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State aid to Shelter Island School District looks positive

It finally appears likely that New York state aid to schooling, imperiled for months, will be restored — at least to the level received for the current school year.

In Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) draft budget announced in January, she had called for an end to the so-called “hold harmless” clause that ensured districts would receive at least as much in state aid as they had for the current school year.

For Shelter Island, that could mean a loss of as much as $170,000, the possibility of having to go beyond the 2% cap on new taxes and cuts to programs considered vital by the school’s administration, to the educational process.

There is still no budget in place, but word out of Albany Wednesday is that Ms. Hochul has agreed not to eliminate the hold harmless policy.

“We have been following the state aid saga closely,” said Shelter Island School Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D.  “We’ve been promised by our local representatives that hold harmless would be restored and it seems like that’s the case.”

Legislators are expected on Thursday to extend the date for a final decision to April 16. But whether that date holds or not is unlikely to affect the school aid situation.

Once the state finalizes a budget, there will be a need to pass several bills to enact it. Last year, it was May before a final budget was solidified.

In past years, districts generally were able to not only get aid in the same amount they had for the current year, but could usually see a bump-up secured by a legislature determined to commit to more financial aid than what they currently had. That may or may not be true for the state budget still being negotiated.

But, as has been the case, if a budget isn’t concluded by the time the district has to prepare its budget for the 2024-25 school year, it’s likely the anticipated school aid will be projected at the same rate as delivered for this school year. If more money is forthcoming, decisions can be made later to adjust spending plans. Until now, Shelter Island administrators and the Board of Education were considering some cuts to spending they may not have to make.

If the district gets only $170,000 from the state, it could make up the difference it needs to hold to its budget with cuts in travel and conference expenses, materials, supplies and equipment, and hold firm on its $13.08 million draft budget without piercing the tax cap.

The district had been scheduled to finalize its budget last Monday, April 8, and moved its meeting to Monday April 15. It could likely hold off another week or so if necessary, but right now, the news appears good for the school’s administration.

Mr. Doelger said he’s grateful to Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) and State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) for standing in firm opposition to the governor’s original plans to cut school aid.He said he’s “anxiously awaiting the final numbers from Albany.