Last month, Governor Kathy Hochul (D) submitted her proposed budget for the 2025 fiscal year. Not only is the $233 billion plan the largest proposal in state history, but it’s also drawn the ire of local leaders, elected officials, and community members over the tens of millions of dollars the Governor has proposed to cut from school districts.

            The proposed budget is set to cut state aid to school districts by $168 million, affecting 337 school districts across New York. Some of the largest school districts in Suffolk County are contained in the proposal, based on preliminary data. Within Smithtown, the districts are Kings Park, Smithtown, and Three Village. In Brookhaven, Bayport-Blue Point, Center Moriches, East Moriches, Eastport-South Manor, Fire Island, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson, South Country, and Three Village. In Islip, Bayport-Blue Point, Connetquot, East Islip, Islip, Sayville, and West Islip.

            Districts across Suffolk are affected as well, including, but not limited to, Amagansett, Cold Spring Harbor, East Quogue, Fisher’s Island, Harborfields, and Sag Harbor, to name a few.

            Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), of the First Senate District, headlined a rally last week at Ward Melville High School in Setauket. He was joined by Assemblyman Ed Flood, of the Fourth Assembly District, (R-Port Jefferson Station) – Palumbo and Flood both represent Setauket in Albany – Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James), of the Second Senate District, and Assemblywoman Jodi Gigilio (R-Baiting Hollow), of the Second Assembly District.

            “We’re here today to bring attention to some really abhorrent conduct taken by state government; we’re here to save our schools,” said Senator Palumbo. “Those of us who live on Long Island, and here in Senate District One, pay a tremendous amount of money in property taxes. Every dollar that comes from the state is a subsidy to our property taxes and to all of us. So, every dollar that’s not paid by state aid, we need to make up the difference.”

            Palumbo spoke not only of how the proposal will affect districts statewide, but also his district, the First Senate District, which encompasses northern Brookhaven, and the entireties of the Townships of East Hampton, Riverhead, Southampton, Shelter Island, and Southold.

            “My district goes from Stony Brook to Montauk, around 330,000 people,” said Palumbo. “Senate District One stands to lose $8 million in funding and when you think about the $168 million [across the state], the Governor is taking from our schools where we’re not only constitutionally mandated to educate our children but we’re morally obligated to educate our children.”

            Palumbo also contrasted the Governor’s proposal with another initiative to which she seeks to divert funds: the migrant crisis.

            “She [Hochul] miraculously finds $2.4 billion to send to New York City for a self-created crisis, the migrant crisis,” continued Palumbo. “Our state budget is not shrinking, it’s $233 billion; that’s around $600 million a day.”

            Palumbo discussed hold harmless provision as it relates to the budget. Hold harmless provision, generically, a promise in a contract that does not allow a party that breaches to hold the other party responsible for inflicted damages. In terms of the state budget, Palumbo explained that districts get a flat amount of foundation aid, which he says is effectively general operating aid. He says that since the aid is a flat rate, the introduction of a fluctuating aid formula puts the school districts on the line to cover the costs.

            “We’ve always had a formula where the district doesn’t have a fluctuating aid formula,” saidPalumbo. “The Governor has now added a ten-year average formula in her proposed budget, which is the reason why we’re losing all of this money. Think of how absurd that is: if you have a reduction in enrollment one year or a couple years in a row, you have to fire a handful of teachers, you have to cut some programs because you lost all this money. And then a few years later, your enrollment goes back up, you’re going to need to hire more teachers, try and get some folks back into the district, and start up these programs again.”

           Palumbo called the proposal “improper, inappropriate, outrageous,” and that action against the proposal before the budget’s due date of April 1 is “critical.”

           Senator Mattera was invited to speak next. Old district lines once contained the Three Village School District in his Senate District. Now, his district contains the Townships of Huntington and Smithtown.

           “Let’s give applause to all administrators, all of our teachers, all of the workers that are inside, our security officers, who, guess what, have a chance of losing their jobs,” said Mattera. “Our Governor is making sure that this is not going to happen; we’re not going to happen. We need to be vocal with Governor Hochul.

           Mattera also discussed the migrant crisis and the apparent mutual exclusivity between the crisis and school funding.

           “Right now, you [Hochul] are taking care of the migrant situation over our families; the taxpayers. The taxpayers that pay your salary, that pay all the salaries here,” said Mattera. “Why is Long Island being penalized? What you’re doing is you are going to put $2.4 billion of our tax money for something that, with a stroke of a pen, could have been rescinded [sanctuary state and city status for New York and New York City, respectively].”

           Mattera discussed his meeting with the State Commissioner of Labor Roberta Reardon, in which he claimed that she “did not know” the rate of people with unemployment claims. Mattera said that with a rate of 4.5%, it roughly equates to 250,000 people who are “laid off.”

           “Do you realize that they’re looking to get state jobs for migrants, while we have people who are laid off?”

           Mattera also discussed his approach to the Governor at Kings Park High School last month, in which he confronted her on the de facto state of the state address she gave at the school and about the school aid cuts. He was told by the Governor’s aides that he “disrespected” her.

           “No, Governor, you disrespected all Long Islanders and all New Yorkers,” said Mattera, referencing her proposed cuts.

           Assemblyman Ed Flood spoke next and mentioned that his colleague, Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook), was in Albany during the rally “asking the right” questions in a budget meeting regarding the school cuts. Smith serves as Ranking Member of the Assembly Education Committee.

           “During her State of the State address, Hochul talked about making New York into a hub for artificial intelligence. How does she intend to make that work when we are not properly educating and recruiting a workforce?” said Flood. He also said that a state education system with a 3% increase would amount to $400 million.

           “It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we’re paying New York City,” says Flood. “Long Island Law has been used as the ATM for the rest of the state. And right now, it’s not just Long Island, it’s all over the state; rural, suburban areas are getting short changed. We’re going to ensure that we get the proper funding restored back, so that we can properly educate our children. It’s disgraceful that we’re talking about having to cut budgets in terms of cutting buildings, programs, and staff and faculty. Teachers and school employees have their own families, and right now to play politics with the lives of our students and our workforce is just shameful.”

           Flood is serving his first term in the Assembly. His Port Jefferson-Setauket-based district is a highly competitive race on the 2024 map.

           Assemblywoman Jodi Gigilio gave her thoughts after Flood. The Second Assembly District extends from Mount Sinai across northern and eastern Brookhaven and contains the entire Town of Riverhead.

           “Budgets are about priorities, and our children, teachers, and educators are our priorities,” said Giglio. “We talk about bringing all these technical companies to the state of New York, but our kids can’t afford to live here because the budget keeps rising. Our budget has increased 40% over six years, but our children and teachers are not prioritized. Our kids are going to suffer the consequences. This budget will come to the floor for debate, and you can be sure that we’ll be fighting for you, and we’ll be making sure that those funds are restored.”

            Kristen Gironda, representing Jennifer Torrey of the Three Village PTA, said that the board urges the Governor to “reconsider” her plan to cut $8 million from the Three Village Central School District.

           “Three Village is a top-performing school district. Ward Melville is a blue-ribbon award-winning school,” said Gironda. “And we receive accolades in academics, athletics, and clubs year after year in all of our schools across the district. Our graduation rate and our college acceptance rate are highly impressive. We also happen to be one of the highest-taxed towns in Suffolk County with exceptionally high home prices. We rely heavily on Foundation Aid for the success of our current and future students. Cutting this money from the current budget would be detrimental to the future of our students, their education, and the opportunities that we can continue to provide them with.”

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.