A coalition of religious, cultural and community groups gathered Thursday night in Port Chester to launch a lobbying effort to protect kindergarten programs in public schools.
The coalition, Westchester United, has been in development for a number of years now. The group held its founding assembly on Nov. 16, 2011, and has been working to unite different religious and other groups in an effort to bring a collective voice of Westchester to state government.
“We spent the last months and years building alliances between faith-based and some non-faith based public institutions,” said Rabbi Johathan Blake of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, one of the 15 founding members. “The idea being that people in Mount Vernon, White Plains, Scarsdale, New Rochelle and all over are facing difficult issues but we have power when we unite together.”
Due to rough economic times, overcrowding and an increasingly difficult budget and the new state tax-hike cap, the Port Chester School Board had to consider all options when it looked this year at cutting corners to save money. When planning the 2012-2013 budget, the board put serious thought into eliminating the full-day Kindergarten program throughout the district.
The prospect of reverting to a half-day kindergarten program angered local residents, and the school district was able to take that cut off the table before the final budget plan was put to a vote.
“The main reason we are here tonight is to protect kindergarten,” said Blake. “[New York] is one of the only states in the union that doesn’t have a guarantee to protect kindergarten. That’s why it’s so critical that we amass ourselves as a coalition and bring that larger voice of the people.”
New York is one of eight states in the U.S. that does not require districts to offer kindergarten. Westchester United hopes its collective voice will be heard and that lawmakers can prohibit kindergarten from ever being threatened because of year-to-year budget concers.
“When it comes to issues that cut across town borders, socioeconomic classes and lines of age, race and faith, it takes an organization that is really a coalition of multiple organizations and people to bring power to our voices and make those voices heard by people who actually effect change.”
“I believe that your mission is critical,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “It’s so refreshing and wonderful that you are bringing your strength and ideas to the table. A lot of people become uninvolved and don’t really believe they can impact change. It’s time they understood that their voice is really the voice that matters.”
The gym at Holy Rosary School on Central Avenue in Port Chester was packed with families, religious group members and other involved citizens from all over Westchester on Thursday to discuss the kindergarten issue. Membership forms were handed out with copies of the agenda in both Spanish and English. The forms included options:
- Help work to guarantee access to Kindergarten
- Help secure more funding for transportation for all seniors in Westchester County
- Help build a Local Action Team
- Help bring in new member institutions.
“We want our voices heard by the highest members of the government of the State of New York. We are hoping this message will reach the attention of governor Cuomo and that action can be taken.”