Funding formula review pending as Long Beach Schools face budget uncertainty


Since Jan. 16, when Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled her proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, educators have been focused on state aid for local schools.

The governor’s spending plan includes about $35 billion in state aid next year, an increase of $825 million, or 2.4 percent. It is the largest investment in education in the state’s history.

Nonetheless, many school districts, including Long Beach, are facing cuts in state aid, and efforts to revamp the state’s school funding formula are gaining momentum, with the state Board of Regents taking the lead. The prevailing argument is that the current formula, put in place in 2007, is outdated and distributes funds to schools unfairly.

As the Long Beach Public School District ponders a potential $4.3 million reduction in state aid, administrators find themselves in the middle of this discussion, and in agreement with the Board of Regents, which oversees education policy in the state.

In a statement emailed to the Herald last Friday, the board emphasized its commitment to ensuring that every student in the state has equitable access to a high-quality education, and the importance of figuring economic factors such as poverty levels, regional costs, property values and inflation into the foundation aid formula. Furthermore, it advocated a $1 million study to explore potential changes in that formula.

The purpose of such a study, the board explained, would be to “gain a better understanding of the cost to educate a student in New York State, and how to fairly apportion those costs between state and local funds and provide this information to the legislature and Governor for their consideration.”

But some education officials have raised concerns about the potential impact of changes in school aid calculations, particularly for rural districts. Some fear that such changes, without adequate time for planning and implementation, could further exacerbate challenges faced by schools in small communities, especially amid the drawdown of federal stimulus funding.

“An abrupt change to the school aid calculation, with no accompanying language facilitating regionalization or time for planning and implementing the changes,” the Board of Regents stated, “will have a significant impact on our rural districts, and will even further limit opportunities for students in these small communities.”

At the Long Beach Board of Education meeting on Jan. 23, district officials addressed pressing budget concerns raised by Hochul’s spending proposal, and particularly the fate of East Elementary School.

Michael DeVito, the assistant superintendent of finance and operations, presented two potential approaches to addressing a potential $3.8 million budget shortfall due to increased expenses, which would be exacerbated by the proposed cut in state aid.

The options included “repurposing” East Elementary, which has a declining enrollment and high maintenance costs. Under that plan, administrators at the school would move to Lindell and Lido elementary schools, and two assistant principal positions could be eliminated. Alternatively, there could be staff and program reductions across the district.

Reacting to Hochul’s proposed cuts, elected officials, educators and community members have voiced their apprehension about the potential consequences for Long Beach’s essential educational programs and services.

State Sen. Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick spoke against the aid reduction at a news conference outside the district administration building on Feb. 1. She said she was concerned about the potential repercussions of cutting a total of $11 million in foundation aid for districts in her 9th Senate District, which includes Long Beach.

“This community can’t take another hit,” Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said. “A $4.3 million cut is not just about cutting after-school programs. It’s about laying off teachers, increasing class size and possibly even closing a school.”

Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher echoed these concerns, underlining the consequences of such a large reduction in state aid, particularly in a district where, she said, 30 percent of students live below the state poverty threshold.