NYS lawmakers, education advocates rallying for ‘GEA’ restoration

From left, state Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo at Saturday's Longwood Legislative Breakfast in Middle Island. (Jennifer Gustavson photo)
From left, state Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo at Saturday’s Longwood Legislative Breakfast in Middle Island. (Jennifer Gustavson photo)

State representatives are planning to focus their efforts this fiscal year on restoring school aid lost by a budget adjustment formula that has taken nearly $6.35 billion away from school districts since 2010.

During the 10th annual Longwood Regional Legislative Breakfast in Middle Island Saturday, local elected leaders addressed concerns from a crowd of school officials representing 28 districts in Suffolk County about restoring the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA.

The GEA was first applied to the 2009-10 state budget as a way to reduce New York’s $10 billion deficit and the formula has worked by reducing the amount of aid school districts are entitled to, according to a presentation by Suffolk County School Superintendents Association president Roberta Gerold.

Ms. Gerold, who also serves as Middle Country School District’s superintendent, said her district has lost $42 million as a result of the GEA over the past four years and believes the adjustment “increases dependence on local property taxes to fund public schools.”

“We struggled to meet that tax levy cap by reducing programs,” Ms. Gerold said, referring to a state-mandated cap on property taxes. “If we had the aid that we were entitled to, we would have been able to get what we needed to provide our kids without increasing our tax levy so much.”

Schools across New York have lost a total of about $6.35 billion in school aid due to the GEA between the 2010 to 2013 fiscal years, she said. Long Island schools have lost nearly $992 million in aid through the GEA during that time periord, Ms. Gerold added.

[Ms. Gerold and Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer Julie Lutz also presented a video produced by Capital Region BOCES that explains how the GEA works. Click here to watch the video]

Long Island education advocates should not only lobby for the removal of the GEA, Ms. Gerold said, but they should also demand that the lost aid be restored at the same level it was taken and given back to the schools it was taken from — as opposed to redistributing it statewide.

Many of the local elected leaders siting on the panel said they planned to focus their efforts on restoring aid lost from GEA  and also criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo plan’s to provide each teacher rated “highly effective” through a newly mandated evaluation process with a $20,000 bonus, expanding universal pre-K and floating a technology bond referendum.

Assemblymen Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) called Mr. Cuomo’s $20,000 teachers bonus “a de facto bribe” and state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said that although he believes pre-K is an important initiative, he doesn’t believe the governor’s effort is timely.

When state Sentator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asked the audience if any of them believed the technology bond referendum was a good idea, no one’s hand went up.

New York State School Boards Association president David Little said he believed Mr. Cuomo’s should provide schools aid they are entitled to instead of coming up with new initiatives.

“When I first heard about the governor’s budget, I thought of this: The veterinarian and the taxidermist going into business together,” he said. “The sign out front says: ‘Either way, you’re getting your dog back.

“Well, when we get done with this process, we’re getting our dog back.”

Pick up Thursday’s paper for more on this story.

Total GEA reductions in local school aid (provided by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association)

• Riverhead (-$9,831,474)
• Shoreham-Wading River (-$4,318,255)
• Mattituck-Cutchogue (-$1,635,223)
• Southold (-$1,074,303)
• Greenport (-$659,971)
• Oysterponds (-$206,708)

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