Senator Flanagan Calls For Long Island’s Fair Share Of School Aid

 

Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) has been joined by his Long Island Senate colleagues in calling on the state to give Long Island its fair share of state funding in the 2008-2009 budget. In a letter to State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills and Chancellor Robert M. Bennett, the delegation expressed its disappointment with the 2008-09 Regents State Aid proposal, which was released in October, and outlined how this plan would unfairly impact Long Island residents.

In addition to Senator Flanagan, the letter was signed by Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (1st Senate District), Caesar Trunzo (3rd Senate District), Owen H. Johnson (4th Senate District), Carl L. Marcellino (5th Senate District), Kemp Hannon (6th Senate District), Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (8th Senate District) and Dean G. Skelos (9th Senate District). The senators jointly denounce the spending plan and request documentation regarding the proposal and a more specific description of any cuts that may affect Long Island.

"Long Island homeowners were shortchanged by Governor Spitzer's budget proposal last year and our entire region had to fight to make sure that our children's educational needs were funded. Now, with this proposal, we know that we are going to have to fight for our fair share again," stated Senator Flanagan. "This is a plan that would devastate our schools, overburden our taxpayers and is one that we find totally unacceptable. The Board of Regents, the Department of Education and Governor Spitzer need to understand that our children's education is important and we will fight for what our taxpayers deserve."

Senator Skelos said, "Last year, Governor Spitzer attempted to slash Long Island's share of new state school aid by nearly 40%. His plan would have raised property taxes and jeopardized our children's education. Long Island's schools deserve their fair share and, just like Governor Spitzer's proposal, the Board of Regents' plan reallocates hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools to New York City. The Long Island Senate Majority Delegation will continue fighting to ensure that our schools receive every dollar they deserve."

According to the letter, the proposal shortchanges Long Island taxpayers and it will increase the already heavy burden placed on property taxpayers if it were to be adopted. While the overall proposal increases school aid throughout the state by almost 10 percent, or $1.943 billion, the eight members of the Senate delegation are concerned with three specific areas that harm Long Island's educational system and overburden homeowners:

- Eliminating the High Tax aid formula which delivered millions in additional state aid to the schools whose homeowners face the highest tax burden. This funding stream brought over seventy million dollars into these school districts last year and protected area property taxpayers from an increased tax burden without sacrificing educational quality. If this formula were removed, its loss will result in millions in increased taxes for Long Islanders.

- Reducing the minimum increase in base state aid for the 150 school districts that have been targeted by the Spitzer administration to receive the bare minimum. This is especially devastating for Long Island since Governor Spitzer's originally called for placing almost 90% of Long Island schools in this category last year until the Senate successfully fought to minimize the impact of his plan.

The current proposal from the Board of Regents calls for scaling back this minimum increase these school districts will receive from the current three percent to a mere two percent per year. This again puts Long Island school districts in danger of receiving less than their fair share and would lead to massive increases in school taxes throughout the region.

- Removing the $17 million in Supplementary Excess Cost aid that provides supplemental state funding to school districts that receive a smaller increase in aid but are faced with additional special education costs. If this money were eliminated, the burden for covering the added costs would be shifted to the local taxpayers and increase property taxes.

"The recent educational plan put forth by the New York State Board of Regents would have a significant negative impact on Long Island. Long Islanders already pay high school taxes, and could face a greater increase in their school tax bills if this plan is adopted," said Senator Fuschillo. "Governor Spitzer tried to shortchange Long Island's schools during last year's budget negotiations, and we stopped him. This is another attempt to take away funding for our schools, and we will continue to fight until the Board of Regents, the State Education Department, and the Spitzer administration give Long Island's school districts and taxpayers their fair share."

"It seems that, once again, we’ll have to fight to protect Long Island’s fair share of state aid to education," stated Senator LaValle. "The Board of Regents needs to understand that suburban taxpayers and their districts are as needy as urban school districts. The Regents State Aid proposal falls far short of what Long Island needs to provide a quality education at a price that taxpayers can afford. As always, I remain committed to ensuring that any school aid proposal adequately addresses the education needs of our children and delivers the property tax relief that Long Island homeowners deserve."

"Governor Spitzer continues to feel that Long Island must foot the bill for the rest of the State. Again this year we need to fight for our school districts and our children so that we can provide a world class education and ensure that additional funding is used to help keep a lid on taxes. As a former educator, I know the importance of financing our schools and I will battle with Governor Spitzer, The Board of Regents, the Department of Education and anyone else who wants to take away Long Island’s much needed funding," said Senator Marcellino.

"Losing this state financial support aid and eliminating $100 million to Long Islandwould be the last straw in forcing people off Long Island and out of New York. Without fighting this year, schools in my district would have received over $10 million less in state aid than they did," stated Senator Hannon.

