Changes to the foundation aid formula proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in her 2024-2025 executive budget, wouldl reduce funding for school districts across the state. Photo: Adobe Stock

Riverhead school officials criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget last week for proposing changes to foundation aid, the primary source of state funding for public schools, by changing how the aid is allocated and eliminating the “hold harmless” policy, which guarantees school districts receive as much foundation aid funding as they did the year before.

The change would give districts like Riverhead “less than what we should be getting,” Interim Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Marianne Cartisano said in a letter to the community Thursday. 

Hochul’s budget would “unilaterally change the foundation aid formula that has been used for decades,” the administrators said. Some school districts across the state would leave many districts with “sizable proposed cuts,” the district administrators said.

Hochul’s 2024-2025 budget proposal would increase the Riverhead school district’s total state aid by $3.3 million to a total of $80.4 million —  a 4.3% increase over the 2023-2024 total aid —according to data published by the State Education Department detailing the governor’s proposal. Riverhead’s foundation aid would increase from $57.5 million to $58.9 million.

Other districts in the local area would have total state aid significantly reduced under the governor’s proposal. Proposed state aid reductions would hit two North Fork districts hard: Mattituck-Cutchogue would see a more than 19% decrease, Southold more than 12.4%. Fisher’s Island in the Town of Southold would have its total state aid go down by nearly 23% under the governor’s proposal and Shelter Island’s aid would drop more than 21%. Some districts on the South Fork would be hit equally hard.

Riverhead administrators said they are “troubled” by Hochul’s proposal, but “not alarmed” by it, because the proposal will be negotiated with state legislators to arrive at the final budget.

“We have confidence that our state representatives will do what is just and right for our students, and fight to restore foundation aid funding to the 100 percent level, using the existing foundation aid formula, that Governor Hochul promised to us on the steps of the capitol in Albany three years ago,” the letter says.

It’s a familiar pattern in the state budget process, Pedisich and Cartisano said in the letter: A governor proposes cuts to state aid, and after budget negotiations with state legislators, the proposed cuts are restored in the final adopted state budget, the administrators said.

Legislators across the state and those representing the local region, including State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Assembly Member Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) and Assembly Member Fred Thiele, have vowed to fight the governor’s state aid proposal.

“I will not vote for any State Budget that cuts Foundation Aid to a single school district in the State,” Thiele said in a statement last week. He said the state finally fully funded foundation aid last year and the governor’s proposed budget “reneges on that commitment just one year later.”

In a press release Monday, the State Senate Republican Conference stated its opposition to eliminating the hold harmless policy. They also blasted the governor for proposing a “bloated” budget they said “siphons state aid away from local schools” while diverting $2.4 billion for migrants.

When Hochul announced her budget proposal earlier this month, she said the state cannot “replicate the massive increases [in state aid] of the last two years.” Her proposal ensures that school districts “are getting the appropriate money based on their enrollments today compared to what they were a decade and a half ago,” Hochul said. 

Foundation aid is determined by a formula factoring in wealth, cost of living, student need and the regional economics of the district receiving the funds. Foundation aid was enacted in 2007 in response to the state’s highest court declaring the New York’s system of funding of public education inadequate and unconstitutional. But the state never fully funded foundation aid until the current fiscal year — after it settled, in 2021, a lawsuit brought in 2014 by an advocacy group demanding foundation aid be fully funded.

Increases in foundation aid in the last few years have allowed the Riverhead school district’s budget to increase substantially without requiring the district to pierce the 2% tax levy cap. A boost in foundation aid in 2021 allowed the Board of Education to restore several administrative positions and programs cut in 2020 without increasing the tax levy. State aid in the current fiscal year funds 40% of the total school budget.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Avatar photo
Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com