New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $137 billion spending plan will increase education aid by $807 million for the 2014-15 school year, but school officials say it will still put them up against the wall.
“You listen to the State of the Union address and the state is getting more, but we [Floral Park] are getting less,” said Floral Park School District Superintendent James Opiekun. “We are hoping that the legislature, in the past, has revisited the figures and we hope that they do take a look at ours.”
The 2014-15 state aid for the Floral Park-Bellerose School District is $3,449,830, a decrease of $127,983 or 3.58 percent decrease from the 2013-14 state aid of $3,577,813
“As we review our state aid figures for 2014-15 it is difficult to understand how a district with the lowest cost per student in Nassau County can be expected to do more with even less,” said Opiekun. “With foundation aid remaining the same and the gap elimination adjustment still hanging over us we hope that our representatives in Albany once again help us maintain the high quality education our community expects and our students deserve.”
State aid has become a major concern since 2010 for many Long Island districts, when Gov. Cuomo capped school district’s abilities to hike the tax levy more than two percent.
Using the preliminary budget numbers, the state Department of Education has calculated estimates of how much state aid will be allocated to each individual school district. Of the $807 million increase, the state education department estimates a $24.2 million increase for school districts in Nassau County. The $807 million proposed in the executive budget drives an average increase of nearly $300 per student.
The executive budget also allocates $1.5 billion, over a five-year period, to fund a statewide universal full-day pre-K program, $720 million over five years to expand after-school programs, and proposes a $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act to ensure students have access to the latest technology needed to compete on the global stage.
“We are disappointed, but we are waiting to see what the final budget looks like,” said Opiekun. “Floral Park-Bellerose [school district] has the lowest cost-per-student on Long Island.” He explained that historically, Floral Park-Bellerose operates very efficiently, even before he came to the district.
And Floral Park’s Opiekun is not alone in his concern for the proposed state aid increases. According to Timothy G. Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, the $807 million increase statewide would leave schools unable to continue their current programs and services without exceeding the tax cap.
“While the governor’s budget contains many laudable issues such as state-funded universal prekindergarten and after-school programs, his state aid allocation falls way short of the mark,” Kremer said. “We appreciate the governor’s leadership in putting forward a $2 billion proposal for technology and capital costs associated with full-day prekindergarten expansion, but hope that the Legislature will increase the state’s investment in general support for public schools.”
Since the executive budget has not yet been approved by state lawmakers, the amount of state aid is subject to change.
Christy Hinko contributed to this article.