Foundation aid restored for schools but administrators say not in full

Foundation aid restored for schools but administrators say not in full
Paul D. Schreiber High School. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

New York State finalized its school aid allocation after many school districts had already adopted their budgets as it restored foundation funding to all districts prepared to see a reduction.

Yet while foundation aid was considered restored through the state’s hold harmless policy, which ensures districts receive the same amount or more in foundation aid from year to year, final totals still came in lower than anticipated due to changes in the formula.

Port Washington Assistant Superintendent of Business Kathleen Manuel said that while at face value foundation aid was restored, it wasn’t actually in its entirety.

“Schools should have actually received more in aid if [Gov. Kathy Hochul] had let the formula run the way it should,” Manuel said.

Despite this change, a majority of school districts on the North Shore are keeping their budgets as is.

Multiple school district administrators said the inflationary increase percentage used to calculate the amount of foundation aid awarded was lower than the inflationary factor that should have been used – leading to lower amounts of foundational aid being handed out.

Inflationary increases were estimated at about 4.1% while the governor used a 2.8% increase in foundation aid calculations.

Districts, though, were expecting that 4.1% increase and received foundation aid totals that were still lower than what they anticipated if foundation aid’s hold harmless policy had been restored.

Manuel said she did not understand why a 2.8% inflation increase was used rather than the actual 4.1%.

Multiple school districts drafted budgets in anticipation that foundation aid would be restored. While this did happen, districts still received fewer funds than they expected due to the altering of the foundation aid formula.

For the Port Washington School District, this amounted to $170,000 fewer funds than what their 2024-2025 budget anticipated in foundation aid.

Manuel said “$170,000 doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s a teaching position.”

She also said no teaching position will be eliminated to offset this lesser foundation aid amount.

To compensate for the loss of nearly $170,000 in foundation aid, Manuel said other district revenues will likely supplement it.

“It’s going to definitely make things tighter,” Manuel said.

Port Washington was proposed by the governor initially to receive $13,370,570 in foundation aid but received $13,469,734 under the final budget – a $100,000 increase. The district’s total state aid amounts to $21,222,636.

Despite the changes in state aid, Manuel said the original $194.5M budget adopted by the Port Washington Board of Education will stay in place and be the one presented to the public for a vote. It also includes a 4.55% tax levy increase that exceeds the cap and will require a 60% vote of approval from residents.

At the Great Neck Public Schools, this change in the foundation aid formula amounted to a shortfall of nearly $99,000 fewer funds than expected.

Great Neck Assistant Superintendent of Business John O’Keefe said that despite a loss of $99,000 due to a lower allocation of state aid than expected, the budget revenues are estimated conservatively and greater revenues than budgeted would offset these lower state funds.

Its $281,995,500 budget will remain as is without any adjustments.

Great Neck’s foundation aid amounts to $9,046,163, a 0.012% increase from the prior year’s state budget. Its total state aid is set at $15,322,280, or about 3.05% greater than the year prior.

The Manhasset School District was to receive an unprecedented drop in state foundation aid funding of about $629,000, or 20.7%, under the governor’s January proposal.

This was restored, Manhasset’s Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Sam Gergis said, but without inflationary adjustments. Gergis said they will now receive the same amount of foundation aid from the prior year.

The Manhasset School District adopted a $111M budget based on the full amount of expected foundation aid to be restored. In the case that it is not, those lapses in funds would be fulfilled through its FEMA recovery funds.

Because the budget was contingent on these funds being restored, which ultimately were, Gergis said the district will not be altering its budget.

“We built the budget with the assumption of restoration, which did occur,” Gergis said. “And that’s how the budget was adopted.”

Gergis said the district is pleased that it was restored.

Some school districts, though, received more than they had budgeted.

With a net increase of $80,556 in state aid from the January proposal, the North Shore School District opted to use the boost in aid to lower its tax levy.

The North Shore School District adopted a 3.96% tax levy increase at its budget adoption in April, but will now lower it to a 3.87% increase in light of the final state aid numbers.

But some that received increases will keep budgets as is.

Mineola’s Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Jack Waters said Mineola previously was proposed to have a $90,000 drop in state aid but will now receive about a $150,000 boost.

While Mineola will now get $240,000 more than what it anticipated when adopting its budget in April, Waters said no budget adjustments will be made.

“If we hold harmless, if we get a little bit more in state aid, that’s great,” Water said. “If we got a little bit less in state aid…Mineola can handle it without affecting programs.”

Waters said the greater amount of state aid would be used to offset potential lapses in other revenue areas for the district, and if not needed would go toward the district’s surpluses at the end of the year.

Mineola has a greater amount of PILOT properties, or properties that make payments in lieu of taxes, which Waters said can pay amounts different from what the school district budgets for. In those cases, he said the greater state aid could help offset those differences, too.

The Floral Park-Bellerose School district received an increase of $51,190 in state aid from the governor’s initial proposal. Interim Superintendent of Schools Lisa J. Ruiz said this will not cause any budget modifications.

“Despite a challenging budget process and a modest 4.34% increase in state aid, our proposed 2024-2025 budget reflects our commitment to quality education for all and fiscal responsibility,” Ruiz wrote in an email to Blank Slate Media. “Through creative planning and a thoughtful allocation of resources, as well as input we received from our new strategic planning survey and committee, we’ve maintained programs, addressed key facility needs and invested in various new programs for student success.”

East Williston School District Deputy Superintendent Diane Castonguay said the district’s net change from its original state aid proposal to what it received was an increase of about $36,000.

Castonguay said the Board of Education has not discussed how it would handle the increase and could not comment on how it would be addressed in the budget.

What the public will vote on in May are the school districts’ expenditure budgets and corresponding tax levies, not the estimated revenues expected to fund those budgets. This allows the districts’ revenue side of their budgets to remain in flux as amounts may change due to different events.

All budget modifications for school districts must be approved via a vote by the district’s Board of Education.

But while aid increases, Manuel said there is still space for it to be further expanded by the state.

Manuel said that what makes Port Washington unique is its demographics with a larger non-English speaking student population.

Some school districts receive additional aid for teaching migrant students, but Manuel said the same is not provided to Port Washington for its students who don’t speak English, have a lower English proficiency or are homeless – which she said comes at additional costs to the district.

“Part of what makes Port Washington such a wonderful place is our diverse population,” Manuel said. “We want to make sure all students can be successful. Additional funding is necessary for us to continue to do so.”

Manuel said she has been advocating for greater funds for these student populations to further aid in their education and mental health needs.

“This is an area where state aid can actually help school districts,” Manuel said.

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