Local Schools Push For State To Reinstate Funding, End Gap Elimination Adjustment

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As New York’s economy slowly works its way back into the black, local school districts are pushing for the state to end an educational funding policy that they say has been hurting Long Island schools and taxpayers since its creation in 2009.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, was created by former Governor David Paterson to help close the state’s $10 billion deficit by reducing the amount of state aid distributed to the schools. Although the amount of aid has gradually increased for some schools since then due to shrinking deficits in Albany, many still receive less funding than they did before the plan went into action.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is projecting a surplus in this year’s state budget, one that he has said could allow for tax cuts, but many school officials are hopeful that it could mean more state funding and, thus, smaller tax levies. Mr. Cuomo will release his proposed budget later this month.

The governor’s office has said that it is still too early to say if the GEA will be revoked in the coming budget, which is still being prepared. Olympia Sonnier, a spokeswoman for the governor said Mr. Cuomo has made easing the pains caused by the GEA a priority during his tenure in office.

“In the last two years the governor has invested $918 million toward eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment and will continue to make sensible investments in education, while at the same time pushing for reforms that will inject accountability and rigor into the system,” Ms. Sonnier wrote in an email.

In the meantime, the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association has already begun beating the war drum against the GEA by circulating data about its negative impact on area schools starting this past September, as well as an example letter of how to properly lobby state legislators in October.

Several East End school districts, including Tuckahoe, have fallen in line, firing off letters to State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. on December 2. Over in Hampton Bays, Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen said he and his district would begin holding informational meetings starting in January with community groups regarding the GEA.

Mr. Clemensen said Hampton Bays would not be doing any lobbying of its own, but he hopes that local groups, such as the Hampton Bays Civic Association, Parent Teacher Association and the Rotary Club of Hampton Bays of which he is currently president, will pick up the baton. He added that the district also will be “educating” Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle directly.

The Hampton Bays School District stands to miss out on about $760,000 in state funding this year, according to literature from the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, which also indicates that the district has received about $2.5 million less in state aid over the past three years. Hampton Bays is projected to receive about $4.2 million in state aid this year.

“The Suffolk County School Superintendents Association is really developing the playbook and we’re all adapting it to our own school districts,” Mr. Clemensen said.

Since the 2009-10 school year, the Eastport South Manor School District has received approximately $7.6 million less in state funding due to the measure, Westhampton Beach saw its funding cut by about $1.2 million and Southampton took home $1.4 million less, according to the association. If the GEA remains in place this year and everything remains the same, the Sag Harbor School District is projected to receive approximately $1.5 million in state aid, or about $240,000 less than it would have if the policy were eliminated. That equates to about $233 per student. East Quogue school officials, meanwhile, could expect to receive just under $1.1 million in state aid, or more than $140,000 less than if the program were ended. That equals about $327 in cuts per student.

Tuckahoe School Superintendent Chris Dyer said he doesn’t plan on doing anything additional in terms of speaking out against the GEA, but he is hopeful something will change this year because his district, which is engaged in merger discussions with the Southampton School District for financial reasons, could use any additional money it can get. Tuckahoe has received about $480,000 less than it would have over the past three years because of the GEA, according to the association.

“This is a significant loss for us as we try to live with the 2 percent [tax cap] and the reduced state funding,” Mr. Dyer said. “It’s even tougher.”

Part of the concerns for East End districts, as well as those throughout Long Island, has to do with the way the GEA has had a disproportionately adverse impact on suburban districts when compared to urban and rural districts elsewhere in the state. According to the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, Long Island accounts for 17 percent of students in the state but receives only 12 percent of state funding while absorbing 18 percent of the GEA reductions.

“You have this perception that all of Long Island is this very, very wealthy place and the rest of the state believes that,” Mr. Clemensen said. “To paint Long Island with a brush that it is wealthy enough to give money to the whole state is not accurate.”

Mr. Thiele said the GEA works against suburban districts, primarily on Long Island and in Westchester County, because residents in those areas often pay more in taxes but see less in return from the state.

After hearing from the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association recently and having spoken to representatives from the 21 school districts he represents during the past few years, Mr. Thiele said ending the GEA is a clear priority for his constituents.

“It seems to me, at a time when the governor is predicting a budget surplus and he’s talking about tax cuts, it seems to me that a portion of that surplus should go to education,” he said. “It was an emergency provision in 2009 to close the deficit and it is now closed.”

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