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Letter From BoE: State Has Created Budget Crisis in Port Chester

BoE member Bob Johnson read the letter at a Thursday forum attended by state assembly members Amy Paulin and George Latimer.

Below is a letter to state representatives signed by each member of Port Chester's Board of Education.

Bob Johnson, a Board of Education member, read the letter at New Rochelle City Hall on Thursday afternoon, where assembly members George Latimer and Amy Paulin met with concerned residents, taxpayers and local leaders to talk about the state budget.

For Latimer, it was a day dominated by local feedback on the state budget. Earlier Thursday, he met with students from Port Chester to hear their concerns.

Port Chester faces a budget gap of more than $2.3 million.

February 16, 2012

The Honorable George S. Latimer
New York State Assembly, District 91
933 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 102
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

Dear Assemblyman Latimer:

Governor Cuomo’s tax levy cap and inadequate state aid has created a budget crisis in our district. Port Chester relies on state aid to fund about 20% of our school budget. Given the new tax levy cap and current state aid figures, Port Chester is facing a $2.34 million dollar budget deficit for the coming school year.

Port Chester is living out the unintended consequences of the tax levy cap. We will soon see a greater disparity between wealthy and needy districts, with Port Chester being no exception. And Port Chester’s children will suffer disproportionately if the state does not take measures to equalize the school funding equation across the state.

Unlike its affluent neighbors, Port Chester is a high needs district. The majority of our students qualify for the Federal free or reduced lunch program. The majority of our students come from homes where English is not the first language. These considerations present unique challenges for our school system. Simply put, our students are at a disadvantage, and it takes more resources to level the playing field for them. Yet, Port Chester’s tax base is primarily comprised of financially-strapped homeowners who simply cannot absorb a tax increase.

The school district has done its part in paring down expenses. Port Chester already spends the least per pupil than any other district in Westchester County. Without proper state aid and reimbursement, the only recourse is to cut very important basic and valuable programs and staff from our schools. We are looking at a $2.34 million dollar budget deficit for 2012-2013. And thus, without relief, Port Chester’s most disadvantaged students will suffer even more as we are forced to eliminate some of the programs and services they so desperately need.

To close our budget gap for 2012-13, we will need to reduce our full-day kindergarten program to ½ day, close our grades K-2 Early Learning Center school building, reduce 10 teachers that provide RTI (Response to Intervention) and AIS (Academic Intervention) services, and lose in total 25.2 teachers, 1 custodian, 4 computer aides, 4 elementary computer labs, 1 elementary science lab, 7 teacher aides, 1 teacher assistant, and 1 school nurse.

The governor’s current budget proposal has increased state aid to Port Chester by $739,405. While on the surface, any increase is good news, some of the state aid we expect to receive is the same amount we received in 2005-2006 school year, seven years ago. Have costs remained the same during the past seven years? The answer is NO. Our student population, teacher and staff salaries, pension and health care costs, and utility expenses, along with the cost of unfunded mandates, have all gone up significantly. We need our state aid to increase significantly to ensure the equitable distribution of resources that can help us meet the basic costs of operation.

Governor Cuomo has set aside $250 million of what would otherwise be state aid for distribution via competitive grants. We ask: is it right to ask school districts to compete for additional state aid? Should Port Chester pull more money away from educational programs to invest in a special grant writer to lobby for our share of this pie? The answer is NO. We ask you to simply look at our intrinsic demographics. The facts lie in the numbers. We are a low income, highly diverse district. We stand to lose the most valuable programs we have for our most vulnerable children.

Our request is simple:

1) Please give some thought to the unique needs we face in Port Chester. We may co-exist in Westchester County, but our population and needs are very unique from those of our affluent neighbors.

2) Consider that our school data shows that many of Port Chester’s school families are undocumented. Due to cultural differences and fear of government, many residents will not or have not participated in the US Census. Port Chester’s under-reported population should be factored into the state aid formula.

3) Please urge the Governor to rethink his competitive grant proposal. This proposal does not allocate funding where it is needed most. Rather, use demographic data to determine which districts are the neediest. Port Chester is a needy district.

