NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Mamaroneck School Board member Anne LoBue described a perfect storm of reduced state funding, increasing costs and state mandates facing all New York school districts in her testimony at Thursday's public hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2012-2013 budget proposal.
New York State Assembly members George Latimer (D-Rye) and Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) sponsored a public hearing at New Rochelle City Hall from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for Westchester residents to comment on the $130 billion budget.
LoBue was one of 18 residents to speak and one of three area school board members, all of whom addressed the pinch they are in as a result of the 2 percent tax levy cap, reduced funding and state mandates.
LoBue said there are more than 150 unfunded mandates, which can represent between 17 and 20 percent of a district's budget, according to the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents (LHCSS). Since the tax levy cap passed last summer, at least five new unfunded mandates have been proposed or adopted, she added.
"Local districts need the governor and legislature to repeal and revise under and unfunded mandates, not enact new ones," LoBue said.
Like LoBue, Cathy O'Keefe, president of the Rye Neck Board of Education, requested the state reduce the mileage limit school districts are required to transport nonpublic school students from 15 miles to 5 miles. O'Keefe asked for support of a bill – No. S5088-2011 – sponsored by State Sen. Jeffrey Kline (D-Bronx/Westchester). The bill, currently under review in Committee, would save her district $148,000 in transportation costs immediately and shaves off half a percentage point on the tax levy this year, she said
"Every single education dollar is being stretched to its breaking point," O'Keefe said. "It is essential that we examine every non-educational line item in our budget and make those important decisions."
Bob Johnson, trustee for the Port Chester Board of Education, had a dire message for Latimer and Paulin: "Port Chester relies on state aid to fund about 20 percent of our school budget," he said. "Given the new tax levy cap and current state aid figures, Port Chester is facing a $2.34 million budget deficit for the coming school year."
In addition to service cuts, the board will have to cut 25.2 teachers, one custodian, four computer aides, four elementary computer labs, one elementary science lab, seven teacher aids, one teacher assistant and one school nurse, under the proposed budget, Johnson said.
Cuomo proposed $805 million in increased education aid, 76 percent of which will go to high needs districts. The rest – $250 million – will be linked to implementation of new teacher evaluations. Cuomo also recommended a roughly $290 million increase to the Gap Elimination Adjustment restoration, which takes into account student poverty and school district wealth.
Port Chester, which already spends the least per pupil of any Westchester school district, would receive a $739,405 increase in state aid. But, Johnson said, that wouldn't meet the district’s increasing costs of operation.
A LHCSS report states that over the past three years, 30 of its member districts have cut almost $179 million in programs and eliminated 1,559 staff—costing districts almost $11 million in unemployment costs. That comes in tandem with $300 million in reductions of state and federal aid.
Testimonies from Thursday’s speakers will be provided to the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for inclusion in its budget review.
For further information, contact Assembly members Latimer at 777-3832, or Paulin at 723-1115.