By Amanda Wyatt
School districts on the East End — which had braced themselves for cuts in state aid this year — were offered a small reprieve last week with the announcement that their funding would actually increase, rather than decrease.
Last Thursday, the New York State 2013-2014 budget was passed, which sets aside $21.2 billion in funding for schools across the state. This represents an increase of $936.6 million from last year.
It is also $436 million greater than the amount of state aid originally put forth in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, which was released in January.
In particular, Sag Harbor can expect to receive $1,548,247 in state aid — an increase of 8.49 percent from the $1,427,081 received last year.
Bridgehampton, on the other hand, has been allocated $606,295, which is up 7.52 percent from the $563,875 received in 2012.
Both State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle praised the increase in state aid.
“Making sure our schools have the funding they need to provide our children with a quality education is one of my top priorities,” said Thiele in a press release issued last week. “The 2013 State Budget comes through for 1st Assembly District schools.”
“Making sure our schools are supported and our children have the best education possible will help them succeed at the jobs of tomorrow,” added Thiele.
“We fought long and hard to [ensure] our fair share of total state aid was maintained for our region,” said LaValle in a separate statement.
Still, the jury is out on how much the increase in state aid will actually benefit local school districts.
Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District, said any increase is state aid was “much appreciated” and while “perhaps a little bit more than we expected, [it’s] still less than we think is appropriate. In general, I think Long Island doesn’t get the kind of state aid that it deserves.”
Increases in state aid, he said, are often “eaten up in a hurry, given the kinds of financial challenges we’re dealing with year in and year out.”
In particular, Dr. Bonuso pointed out that schools are still facing a number of state educational mandates, many of which are unfunded.
“This increase in state aid, while important, still pales in comparison to the expenses that districts are bearing, and that continues to be an issue. So we will lobby not only for increased state aid, but we are going to be lobbying to get rid of unfunded state mandates,” he said.
“With the extra state money, we’re going to have to make some decisions in terms of whether we use that money to put back into the budget a couple of things that unfortunately we had to eliminate or do without, [or] to what degree we’re going to immediately pass along some more relief to our taxpayers…,” he said.
Dr. Bonuso added that the new state aid would be figured into next year’s budget, which will be discussed at Sag Harbor’s board of education meeting scheduled for this Monday, April 8.
How the increase in state aid will affect Bridgehampton School also remains to be seen.
“We knew that there were discussions at the state level that promised to restore some of the aid, but did not anticipate that they would restore the bulk of it,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent of Bridgehampton School.
“This brings us approximately back to the same levels as last year — restoring what we were originally advised would be cut,” she explained.
The increase in state aid comes at a time when Bridgehampton is struggling to find ways to stay within the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. At a recent budget presentation, it was revealed that the school would have to trim several hundred thousand dollars from its tentative budget to avoid piercing the cap.
Still, Dr. Favre said that “the additional state aid could assist us in staying within the cap.”
“We continue to work to bring the best possible scenario to our taxpayers. The board is working to assure we stay within tax cap levy limitations,” she said.
“There are still some numbers we are working to reduce to deliver on the board’s requests,” added Dr. Favre. “Ultimately, a final budget will be voted on, by the board, at our business meeting at the end of the month.”