Educators and legislators from around Long Island rallied Monday in Huntington to press their complaints about how state aid is distributed to local school districts.
Gathering on the football field at Whitman High School, state Assembly Republicans, school board trustees, superintendents, PTA leaders and others emphasized the imbalance between what Long Islanders pay in taxes and what is returned to local districts as state aid.
Several speakers laid the problem of tight budgets and a declining return of state aid directly at the feet of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "Through his executive budget, Gov. Cuomo has not only continued using Long Island as the state's cash cow, but has revived the myth that this region is wealthy enough to forego its rightful school aid in order that it be redistributed elsewhere," said James March, president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association.
"In order to claim 'no new taxes' on its part, the state has resorted to taxing our local schools to balance its books," March said. "Throughout the past three years of its so-called 'gap elimination adjustment,' New York has raided Long Island's school budgets of nearly $1 billion."
Asssemb. Chad Lupinacci, R-Huntington Station, said, "All across Long Island, school districts are dealing with the consequences of the governor's broken promises."
"As someone who spent the past eight years trying to balance the rising cost of education from the top down, I can assure you our current system is broken," Lupinacci, a former South Huntington school trustee, said. "without reform of the current system, students and residents across Long Island will continue to suffer with an unfair and burdensome system."
Several speakers said that the perception of Long Island as wealthy often worked against local districts.
"Long Island represents 17 percent of the school-age children in our state. Therefore we deserve our fair share by receiving 17 percent of all education funding in the budget. Anything less would be discrimination," Assemb. Joseph Saladino, R-Massapequa, said.
Speakers urged those attending the rally to communicate with their representatives to support their local school districts.
Dr. David Bennardo, South Huntington school superintendent, said the district had experienced a $240,000 cut in aid. "Where does it stop?" he said. "I'm hoping the message gets through to them in Albany."
Mandate relief, the easing of state requirements that are usually not accompanied by financial support, was another topic. Huntington superintendent James W. Polansky said mandates include pension and transportation costs.
"The legislature must provide real mandate relief for our schools," Saladino said.
Also of concern is the congressional inaction to head off across-the-board cuts scheduled to take place Friday that could affect school districts as well as may other government programs. Sequestration, as the cutbacks are known, "will definitely have an impact," South Huntington school board president James Kaden said.