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School Budget Facing State Cuts

First School Budget Work Session February 2

Port Washington’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoffrey Gordon will make his first presentation of the 2010-2011 school year expense budget at the Board of Education meeting on Feb. 2, but he is already warning that in the coming year, the district will face “a significantly higher reduction of state aid” to education, as announced by Governor Paterson last week. “I have been a superintendent for 18 years, eight of them here, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dr. Gordon said.

 

Assistant Superintendent Mary Callahan elaborated, “They say the cuts will average 5 percent around the state, but we are being cut more than 10 percent, based on our wealth.”

Among the cuts, says Dr. Gordon, “We will not be receiving federal funding for Drug and Alcohol Task Force; Title I money; or money for Teachers’ Centers.”

Callahan calls the new cuts “a double whammy” compared with last year, because “last year, they cut the budget by $800,000, but the amount cut was exactly equaled by the (Federal) stimulus money, so we remained ‘whole.’ This year, it’s a real cut, because it contains the Federal money already.”

Dr. Gordon praised the past efforts of both state Senator Craig Johnson and state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel to regain money for the district, saying “they have been wonderful,” but he is not sure they can do the same this year. Callahan says a spokesman for state Comptroller DiNapoli’s office has told her that “the state government is spending $8 billion more a year than it is taking in.”

When revenues are reduced from state sources, Dr. Gordon warned, there are limited means of recourse other than property taxes. For example, money recouped from a tax decision involving Pall Corporation came in last spring at $956,000. “Half of that — $540,000 – was used to offset the property tax levy,” which is why Port Washington’s tax levy increase ended up being 2.05 percent while the school budget was passed with a 2.29 percent increase.

News regarding another long-awaited parcel of money was much more disappointing for Dr. Gordon. As reported in the Port Washington News of August 6, 2009, Port Washington was on the point of finally receiving $1.4 million of reimbursements for old capital projects from Albany when Governor Paterson decided to veto the authorization. “It was the only time I have ever seen anything done unanimously in Albany; they voted unanimously to reinstate this money for us – and the governor vetoed it,” said Dr. Gordon. He spoke animatedly of “countless hours of work” on the part of the staff, “with no benefit to us. Board members Rob Seiden and Jean-Marie Posner went to Albany with us; and after all that work, and a whole history of state practice to reinstate such money (to school districts) – for the first time, the governor changed horses for five districts,” of which Port was one. “He was speaking out of two sides of his mouth, to say he wanted to alleviate taxpayer burden, and then turn around and veto this – it falls right on the taxpayer! It’s a double standard, it’s precedent-breaking, and it’s unacceptable.”

Even if Craig Johnson and Michelle Schimel succeed in bringing the matter up for vote again in the future, say Gordon and Callahan, it would necessarily be for less money, perhaps only half of $1 million, because the amount depends on documentation in state Education Department records, and “SED only keeps records for seven years.”

When asked what he thinks might be the impact of new leadership at the county level, Dr. Gordon replied, “It’s too soon to tell. Keep in mind, it’s not just a new county executive, it’s a new comptroller and other positions as well.” He is encouraged, however, by County Executive Mangano’s stated intention to rein in tax reassessments. He said, “Reassessments were killing us — when we’d raise our budget 2 percent, but it ends up going up 10 percent (because of reassessment) and people call us!”

Speaking of the overall budget process, Dr. Gordon said that on the expenditures side, “The budget won’t be finalized till the February presentation, and revenue won’t be finalized until far later than that.” The Feb. 2 board meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Weber Middle School.