56 LI school districts poised for cuts in state aid as COVID relief money runs out

The challenges come as pandemic-related funding is set to run out amid proposals to cut state aid.

Rachel Yonkunas

Mar 21, 2024, 10:33 PM

Updated 60 days ago


School districts across Long Island are facing hard choices as they prepare their budgets for the 2024-2025 school year. Several districts have already announced plans to lay off teachers and eliminate positions altogether.
The challenges come as pandemic-related funding is set to run out amid proposals to cut state aid.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed cuts in Foundation Aid to 56 Long Island school districts. She said the drop in state aid is tied to declining student enrollment numbers.
A provision of the Foundation Aid previously allowed schools to use larger enrollment numbers from previous years to prevent steep drops in state aid.
“No one was really anticipating that there would be cuts to school aid,” said Robert Lowry, Jr., from the Council of School Superintendents. “In some cases, the cuts are fairly dramatic.”
Long Beach Public Schools are poised to lose $4.3 million in state foundation aid due to these changes.
“This cut in aid would have a catastrophic effect on district students, resulting in potential program cuts, layoffs to staff, and/or the closing of an elementary school,” said Dr. Jennifer Gallagher, superintendent of schools. “We do not want to cut programs for students or increase the burden on taxpayers, so restoration of these cuts is essential.”
However, some school districts that would get boosts in state foundation aid are still proposing staffing cuts.
The Riverhead Central School District is slated to see a $1.3 million increase in state foundation aid. However, district officials are looking to eliminate 38 teaching positions and 18 teaching assistant positions.
Another reason districts are facing budget shortfalls is because federal COVID-19 relief money will run out by Sept. 30. Many schools used that funding to hire additional staff to address mental health issues and learning loss caused by the pandemic.
Riverhead CSD hired at least 18 staff members during the pandemic, including 13 teachers, three psychologists, a social worker and a guidance counselor.
They also used some of the funds to create new programs by adding “elementary specialists” to provide small group targeted instruction for students. The district allocated $4.6 million of pandemic-related funding into their budget for the 2023-2024 school year.
Districts knew the COVID-19 relief money would end and that it should mainly be used for non-recurring expenses. However, schools saw a mental health crisis during the pandemic and that is what they needed to prioritize.
Many educators said the crisis is still here and the problem they now face is sustaining programs after relief money runs out. Districts must decide whether they can afford to keep giving students all the help they need.
“We heard a lot of concern about financial sustainability,” said Lowry, Jr. “I’d say the number one thing we hear anecdotally from superintendents is we're doing so much more to help children and families than ever before. Not just academics, but things like mental health services, health care, childcare, after school care. These needs have grown dramatically and schools have taken on wider responsibilities.”

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