The eight majority Senators from Long Island have jointly called on the state to make sure that Long Island school districts get their 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 expresses its disappointment with the 2008-09 Regents State Aid proposal.
The letter was signed by Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (1st Senate District), John J. Flanagan (2nd 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.
"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.
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.
- 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 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.
Last year, due to the Long Island Senate majority delegation's efforts, Long Island school districts received an increase of over $220 million in state aid. This increase was more than double the amount originally proposed by Governor Spitzer.
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.