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Freeport Public Schools lose $1.5 million in state aid

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Freeport Public Schools Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said the district has a tough road ahead as it must re-evaluate its $191 million budget for the 2020-21 school year after the state legislature voted to keep Foundation Aid flat for public schools on April 2. 

The state’s $177 billion budget was originally supposed to increase Freeport’s Foundation Aid by $1.5 million, but with that money gone, the district must find a way to fill the hole, along with a previously estimated $3.3 million gap in the district’s budget. 

While the original gap would have been tackled through increasing the district’s tax levy -- which had been lowered each of the past five years -- Kuncham said the district would also have to cease its plan to hire 14 new staff members and halt any new projects to make up for the budget hole. He added that the district would not raise the tax levy to the allowed 5.92 percent limit.   

“This is quite devastating,” Kuncham said. “I'm disappointed with the outcome as our district, among other high-needs districts, depends on state aid.” 

The district has previously criticized the state for lack of funding, saying the Freeport School District has repeatedly received less than its fair share of Foundation Aid. Freeport officials estimated that the district is owed more than $340 million in Foundation Aid over the past decade.   

Beth Rella, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said that the money schools were supposed to receive from the state for the 2020-21 school year was actually half of what districts had asked for. 

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the budget situation “difficult,” he said there were additional uncertainties due to how the Covid-19 virus has affected the state. He predicted a $10 billion to $15 billion gap in the state budget. 

Kuncham added that with the state establishing a quarterly review board to monitor the budget, there was a chance things could change for the worse, so the district needs to craft a budget that can withstand large cuts. 

“It’s a scary thing and I’m worried about what all this could mean for next year’s budget or the following year’s,” Kuncham said. “Our goal right now is to ensure our existing programs and personnel.”    

The district hopes to present a new budget plan to the public by April 21. 

The budget vote, which was originally set for May 19, was delayed to at least June 1.