With New York State anticipating a $400 million surplus this year, Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) said a spending priority must be for schools.
He picked an appropriate place to make his statement — in front of Shelter Island High School students on Friday.
Mr. Thiele called for the roll back of the “Gap Elimination Adjustment,” implemented in 2010-11 to close what was then a $10 billion state budget deficit. When the financial markets went south in 2008, the plummeting economy triggered moves to cut spending by state, county, town and school districts that are, by law, required to have balanced budgets, Mr. Thiele said. The GEA was a reacton against the down economy.
Now that there’s at least the beginning of a recovery, the assemblyman said it’s time to eliminate what has become a burden to school districts by rolling back the GEA.
It might take two years to eliminate it entirely because it’s a lot of money, Mr. Thiele said. But the process needs to start with this year’s state budget.
It’s an issue the Shelter Island Board of Education has supported. Superintendent Michael Hynes is on the record saying the district was “cheated out of” $300,000 in state aid over the past three years under the policy.
Aid to schools and health care consume about 50 percent of the state’s anticipated $142 billion budget, Mr. Thiele said. Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, $22 billion is earmarked for school aid.
“That’s a good start [but] I don’t think it’s enough,” he said. Last year, Mr. Thiele was able to secure an additional $50,000 for the Shelter Island School District, above what was earmarked in regular state school aid.
The assemblyman didn’t dwell on the controversial rollout of the new Common Core standards and related teacher evaluation program introduced by the Board of Regents. But he said the rollout has put “a lot of demands on students and school districts.” He anticipated that the state legislature would move to slow down its implementation to allow time for changes.
On the issue of college financing, Mr. Thiele said the legislature has no control over tuition costs at private schools, but does when it comes to SUNY schools.
“Student debt is now greater than consumer debt,” he said.
He touted the state “STEM” program — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — where students in the top 10 percent of their class who are willing to commit to staying in New York State to work in those fields for at least five years can qualify for free tuition. But he said a student entering college should know from the outset what to expect in tuition throughout the four years.
He also encouraged students to enroll in internship programs to begin to build relationships with people with whom they might do business later in life. He was a student intern in Albany during his college years and said there are people he established relationships with almost 40 years ago who are colleagues today.
“They help you do your job and may even help you get your next job,” he said.
Thanks to the Internet and email, Mr. Thiele said he gets more constituent mail these days than he did when he first became an assemblyman 18 years ago.
“In politics and government, showing up is important,” he said. “Listening is the most important part of my job.”