"Once again Governor Spitzer and his administration are proposing reckless measures that target the financial stability, quality of life and equity in education of Long Island residents. Last year we refused to be bullied by his politically driven agenda, and we are making it clear that we will not tolerate his attempt to steam-roll Long Island this year," said Senator Trunzo.

"Long Island school taxpayers simply cannot afford the unfair 2008-09 state aid proposal put forth by the Regents," said Senator Johnson. "The high tax aid formula that the Regents want to eliminate is there for a reason: It rightly recognizes that in certain school districts taxpayers are relatively overburdened and need and deserve relief to compensate for that. If this critical aid is taken away, the negative impact it will have on Long Island taxpayers and on our schools will be considerable and far reaching. I will not support any plan that hurts Long Island schools and the taxpayers that work so hard to support them."

During this year's budget negotiation, Long Island school districts received an increase of over $220 million in the 2007-2008 enacted state budget due to the efforts of the Long Island Senate delegation. This increase was more than double the amount originally proposed by Governor Spitzer.

To provide all Long Islanders with an opportunity to have their voice heard, Senator Flanagan has established an on-line petition on his web site. Residents who wish to join in the call for Long Island's fair share of education aid should click here.


                                                                             November 13, 2007

Commissioner Richard P. Mills
Chancellor Robert M. Bennett
State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Commissioner Mills and Chancellor Bennett:

We write to express our extreme concern and disappointment with various provisions of the 2008-09 Regents State Aid proposal and the negative impact these provisions would have on the school districts and taxpayers we represent.

The residents of our communities are already overburdened with some of the highest property taxes in the state and they deserve a proposal that respects the commitment they have continually made to the education of Long Island's children. This proposal, in its totality, ignores the needs of those we serve and we are united in calling for our region's fair share.

While the overall recommended increase in school aid is almost 10 percent, or $1.943 billion, the Regents have proposed cuts in certain funding formulas that will have devastating fiscal consequences for Long Island school districts going forward. Three areas of the Regents proposal that we are most concerned about are modifications to the Foundation aid formula, the elimination of High Tax aid, and the elimination of Supplementary Excess Cost aid.

We are surprised and alarmed that the Regents would propose modifications to the Foundation aid formula a mere seven months after school districts were told that this new formula would be predictable and dependable for future years. The proposed changes to the Foundation aid have sent shock waves through all the education communities we represent.

The Regents have proposed reducing the minimum annual increase in Foundation aid provided to the 150 save-harmless districts from 3 percent to 2 percent. It is unclear why the Regents would see fit to recommend reducing the minimum increase and upsetting state aid estimates that schools have received and have already begun to utilize in their planning efforts.

Although the current number of save-harmless districts is now at 150, the proposed formulaic changes to Foundation aid made by the Regents have the potential to create additional save-harmless school districts by increasing the expected local contribution for certain school districts and thereby lowering their share of Foundation aid.

Additionally, the proposed elimination of the $100 million in High Tax aid formula would directly cut school aid to districts on Long Island who have benefited substantially from this formula. High Tax aid was provided to recognize those school districts in counties that face the highest residential school property tax burden in the State. This formula was extremely helpful in providing additional flexible aid to school districts which face high tax burdens. In addition, the State aid system has generally had a formula that recognizes local tax burdens in varying forms going back to the 1980s to assist high tax communities.

Finally, the Regents have also proposed eliminating $17 million in Supplementary Excess Cost aid. This aid formula provided much-needed funds to school districts who did not receive large increases in Foundation aid, but observed large increases in special education costs. The elimination of this formula will mean that school districts will have to bear a greater share of special education costs locally and that will negatively impact property taxpayers.

Since most of the districts that received Supplementary Excess Cost aid were also on save-harmless for Foundation aid, the reduction of the minimum increase in Foundation aid from 3 percent to 2 percent further exacerbates the state aid situation for these districts. This is a small formula in terms of the overall state aid, but represents critically needed funds to the districts who receive them.

We have reviewed the public documents that the Regents presented when they adopted the 2008-09 state aid proposal. We would be interested in receiving any supporting documents that detail the specific formula changes being proposed by the Regents that underpin your aid projections, including a full list of the save-harmless districts.

                                                                            Sincerely,

                                                                            John J. Flanagan, 2nd Senate District

                                                                            Kenneth P. LaValle, 1st Senate District

                                                                            Caesar Trunzo, 3rd Senate District

                                                                           Owen H. Johnson, 4th Senate District

                                                                            Carl L. Marcellino, 5th Senate District

                                                                            Kemp Hannon, 6th Senate District

                                                                           Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., 8th Senate District

                                                                           Dean G. Skelos, 9th Senate District