Editorial: More to state aid than money

The governor has proposed far worse.

Regarding school aid figures, that is. About this time every year whoever holds the state’s highest elected office produces a draft budget for the next year, and of particular interest locally is the section on aid to education. In most years the percentages rise, but as became all too obvious when the economy plummeted in 2008, these are not most years. With a huge budget gap to fill, the state cut back on local school aid for the current academic year. The Riverhead school district has seen some 50 teacher and teacher support positions cut since 2009, in part because of shrinking state aid.

The view from Albany doesn’t appear to be quite so dire now. Should the state Legislature adopt the governor’s spending plan as submitted, which is virtually impossible, Southold would be the only area district to see its state aid drop again. The others would enjoy increases ranging from just under 2 percent to close to 4 percent. It’s all academic until the “big three,” the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, come up with final numbers. Unfortunately, local schools have to guess how much aid is coming when preparing their own budgets, which are put before voters in May.

Overshadowing all the state aid talk is how this factors in to the state mandate that schools, and other taxing jurisdictions, limit their annual property tax hikes to no more than 2 percent. That also won’t be known anytime soon.

And as it is wont to do, the state may just toss in another complication — and yet another mandate. The governor wants to link state assistance to the adoption of a teacher evaluation program, as required by the federal Race to the Top approach to increasing academic success. Teachers unions oppose the evaluation effort, as do many New York City principals. Supporters of the “test the teachers” effort say it’s about time the largely well-paid — on Long Island, anyway — professionals are held accountable for their efforts. But with part of overall evaluation dependent on student test scores, teachers would be forced more than they already are to abandon true learning for “teaching to the test.” Then there’s the built-in disparity, in general, with students in well-to-do districts usually scoring higher on state-mandated tests than those in poorer communities.

In the grand scheme of things, getting or losing a small amount of state aid is the least of our educational concerns.