At this week's Three Village school budget workshop, after discussion of possible teacher layoffs as a means to closing the $8.1 million budget gap the district is facing, trustees told the community that the state legislature is failing Three Village and other school districts in a similar situation.
Board president Dr. Jeffrey Kerman said the problem is that Long Island taxpayers contribute more to state coffers than they get back in the form of school funding and other applications.
"Our [legislators] may be fighting, but the problem is the general consensus of the total legislature," he said. "Upstaters and the city. Most of the Long Island delegation recognizes our plight and is trying to alleviate it. The problem is the rest of the state. We fund the rest of the state with our taxes."
Responding to a resident's complaint that the school district needs to do more to press state lawmakers for funding, trustee Bill Connors told the community: "We share the same frustrations that you do."
The property tax cap, unfunded education mandates and an inequitable school funding system are all contributing to a crisis in Three Village and other school districts on Long Island, trustee Susanne Mendelson said.
Mendelson, a member of the school board's legislative committee, said the district is doing its part to lobby its representatives in the state government, Sen. John Flanagan, R-Northport, and Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-Setauket. However, she said, the district's efforts seem to be falling flat.
"What seems to be the overwhelming response from the state level government is that they’re not going to change the structure of things just yet. ... We really in many ways are left to our own very difficult decisions as school boards," she said. "It’s extremely frustrating, disheartening for us to be sitting up here around the table and know that we have reached a point of crisis...We keep fighting the good fight and it doesn't seem to be advancing with much success."
Reached by phone on Wednesday during the Assembly's budget workshop, Englebright said the Three Village trustees seemed to be reacting to the Governor's proposed budget, which would only increase state aid by about $50,000, and said that the Assembly will put forth a budget that includes more state aid for school districts. He said he and multiple other downstate suburban legislators have been pushing for more aid to their school districts.
"It’s a double bind," Englebright said. "The districts are being squeezed by the reality of limited state aid due to limited state revenue. ... It’s a very difficult reality and I agree that we need to fight as hard as we can. I am. We are."
Flanagan, the Senate's education committee chair, did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said Flanagan does appear to be fighting for more high tax aid, which is a type of state funding specifically designed to assist school districts in wealthier communities that may already be paying high taxes. Carlson said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget slashed high tax aid as a means to steering money toward school districts in poorer communities.
"If we could get all of that back it would be wonderful," Carlson said.