Southampton Schools expect state aid will drop next year

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The Southampton School District dodged a bullet when the New York State Legislature decided not to act on the governor’s proposal to cut aid to schools in the middle of the academic year, but now it faces even steeper state cuts as it lays out its 2009-2010 spending plan.

“Southampton was slated to lose $230,000,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. J. Richard Boyes told the School Board on December 2. Though that figure makes up less than half a percent of the district’s total budget, Governor David Paterson has indicated the cuts he has planned for next school year will be larger. “We’re taking this very seriously,” Dr. Boyes said.

The governor said he will present his proposed budget this month, and district officials do not expect good news.

“We know we’re going to get less money from the state,” the superintendent said. “We don’t know how much less.”

Mr. Paterson sent a letter last month to all the school districts in the state warning them to brace themselves for a cut in aid.

“New York is facing a historic fiscal crisis,” the governor wrote. “Over the next four years, we must close a record $47 billion deficit. Given the magnitude of this problem, every area of state spending, including education, will have to experience reductions.”

The governor noted that when the State Legislature convened in August and reduced spending by $1 billion over two years, school districts were not subject to any cuts. But after the state’s financial crisis deepened, he proposed $836 million in mid-year reductions in school aid for the 2008-09 academic year. Since the legislature did not act on his proposal, the governor withdrew it.

“Fiscal management is all about making hard, painful decisions, and the rejection of a mid-year school aid reduction by the legislature means that deeper declines in funding for school districts will now be necessary in 2009-10 to ensure a balanced budget,” Mr. Paterson said.

Dr. Boyes pointed out that the Southampton Town Board recently passed a 5-percent tax increase for 2009—the biggest increase allowed by town law. School districts may face a similar tax cap soon, he said. The idea of a 4-percent cap on annual school tax increases is being considered in Albany.

Even without a cap, Dr. Boyes said he expects there would be little tolerance among taxpayers for an increase of any more than 4 percent.

He added that he, due to the housing crisis, he doesn’t expect the tax base in Southampton to grow this year either. A growing tax base would spread out the burden of budget increases and reduce the impact on individual taxpayers.

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