School Supe: Aid cuts would be ‘catastrophic’

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Superintendent of Schools Michael Hynes is not being quiet about proposed state budget cuts to his district.

Any cuts in aid can be “catastrophic” for a district with a less than $10 million budget, Shelter Island Superintendent Michael Hynes said Friday afternoon. That’s why he’s hoping state legislators find a way to restore as much of the $83,588 in aid that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal would cut from the current $486,263 the district received this year. And he’s also wary of any cutbacks in Title I — aid to districts where there are large pockets of poverty — or special education aid that comes from the federal government.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said Friday if sequestration — across the board cutbacks in spending — takes place March 1 and doesn’t get reversed, those education funds could also be slashed, affecting a number of East End school districts.

Title I funding typically provides extra money to schools in order to make up for funding that might not be available from local taxpayers. The special education aid helps those districts with extreme costs they sometimes encounter that could otherwise result in curtailing services or having to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars more from local taxes to cover costs.

When the Shelter Island Board of Education begins its budgeting process Thursday night for the 2013-14 school year, they’ll be discussing two scenarios, Dr. Hynes said. One will be a budget that despite the 2-percent tax cap still in effect, would see the district retain aid levels it has seen during the current school year. The other would be to look at possible cuts that might have to be made to meet a much lower budget should current aid levels not be sustained next year.

Thursday night’s meeting won’t get into the specifics of possible cuts since it’s one of only three or four budget sessions the Board of Education will be holding in the next two months, Dr. Hynes said.

What taxpayers can expect is a scenario similar to last year’s budgeting process starting with an overview of factors that could affect 2013-14 spending. In future budget meetings, there will be a review of various parts of the budget as the board, with public input, builds to a consensus of what plan to submit to voters for their consideration in May.

Pressures to bring about an increase from the governor’s proposed state aid to current levels started with Dr. Hynes. He protested the 17.1 percent cut with messages to the governor, Senator Kenneth LaValle (R,C-Port Jefferson) and  Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor).

“We cannot sustain this,” Dr. Hynes said when the cuts were announced. It would “handcuff” Shelter Island while the district is undergoing major transformations to better prepare its students for college and the job market, he said.

Mr. Thiele told Shelter Island social studies students earlier this month he believes the funds the governor proposed cutting will be restored by state legislators.

“I am extremely optimistic that we’re going to be able to do that,” he said. “The governor’s proposal is bad for Long Island and I think it’s unfair,” Mr. Thiele said.

The money won’t come from other districts, but will have to be found elsewhere in the budget, the legislator said.

Shelter Island teachers joined in protesting the cuts, sending their own letter to Governor Cuomo

The letter is “just to show that the teachers are taking a vested interest” in the budget,” said Faculty Association president Brian Becker.

“It’s the cost of education,” he said about a budget that is needed to sustain the faculty and programs within the district.  The letter was signed by 32 of the 36 faculty members Mr. Becker said.

The teachers’ letter calls the governor’s proposed budget “incomprehensible and unfair. Several of our faculty members have tried to contact you individually but to no avail,” the letter said. “We are now writing you as an entire unit to express our discontent.”

The letter goes on to ask the governor to explain the formula he used in deciding that “children in our district are less important than children in other districts. We would further like you to explain to our community why they receive much less in state aid than they give to you and the rest of the government in tax dollars.” The proposed cuts would force the district to choose between fewer teachers or fewer programs for Shelter Island students.

“Your current formula for providing aid is extremely prejudiced against the East End of Long Island and specifically our district,” the letter said.