receive about a 9 percent increase in school aid.
“We must make sure that our districts are fully funded and that we get the message across to Albany that we deserve our fair share,” Assemblyman Joseph Saladino said. “We will continue to push for financial fairness, because it’s the right thing to do and, more than anything else, it’s the right thing we can do for our kids.”