The New York state Legislature's first on-time budget since 1984 will provide some additional funding for the Oceanside and Island Park school districts, but according to the districts' superintendents, state aid needs to be more substantial.
The state budget was adopted just prior to the April 1 deadline, and still needs the approval of Gov. George Pataki before it becomes official. The budget's estimated educational aid for Oceanside in 2005-06 would be $13,875,187, an 11.4 percent increase from 2004-05, most of which would offset taxes in the district's proposed $105.4 million budget. Island Park is slated to receive $1,614,914 in state aid for 2005-06, a 2.5 percent increase over the current year, part of which would finance special education in the district's $26.3 million budget.
"With this aid we're going to keep down the tax rate for the homeowners," Oceanside Superintendent Dr. Herb Brown said. "We're going to apply it to next year's tax bill to keep taxes as low as possible. When we ask the assessor in August how much money we'll need to run the schools, we're going to ask for a million dollars less. That translates into lower tax bills."
About $700,000 of Oceanside's aid would consist of tax-limitation aid, a new category the state created, and about $600,000 would pay off interest on the $32 million bond voters passed in 2003 for district-wide building upgrades and field reconstruction. "When we had people pass the bond issue a few years ago," Brown continued, "we told them that our aid would increase to offset some of their cost on the bond issue. And this year, half of the aid increase was a result of the bond issue."
Most of Island Park's funding would apply to standard operational aids. "There are some key things we get, be it transportation aid, building aid, aid for textbooks and so on," Price said. "And then there's special-education aid."
Price said he was pleased that the bulk of the difference between the excess-cost aid - which reimburses districts for funds used on high-cost special-education students - that the governor proposed and what the Legislature ultimately approved was significant. "That's money we spent and, quite frankly, we were depending on it," Price said. "Some of these programs for these handicapped kids cost a hundred thousand dollars. And so for the state not to properly fund that would really be outrageous, in my opinion."
As Price understood Albany's budget process, Pataki sought to partially cut private excess-cost aid - that is, funds for non-public-education establishments such as United Cerebral Palsy, where school districts send some students - believing that districts were haphazardly placing kids in high-cost private schools. "That is not the case," Price said. "We put kids where we feel they have the best programs and that can deal with their needs the best way. The Legislature restored [private excess-cost aid], and we're very pleased by that."
For the 2005-06 school year, Island Park has budgeted for programs for severely disabled children admitted to the Bayview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. State law requires districts to put such students in BOCES programs or local schools for disabled children, and it remains undecided whether Island Park or New York City must fund these students. The district nevertheless must budget for this program, which represents a 1 percent increase in the budget.
The state's adopted budget includes $848.2 million more in school aid, and brings the total to $16.2 billion, the highest in state history. The budget also provides $2.9 million for the New York state comptroller to conduct additional school district audits. Asked if they were satisfied with the projected state aid for their districts, both superintendents said they were, but expressed reservations.
"It still doesn't solve the overall problems of campaign fiscal equity and how they are going to deal with that," Brown said. He added that "It is certainly helpful" that the state budget will be on time for the first time in over 20 years, since this allows districts to make better projections for taxpayers. "When we go forward we'll be able to be more specific about what tax bills are going to look like next year," Brown said.