Reductions in “high tax aid,” which the state has traditionally given to mostly downstate school districts with higher costs and relatively high property tax rates, may turn out to be a huge stumbling block in this year’s school budgeting process.
This year, Governor Cuomo has cut the money available for high tax aid by about 70 percent in order to balance the state budget, leaving Malverne with $21,626 less in state aid this year and West Hempstead with $311,288 less. For Malverne, that is a cut of just .28 percent, but for West Hempstead it is a reduction of 4.02 percent.. The cuts would take place when the State Legislature vets the governor’s budget, which is not expected to happen until April.
Administrators in both school districts said they would work with local State Senate and Assembly representatives to roll back the governor’s cuts in order to make more money available for high tax aid.
Tom McDade, business administrator for the Malverne School District, said that administrators are “very disappointed” by the governor’s budget proposal. “We are certainly getting no benefit from the new formula,” McDade said. “We were anticipating an increase of somewhere in the range of $200,000 to $300,000, and we wound up with a decrease of $21,000. That is not a very good present for the students.”
“The bottom line is that this budget proposal puts us behind the eight ball,” he said later.. “It makes it more difficult for us to budget and makes for a very difficult road. It ensures that there will be cuts, and we are going to be talking to the community about where they want those cuts to come. Whether they come from personnel, programs or someplace else, that remains to be seen.”
West Hempstead officials expressed similar sentiments. Last year, the district got just under $7.74 million in state aid. This year, the budget proposed by the governor would provide just over $7.42 million.
“[The proposed budget] is not at all good for West Hempstead, and it was a big shock,” said Richard Cunningham, the district’s deputy superintendent. “The governor is trying to redistribute the aid by changing the formula for high tax aid as a one-shot deal, and we are feeling it.”
Cunningham said that the district was already hit hard by the fact that BOCES is leaving one of the district’s buildings, and even though there is a plan to lease part of that building, the district is losing a large revenue stream. Adding to the district’s financial challenges is the fact that more and more students from Island Park, which does not have a high school, are opting to attend Long Beach High School rather than West Hempstead High.
“We are going to have to take a long look at the expense side of the budget in upcoming meetings,” Cunningham said. “There is a sensitivity to taxes that we have to honor.”
The date of the next budget meeting, he added, has been changed to Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the middle school.
“This is going to be a particularly difficult process,” he concluded, urging residents to come and be heard.