By Carina Livoti
It has been a long week for New York State legislators, but it ended with the passage of a 2015-2016 state budget on Wednesday morning that finally led to the release of much-awaited school aid information.
The $142-billion budget agreement includes $23.5 billion for schools, which reflects a $1.3-billion increase from last year.
The Town of Huntington’s eight school districts on average are receiving a 7.7-percent increase in state aid from last year, amounting to $10.8 million of the additional $157 million projected for Long Island schools.
South Huntington School District Superintendent Dave Bennardo said that he and the district were grateful for the additional funds.
“What comes our way, we promise to make good use of; we feel so blessed that the aid for the past two years has been enough to help us improve programs in a very prudent and sustainable way,” he said.
The aid is tied to Cuomo’s reform agenda, which requires school districts to adopt more stringent, state-directed teacher evaluations. The evaluations, which lean on student standardized test performance, involve possible third-party teacher observations in classrooms and will be based on a four-point scale system developed by the state by June 30 of this year. Evaluations must be in place in local districts by Nov. 15 or districts could lose their aid increases.
The reforms also expand the teacher “bar” exam teachers are currently required to pass in order to teach. The new “bar” will also include the completion of 100 hours of continuing education, and teachers will be required to recertify ever year or lose their licenses.
Tenure regulations will also be tightened, extending the probationary period for tenure to a minimum of four years, with no automatic right to tenure. Teachers will be required to maintain an Effective or Highly Effective teacher evaluation rating for at least three of the four probationary years to be considered.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the reforms and unprecedented financial investment will bring accountability to the classroom, improve teacher quality, confront failing schools, reduce over-testing, and generally put students first.
While the budget lays out extensive guidelines for teacher evaluation, teacher removal, state intervention in failing schools, it is less clear about test reform, leaving that to the Chancellor of the Board of Regents. According to Cuomo’s website, the chancellor is set to outline recommendations on “how to decrease the overall amount of state and local testing, improve test quality, and reduce test-related stress and anxiety” by June 1.
New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-Northport) on Monday said he was less thrilled with the agreement reached between leaders, saying that the only real good news was the increase in school aid.
“Once again, this budget is going to be a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors, in which legislative leaders will pat themselves on the backs and try to fool the public into thinking that they actually did something substantial to reform the process,” he said.
Raia said he felt that Cuomo was shirking his responsibility as a legislator by deferring to the Education Commissioner, the New York State Board of Regents and the Department of Education (DOE) to develop the particulars concerning teacher evaluations.
“We’re basically punting to the Commissioner and the Board of Regents, and the Department of Eucation to come up with the details,” he said, adding that this will be the fourth time in five the state has re-vamped teacher evaluations.
“Maybe we’ll get it right this time, or maybe we should go back to letting local schools do what they do best—teaching our kids,” Raia said.
In a controversial move, Cuomo had originally tied a $1.1-billion school aid hike to education reforms, which included basing half of teacher evaluations on standardized test scores, increasing the period of time to earn tenure, expanding charter schools and school choice, and increasing state oversight with regard to failing schools. If the reforms were not passed, Cuomo said he would only support an increase of $377 million.
Both the Senate and the Assembly balked at the plan, making the $1.3-billion hike in the budget agreement a happy surprise.
The budget also calls for ethics reform, which includes more comprehensive disclosure of outside income by public officials and reformation of the per diem system. All public officials are now required to disclose the source of any outside compensation greater than $1,000. Public officials who personally provide services, such as lawyers or real estate brokers, will be required to disclose the names of clients from whom they receive compensation greater than $5,000.
Projected State Aid Runs In Huntington
Projected 2015-2016: $12,858,120
Percentage Change: +6.89%
Cold Spring Harbor
Projected 2015-2016: $3,619,958
Projected 2015-2016: $14,770,295
Projected 2015-2016: $13,544,638
Half Hollow Hills
Projected 2015-2016: $29,769,087
Projected 2015-2016: $14,686,361
Projected 2015-2016: $38,832,915
Projected 2015-2016: $31,861,160
* figures provided by Senator John Flanagan’s office.