Newsday - LI Districts May Get Second Chance On Aid

John J. Flanagan

January 24, 2012

By Carl MacGowan - January 19, 2012

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget has good news -- and a modicum of bad news -- for four Suffolk school districts facing the loss of $48 million in construction aid due to missed deadlines, state lawmakers said this week.

The governor's 2012-13 budget plan, released Tuesday, would allow the Central Islip, Smithtown, Babylon and Rocky Point districts to reapply for the aid this year, lawmakers said. But they may be docked part of the aid as a penalty for the filing errors.

The measure requires approval by the State Legislature as part of the budget process, which has an April 1 deadline.

State Sen. John J. Flanagan, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the districts are expected to recoup most of the money, but it was unclear how much each would now recover.

"Districts are not going to get every nickel," said Flanagan (R-East Northport). "But they're going to get a tremendous majority of the money."

Central Islip lost out on $42 million and Smithtown was denied $3.1 million because district officials failed to file reports verifying completion of construction projects. Rocky Point didn't get $2.1 million and Babylon lost out on $250,000 because of similar mistakes. The filing errors dated back several years.

Cuomo's proposal permits the districts to apply for the funds by Dec. 31. Schools will be denied part of the funds for each year that elapsed after the original deadlines were missed, Flanagan said.

Smithtown Superintendent Edward Ehmann said he could not estimate what his district's reimbursement would be. He said Cuomo's proposal was "a step in the right direction."

"I can't thank Senator Flanagan enough for his efforts and his colleagues' efforts for advocating for a penalty system that is more in line with the mistakes that were made," Ehmann said. "I would say the governor did the best he could to be fair in the situation."

Last year, Cuomo vetoed bills that would have restored the funds, saying the reimbursements should be allocated in the state budget.

Lawmakers and school officials criticized the vetoes, saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the districts.