Roslyn School District critiques Hochul’s proposed state aid changes

Roslyn School District critiques Hochul’s proposed state aid changes
Roslyn superintendent Allison Brown and Board of Education president Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy. (Photo by Taylor Herzlich)

The Roslyn Union Free School District’s Board of Education proposed a second draft of the 2024-2025 budget at a meeting Thursday plagued by concerns over limited state aid.

The newly proposed 2024-2025 budget for the Roslyn district is $132,602,170. The approved 2023-2024 budget for the district was $127,474,805, meaning that the proposed 2024-2025 budget reflects a 4.02% increase of $5,127,365.

The first budget draft proposed on Jan. 25 involved a 4.45% increase from the 2023-2024 budget, which was trimmed to a 4.02% rise between the first and second meeting. The 2023-2024 budget was approved last year at an increase of 4.35% compared to the 2022-2023 budget.

Most North Shore school districts are set to receive an increase in state aid in the 2025 budget. Roslyn is proposed to have the largest percentage increase in its state aid among North Shore schools, with an increase of 10.17%.

The Roslyn school district received $11,305,205 of state aid in the 2023-2024 budget, and is proposed to receive an additional $12,455,214 in the 2024-2025 budget. This is an increase of $1,150,009.

Board members, however, repeatedly stressed their financial concerns.

“The state of New York has … determined that education is not its No. 1 priority,” said Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy, president of the Roslyn Board of Education.

While the district’s proposed 2024-2025 budget is an increase from last year and their state aid is also set to increase, board members say that these statistics are misleading.

In particular, Waxman Ben-Levy attacked Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to end “Save Harmless,” or “Hold Harmless,” a provision that has prevented school districts from receiving less Foundation Aid funding than they received the year before.

Susan Warren, assistant superintendent for Business and Administration, said this change in state aid was “devastating” since the original Foundation Aid formula is the only state aid formula that is not “expense-based, meaning that we don’t have to spend money to get money.”

Warren said that as a result of Hochul’s state aid changes, the only addition to Foundation Aid is a “miniscule” $255,548. “Just enrollment alone is going to eat that up,” said Warren. “Enrollment is increasing significantly.”

Hochul’s plan to eradicate the “Save Harmless” provision would stop schools with decreasing student enrollment from continuing to receive an increased amount of state aid However, school districts with increasing enrollment like Roslyn are left without a guaranteed yearly increase to their state aid funding.

Warren protested that the reporting of an increase in state aid by the media is misleading. “You’re gonna see in the paper that we’re getting about $12.5 million in state aid,” said Warren. “That is not accurate.”

She listed a few examples to conceptualize the changes proposed by Hochul and to explain where the state aid goes.

Firstly, Warren said that Hochul’s new state aid plan uses an eight-year average of inflation instead of using the actual current inflation rate.

Warren said $864,525 of the state aid received by the district must be passed along to the preschools with which they work, meaning the Roslyn school district never sees that chunk of their state aid.

Warren also claimed that around $3.7 million of the state aid is money the district is only receiving back as a small percentage of the money they have already spent on expenses like transportation and buildings.

Waxman Ben-Levy acknowledged the convoluted nature of state aid funding, saying she believes “it is intended to be complicated.”

Warren also used the meeting time to discuss the proposed tax levy for the 2024-2025 budget. The proposed tax levy is $108,861,040, or a rate of 3%. This number represents the amount of real estate taxes needed within the district to cover the cost of the budget after all available revenues are applied.

Warren emphasized that the district has a tax levy limit of 3.07% for this year, so the proposed tax levy is technically under the cap.

Roslyn school board members reiterated their clams that Hochul’s proposed changes to state aid funding are not sustainable for their district or for other districts on Long Island.

“The suburbs are where the lighthouses of education are,” said Waxman Ben-Levy. “And if we’re struggling, in my view, there’s no hope for anybody else in this state.”

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