(Ed. Note: The following letter was sent to Commissioner Richard P. Mills and Chancellor Robert M. Bennett, State Education Department and is printed here at the author's request.)
Dear Commissioner Mills and Chancellor Bennett:
I am writing to you today regarding similar concerns with the 2008-09 Board of Regents State aid proposal, that the Senate Long Island members have addressed. It is my belief that the Regents proposal contains several provisions that will have a devastating effect on the school districts and taxpayers I represent.
It's no surprise to many, but the residents in the communities I represent are already overburdened with some of the highest property taxes in the State. In fact, according to a recent report by the Tax Foundation, in 2006 Nassau and Suffolk counties were both within the top 15 counties in the United States that paid the highest property taxes. Thus, proof that communities continually commit important funding to educate the children of Long Island. Similar to Governor Spitzer's 2007-08 Executive proposal, the Regents 2008-09 State Aid proposal ignores the Nassau region's fair share and hurts the taxpayers of this region by ignoring their commitment to education.
Many school district officials have stated their overall support for the Foundation aid formula, mainly because for the first time the State has a formula that is predictable and provides school districts with a sense of stability. The Regents proposal negatively impacts school districts around the State by changing the agreed upon Foundation aid formula and further jeopardizes fiscal planning school districts might have in place for future years, therefore rendering these plans useless.
In addition to changing the formula for Foundation aid, the Regents has proposed reducing the minimum annual increase in Foundation aid provided to the save-harmless districts from 3 percent to 2 percent. At a time when fiscal constraint is ever more prevalent, reducing the minimum State aid increase that school districts receive further decays the predictability of the Foundation aid formula from year to year. Further, I am concerned about the potential increase in the number of save-harmless districts throughout the State as a result of this proposal.
As you know, High Tax aid was provided to those school districts in counties that face the highest residential school property tax burden in the State. The proposed elimination of the $100 million in High Tax aid would directly cut school aid to districts on Long Island. As mentioned earlier Nassau and Suffolk are not only two of the highest tax burdened counties in the State, but also in the nation.
Finally, the Regents have also proposed eliminating $17 million in Supplementary Excess Cost aid. As you know, special education costs are one of the highest costs to school district budgets throughout the State. This aid provided much-needed relief to school districts who received a large increase in such costs. As a result of the proposed elimination of this aid, school districts will have to bear a greater share of special education costs locally, which will inevitably be paid for by the already over-burdened property taxpayers. With an ever-increasing list of unfunded mandates that are placed on our school districts, we cannot increase the burden localities and taxpayers receive as a result of this proposed elimination.
When combined, these proposals will have an overwhelming affect on Long Island schools. If these recommendations were to be enacted into law, we would be eliminating the commitments to school districts statewide that were enacted last year and would be reverting back to an unreliable and unpredictable State aid funding system.
At your convenience, I would also be interested in receiving any supporting documents that detail the specific formula changes being proposed by the Regents, including a full list of the save-harmless districts.
Thomas W. Alfano
Assemblyman 21st District