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How State Aid Affects Our Schools

District could top two percent cap

The Garden City schools will be getting more in state aid this year as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed aid package, but district officials say the increase would be small and budget woes remain large.

Under Cuomo’s plan the district would see its 2012-13 state aid rise from $4,242,218 to a proposed $4,267,293, a .59 percent increase or $25,075. According to Dr. Robert Feirsen, the schools superintendent, the amount would barely make a dent with Garden City’s school monetary woes.

“It’s such a small amount that it would basically have no impact on the budget,” he said. “You’re talking about a $105,000,000 budget and an increase of $25,000 doesn’t change the percentages much,” Feirsen said. “We have many mandated increase costs and this doesn’t really help.”

Pensions and health care are among the state mandated costs the district has to contend with. And while the Garden City Teachers Association renegotiated its contract last year, resulting in an approximate $675,000 savings in the 2013-13 school year, there are other expenses looming that the district hadn’t had to contend with.

“We’re being demanded by the state to move to online testing for our students, which requires tremendous infrastructure changes and purchases and acquisitions of technology,” explained Fiersen. “Plus one of the most significant for our school district here is tax certiorari lawsuits that we are not responsible for paying. That could be millions of dollars. That’s the process by which property owners appeal their taxes to get reductions. So we’ve never had to contend with that because the county before acknowledged that if they made the error, they would pay the damages. Now the county shifted that to the school districts and potentially millions of dollars to Garden City.”

The other aspect of these tax certiorari lawsuits is that the added incurred expense is not exempted from the two percent cap the state expects Garden City and all other school districts to stay below. It’s a controversy that Garden City Public Schools were drawn into and an understandable source of frustration for the superintendent.

“If we’re sitting on a few million bucks in terms of tax refunds that we are liable for, that basically eats up all of the allowable increases [within the cap] and then some,” said Fiersen. “[It] makes any increase within the tax levy cap ridiculous because we now have all these millions of dollars of lawsuits that we’re responsible for, and we have nothing to do with assessments.”

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), shakes his head over the small increase in state aid and those upcoming tax certiorari payments that the Garden City School District faces.  

“For districts to lose money, and some will or will gain very little, it doesn’t strike me as being essentially fair,” Hannon said. “As we negotiate on the budget, we’ll try to make sure that we get a better break for all districts. “[As for the tax certiorari], the rest of the state deals with it because they pay it. But in another sense, since 1938, the county has basically been picking up that charge. So there is going to be a need to have a better adjustment for school districts in the county.”