Written by Dr. John Bierwirth Friday, 12 November 2010 00:00
Historically governors in New York State – in most states, in fact – have presented very tight budgets in the first year of their term. The presumption is that they do so in order to be able to present more upbeat budgets in their second, third and fourth years. In the case of Governor Cuomo this year, that history is irrelevant. New York State’s finances are clearly in trouble. The only real debates between experts are about how deep the hole is and how likely a recovery is and when it will occur. In light of this there is a strong assumption that the school aid picture for 2011-12 is likely to be quite bad.
What has received relatively little attention is the fact that aid for the current school year, 2010-11, has not been firmed up and that over the past few months the Governor’s office or the State Education Department has been tinkering with or talking about tinkering with the school aid formula. We expect to receive several hundred thousand dollars less in aid for the current year than we had anticipated. The Board provided for this in August by setting aside a reserve to deal with a potential shortfall in order not to impact the tax level. That shortfall is still a potential one since the New York State Legislature has yet to approve the final aid formula. The expectation is that this will happen sometime in the next several weeks now that the election is over and the legislature is more likely to reconvene.
Many of the areas in which aid reductions are likely – for example, the elimination of support for teacher centers statewide – are well known. What is disturbing is that others have crept in, some without the knowledge of our legislators. Of particular concern to us is a change reportedly being considered in the aid formula for severely handicapped students (for example, students in residential placements.) While districts would continue to be mandated to provide services to these students, services which are entirely appropriate to their needs, the State might limit the support it has historically provided for the students. Should this change be enacted, aid to Long Island schools would be cut by millions. For Herricks alone, the loss in aid would be $350,000-500,000. Along with our PTA we are trying hard to thwart this change before it gets off the ground.
Another change we seem less likely to be able to thwart is one coming from the State Education Department. This is also in the special education area. However, it is not a cut in aid but an additional expense. It involves changing the software system most districts in New York have been using for special education “paperwork” and a number of procedural steps. It does not involve additional services for students. It is simply more administrative overhead, something which never makes sense and is particularly frustrating when districts may have to contemplate deep cuts.