School Leaders: 'Flood' State Reps With Letters Or Face Painful Budget Cuts

Port Chester's school leaders say parents and taxpayers need to act now to get Albany's attention.

Why hold a community forum on the school budget now, when everyone is distracted by the holidays and budget votes are five months off?

Port Chester school leaders answered that question Monday night and hammered it home again and again as hundreds listened at Port Chester Middle School: If the district doesn't get Albany's attention for budget relief, there will be major sacrifices to make up a budget gap of more than $3 million.

"This is exactly the advocacy window," said Maura McAward, assistant superintendent.

"We want everyone to know now, before the holidays, while there's still time to write letters," said Superintendent Edward Kliszus.

The goal is to arm Port Chester's state representatives with "a flood of letters" to bring to the table when budget talks shift into high gear early next year.

Enough letters, McAward said, for Assemblyman George Latimer and state Sen. Suzie Oppenheimer to walk into the legislature with their aides behind them, overburdened by boxes of correspondence from parents and taxpayers, "saying this is the outcry, pouring the letters out for everyone to see."

What makes this year different?

For the first time, leaders in Port Chester and other school districts are crafting budgets under New York State's new property tax cap. The cap limits tax levy increases to about two percent. This year's school budget is , and school leaders say a "rollover budget" for next year would come in at almost $84 million.

Like other districts, Port Chester has to fork over more money for mandatory expenses like pensions and benefits. Like other districts, Port Chester has to contend with smaller increases in areas like supplies, textbooks and technology infrastructure.

But where Port Chester differs from its neighbors is in state aid. In nearby districts like Harrison and Scarsdale, state aid accounts for five percent or less of the school budget.

In Port Chester, state aid is 20 percent of the school budget.

And because state aid has been frozen since the 2009-2010 fiscal year, a district like Port Chester feels the squeeze more than its wealthier neighbors.

On Monday night, school leaders pleaded with parents and taxpayers, asking them to write letters to Latimer, Oppenheimer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sample letters on the district website provide templates for letters to the governor and representatives, urging them to restore state aid and shift the financial burden for mandatory spending on benefits and healthcare.

Latimer spoke briefly, emphasizing the urgency of the situation and calling for advocacy.

"I represent six school districts, and Port Chester is the district that needs this assistance more than any of the others," he said. " tells me that all the time."

Latimer acknowledged "there's a tendency to say, 'Why bother?'" But he said a mass letter-writing campaign will make a difference and give him the feedback he needs to push for financial relief for Port Chester schools.

"At the end of the day," he said, "Port Chester's voices will be heard."

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Robert Reis December 21, 2011 at 11:15 PM
I applaud PCSD leadership by informing the public about this issue; the tax cap proposed by the Gov clearly limits local sovereignty in terms of how we set educational goals & future planning. This is likely the only vote where constituents have a say on budgets. To limit budget increases to 2% is insulting, especially when state and fed aid to PCSD is projected to increase by only 1.68%. Furthermore, the Albany plan requires a 60% super majority. Why can't our crafty legislators be subject to the same percentage to remain in power? To take the opposing position on the tax-cap will inevitably be misconstrued as an approval of tax increases. This is not the case. Albany and the Gov should not only take heed that the tax-cap is undemocratic and punitive to poorer districts like Port Chester, but we should also offer some outrage in how the revenue stream has been wrongfully compromised. At the state level, NY's corporate tax rate is at 7.1%--the lowest as compared to NJ, CT, PA, MA, and VT. And that's just the statutory rate. How many corporations pay no taxes at all thanks to loopholes? Another important fact for those outraged at the Federal Govt--NY is a donor state: for every NY $1 sent to DC, we get 79 cents in return. We're a donor state. Lastly, if the Gov would let the millionaire's tax break lapse, we could see $1.2 billion in additional revenue. That's considerable given the $1.3 billion in cuts to education last year. Remember, there's no shortage of wealth in NY.
Nik Bonopartis December 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Thanks for commenting Rob, there's a lot of truth in your post. The difference in a place like Port Chester is all the context, the stuff mentioned Monday night and the things you mentioned in your post. Local property owners don't want to pay more taxes, and the state doesn't want to provide more aid. Something's gotta give, and the argument right now is that it's a lot better to lobby hard for state relief than it is to go to overtaxed local homeowners and ask them to pay even more. Links in the article point to a page on the district's website where parents and homeowners can find letter templates and write directly to their state reps. I'm waiting for clarification on a few things from the school district, and hope to have additional posts soon with follow-up information. Thanks for reading.
Greg Tart December 22, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Mr.Reis and Mr.Datino make intelligent comments. I can see now why the tax cap is such a pickle- allowing politicians to hide behind it rather than articulating a position one way or the other. Of course some politicians are more cagey than others, and simply avoided voting for or against the tax cap to begin with.
Cadeyrn December 22, 2011 at 10:19 PM
The tax cap makes executioners of local school boards. And even taxpayers. Albany, of course, scoots away barely scathed. Albany was too timid to restructure how our public schools should be financed. They left the flawed system in place and then tossed the hot iron to the local level. This sort of exonerates them of blame for any program cuts ... and places them at the feet of the local boards or the taxpayers who quite rightly feel over-taxed already and would not pass an over-ridfe budget. The surface issue is the tax cap ... the larger issue is the broken funding system. Albany took the cowardly out because they didn't want to roll back mandates and then confront the teacher power unions for long over due adjustments which will place teacher compensation in today's reality.
Conservative NYer January 04, 2012 at 01:38 AM
How frustrating... I just received my wonderful school tax bill today and it's $5,500!! Which is thousands of dollars more than my property taxes???? How is it that my school taxes are more than my property taxes?? Shouldn't it be the other way around??? At least you can submit a grievance for your property taxes. I suppose there is no such thing as a school tax grievance??


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