School budget relies on state aid being restored next year

School budget relies on state aid being restored next year

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Comsewogue school board President John Swenning and Superintendent Joe Rella, along with the rest of the board and administration, have begun 2018-19 budget preparations. File photo by Alex Petroski

If Comsewogue School District wants to maintain all of its academic programs in the coming year, it’s going to need state officials to return aid that was previously taken away.

Superintendent Joe Rella released his first budget draft for the 2016-17 school year at a board of education meeting on Monday night, projecting an $87.2 million spending plan that would keep all existing programs. That budget would represent an increase of about $2 million over the current school year, due in large part to increasing costs in instruction.

But Rella’s proposed budget hinges upon a full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction of state aid taken from all New York school districts, enacted several years ago in an effort to close a state budget deficit.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), his chamber’s majority leader, recently sponsored legislation that would completely eliminate the adjustment in the next school year, though nothing is set in stone — his bill, S6377, passed in the Senate in January but has yet to come to a vote in the Assembly.

Comsewogue is not alone; school districts statewide are counting on a full restoration of the GEA this year due to a relatively low state-mandated cap on tax levy increases, which limits the amount of property taxes districts can collect and is largely determined each year by the rate of inflation. Before exemptions for a few items, such as spending on capital projects, school districts are looking at a 0.12 percent limit on how much they can add to their tax levies next year.

Comsewogue’s exempted spending, which includes funds to replace the roof at Clinton Avenue Elementary School, brings its proposed tax levy increase to 1.2 percent.

Restored state aid from the GEA could be crucial for some.

“If that doesn’t happen, then it’s a whole different world,” Rella said in an interview. “We’re anticipating it will happen. Albany’s been very quiet about it, and I’m taking that as ‘no news is good news.’”

Rella’s proposal suggests there would be cuts to staffing, including teachers, coaches and aides, as well as clubs, supplies and athletics if the schools don’t receive that additional state aid. His presentation also says Comsewogue would have to use $425,000 in reserves to help fund whatever is left.

If the state funding does come in, according to his proposal, the district would receive about $30 million in total state aid, which is an increase of $1.9 million over the current year.