Elected officials gathered at the Long Beach school district administration building last week to speak out against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget cuts to schools. Parents, educators, students and other residents attended the Feb. 1 news conference as well, all appearing united in their opposition to the planned reduction in foundation aid.
State Sen. Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick spoke first, stressing the importance of investing in education and expressing her frustration with a proposed $11 million cut for the districts in her Senate district. She also highlighted the total of $23 million in foundation aid reductions across Nassau County, and noted that Long Beach is facing one of the largest cuts, $4.3 million.
District Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher shared Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick’s sentiments. “The loss of $4.3 million in foundation aid in a single year is devastating for our district, particularly since the cut comes without warning or preparation,” Gallagher said. “No district can absorb that level of loss without cuts to programs, which ultimately affect our students, 30 percent of whom live below state poverty thresholds. We urge our state legislators to seek a reprieve so that we can maintain our student programs, particularly as we continue to recover from the pandemic.”
Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick criticized Hochul’s priorities, especially a multi-billion-dollar allocation to the migrant crisis that appears to be of more importance than the needs of students and educators.
“The governor’s budget is yet another example of the complete disregard for our Nassau families and taxpayers,” the senator said. “Four point three billion over two years will be used to address the migrant crisis that was caused by open borders and sanctuary city policies supported by the supermajorities in Albany. At the same time, they are stripping millions of dollars from our Nassau school districts.”
Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick stressed that the proposed cuts weren’t just about after-school programs, but could lead to teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and even school closures.
Sam Pinto, vice president of the Long Beach Board of Education, voiced his concern that the work that has gone into creating school programs is now potentially at risk due to the proposed cuts.
“Over the last few years, we’ve been able to expand our project-based learning and our career and technology education programs,” Pinto said. “We focus on teaching the whole child, to help prepare our children for success in their future. We’ve reduced our carbon footprint in many ways by adding environmentally friendly, sustainable engineering to our buildings and our facilities, (including) our fleet of low-emission buses. And now, producing our clean energy via solar power on our roofs, we understand the importance of protecting the environment.
“We’ve done all this by holding the line on taxes and being fiscally responsible,” Pinto continued. “For now. Sadly, the forecast of our future may be dramatically changing.”
Pinto emphasized the critical role of adequate funding in ensuring equitable and quality education, called for the prioritization of education over other initiatives, highlighted bipartisan criticism of the proposed cuts and urged residents to reach out to elected officials for support. Sufficient financial support is crucial for student success, he said, and inadequate funding may contribute to lower academic performance and graduation rates, intensifying achievement disparities, especially among students from low-income backgrounds.
The proposed cuts, Pinto said, are likely to result in stagnant salaries, reduced benefits, and increased workloads for educators. That, in turn, could negatively affect morale, potentially hinder teacher retention and recruitment efforts, worsen staffing shortages, and further compromise the overall quality of education.
“We’re calling on her to withdraw this proposal,” State Sen. Jack Martins said of Hochul. “Go back to the drawing board, work with us, work with the educators that are behind us, work with our communities. Let’s get it right.”
At the Long Beach school board meeting on Tuesday, district officials addressed pressing budget concerns, and particularly the fate of East Elementary School.
Michael DeVito, the assistant superintendent of finance and operations, presented two potential approaches to addressing a significant financial shortfall created by a $3.8 million budget gap due to increased expenses, which would be exacerbated by the potential $4.3 million cut in state aid.
The options included “repurposing” East Elementary, which has a declining enrollment and high maintenance costs. Under this plan, administrators from East School would move to Lindell and Lido elementary schools, with the possibility of cutting two assistant principal positions. Alternatively, there could be staff and program reductions across the district.
Despite the tough decisions ahead, the board stressed the importance of involving the community and focusing on transparency. The trustees assured attendees that no final decisions had been made, and laid out a timeline for further talks leading up to the May budget vote.
The state spending plan must be approved by April 1, and school districts will hold budget votes on May 21.