On Saturday, Feb. 28, members of the local delegation of state-elected officials joined with members of the education community to lobby for more state aid to Long Island schools at a rally held in Ellsworth Allen Park in Farmingdale.
Hundreds came out to demand that Governor David Paterson reconsider his proposal to cut aid to schools in order to close what the governor described as the biggest deficit in state history - a $1.7 billion current-year shortfall and a $13.7 billion 2009-10 deficit.
"This rally was a great success. We sent the message to the governor that we value our homes. We value our children. We value quality education. And, we will not stand for anything less than our fair share of school aid," said Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who attended the rally. "Cutting our community's school aid now will have dire consequences that will devastate a generation of our young people."
State aid for Long Island schools has been an issue for some years now. In 2004, Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman released a study on school taxes and state aid. According to the report, Nassau County paid the highest taxes per household in 2002 of any county or New York City in the New York metro area.
The report also stated that the state aid financed an average of 37.4 percent of school budgets statewide in 2002. However, state aid funded only 16.6 percent of school budgets in Nassau County in 2002.
"The amount of money we send up to Albany versus what we get back is puzzling to many of us. When people think we are high wealth, we have the same bills that everyone in the state has and they just don't seem to take that into account," said Superintendent of Schools for the Franklin Square School District Dr. Tom Dolan.
While some have suggested Nassau County should be getting a greater share of state aid to fund its budgets, getting an increase in state aid while New York is in a budget crisis is hardly unlikely. In fact, school districts and school boards across Long Island would gladly accept the same state aid they received for the 2008-2009 school year, as some school districts are preparing for a decrease in state aid, according to the executive state budget proposal.
According to Superintendent of Schools for the Sewanhaka Central High School District Warren Meierdiercks, the Sewanhaka Central High School District is looking at having its state aid cut by close to $4 million.
However, Meierdiercks said he is hopeful that the state aid will be restored through the federal stimulus package. "We're hopeful we're going to get our aid reinstated," he said. "Until we get the official word, we have to go with what we've being told. We're cautiously optimistic," he said.
According to Dr. Dolan, the Franklin Square School District, under the executive budget proposal for the state, would receive about $565,000 less than it received for 2008-2009. That amounts to almost a 2 percent increase in the tax levy, which is the amount of the budget to be raised by tax dollars. "It's starting in the hole before we even put the pencil to the paper," said Dr. Dolan about putting together the school budget for Franklin Square for the 2009-2010 school year.
Like Meierdiercks, Dr. Dolan remains hopeful that the state aid would be restored to Long Island school districts with the federal stimulus money. "It would, I believe, be the right thing to do. I believe it was the intention of the stimulus package and I encourage the governor to allocate the money in the way he described. We haven't received official word yet. We're anxious to hear that," he said.
According to a published report, Governor Paterson has said that all education funding will be restored to the level it was in 2008-2009, meaning schools will have more revenue than original thought when the executive budget proposal was released. Dr. Dolan said that in the Franklin Square School District, any additional school aid would be used to reduce the tax levy.
Elmont Superintendent of Schools Al Harper said an increase in state aid above what was originally presented in the governor's initial budget would be a huge boost to the Elmont School District, which was expected to be cut $1.7 million in state aid.
"It [restoring aid to the 2008-2009 level] would be a tremendous help to the school district and we would be able to be as fiscally responsible to the community as we possible could," said Harper.