The New York State Board of Regents on Tuesday voted to create a panel to review the potential benefits and pitfalls of school district consolidation, the formation of which must be approved by the state legislature and Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo.
The consolidation panel review is one of 11 suggestions adopted unanimously by the Board of Regents in its State Aid proposal for 2011-2012. School district consolidation is an idea that has been raised several times in the past on Long Island but heavily opposed by residents and educators who believe it would hurt educational programs and drive up costs.
"It is a conceptual proposal and certainly not set in stone," Jane Briggs, a spokesperson for the Board of Regents, told Patch in a phone interview. "The goal is to take a look at school district consolidation and the possibility of saving money given the current fiscal crisis."
The consolidation panel suggested by the Board of Regents calls for assessing "current incentives and disincentives" tied to potential school district reorganization, and "supporting models that are consistent with needed educational reforms, cost savings and shared services." But the panel cannot be formed without approval from the state legislature and the governor.
Dr. William Johnson, Rockville Centre's superintendent of schools, said he thought it was a timely recommendation to study consolidation again, but noted there needs to be real fiscal and educational incentives to move forward with it.
"For one thing, you want to make sure that kids have the same or better opportunity to access the programs that they had before," he said. "On the fiscal side, the way it sets up, there's always a winner and loser. One school district's taxes go up, while the other goes down. There needs to be a means instituted by the state that addresses that problem. That is the primary reason why you have not seen real consideration for consolidation on Long Island."
"Consolidation is not a panacea," added Jay Breakstone, president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. "It is a tool which may or may not make sense in a given district. Forcing districts to consolidate is senseless."
Other components of the State Aid proposal put forth by the Board of Regents includes no increase in Foundation Aid funding for the next year, making sure that no school district state wide suffers more than a five percent loss in state aid over the prior year, suggests that school districts form three-year financial plans and allow school districts to establish additional reserve funds to cover future costs such as retiree expenses.
The state aid plan also recommends $15 million in funding to continue the Regents testing program. Earlier this month state education officials had indicated that exam costs may be pushed on to local districts given state funding issues.
In addition, the plan recommends moderating aid on school construction, transportation and shared services, such as the BOCES program used by districts on Long Island, and recommends that BOCES Aid for cooperative programs and services support be considered a funding priority.
"The funding proposal approved is what the board feels is fair in terms of striking a balance with the fiscal crisis and about the need of finding new ways of doing business," Briggs said.