4) Realize that the new tax levy cap has the effect of increasing the disparity between wealthy and poor districts. Port Chester needs additional state aid in order to maintain any sense of equity within a tax levy cap environment.

5) Please urge the Governor to understand Port Chester’s case now. Time is of the essence. Under a 5-year tax levy cap, any cuts we suffer now will only be compounded in future years.

In sum, Port Chester is in desperate need of additional state aid this year. We ask for your understanding of our unique circumstances and support for our district.

Sincerely,

The Port Chester-Rye UFSD Board of Education

Blanca Lopez, President
Carolee Brakewood
Jim Dreves
Anne Capeci
Bob Johnson

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George Datino February 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Nice letter. They should send a copy to both BOT's as well. Overcrowding has bought the school district to the brink is collapse. I realize more has been done recently to alleviate the problem but it is not enough. More has to be done. We simply can't get rid of the problem one fire at a time. If we need more money, then let's petition the State (hear us Mr. Latimer and Mrs. Oppenheimer) for some. Let's not back off on these large fines that we read about when cases are settled. These low-life, criminal landlords are ruining the schools for their own personal profit and need to pay dearly for the damage that they have done. Right now there is no deterent. The problem is not going to go away unless the punishment is harsh.
JJ February 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Mr. Datino............good letter. Port Chester is now reaping what the former Building Inspectors & Codes Departments sowed into the fabric of this village. A lot of people made tremendous amounts of monies off of village employees and village leadership "LOOKING THE OTHER WAY" for years. Everyone has to live somewhere but WHY has Port Chester become the "dumping grounds" for ALL of these people? Now were looking for money? Good luck because the money well is dry across the state and Port Chester is being forced to make some hard decisions. Meanwhile these "Property Kings" still walk the village like the Princes of Poverty that they are. The FBI & HUD should have called in a long time ago to investigate these folks ; now they too are forever part of the Port Chester fabric.
George Datino February 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Actually there is money out there and it is called Fines. The more money we take in in fines would mean the more money that is available. The Code Enforcement department should be pay for itself and more. Actually, the employees should be given bonuses tied to how much real money is collected. The more money they collect in fines, the more money they get at the end of the year.
Interested Reader February 17, 2012 at 12:18 PM
The idea of tying pay and bonuses, based on fines collected, for personnel assigned to enforce laws could easly breed corruption. I would agree the may be a way to set pay scales based on other performance measures. An interesting comment worthy of some public discussion.
George Datino February 17, 2012 at 12:42 PM
I was thinking it more with Code Enforecment since there is generally more tangible evidence of guilt as opposed to other areas where sometimes its a more word vs word. Just think we need an army of highly motivated (in a positive way) personnel out there sweeping the community to rid it of this cancer that is killing it and very importantly is ruining the education of our children. Go talk to the high school students and ask them how much free time they have during the day. Simply put, there is not enough classroom space and teachers to have all the kids in class at the same time. I am sure if you speak with the school officials, they may tell you something different (at least on the record) but the key is making sure the student has enough credits to graduate, everything else is extra.But hey, that's ok. As long as some of the big wigs around town are making their money, who cares.
Concerned View February 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I would like the School Board to demonstrate effective oversight of school registrations. If a child is registered that has a different last name than the stated owner of the property (http://www.visionappraisal.com/databases/ny/index.htm), what happens? If there are multiple children with different last names registered from a 2 family house, what happens? Where is the policy and procedure of student registration and evidence of diligent BOE oversight (annual reports) on their website? The BOE has to stop looking the other way to preserve plausible deniability and refer basic questionable registrations to the Building Department to ensure children are not living in unsafe conditions.
JIM DREVES February 17, 2012 at 05:17 PM
George is right on target. OUR issue is out of the control of the BOE. Yes'we can cut and take huge steps backward, but the REAL problem lies with the State. They need to recognize that we are a working class community and are being forced to do the impossible with respect to quality education with less and less aide. At the same time we are doing better code enforcement in PC under Mr. Steers, but George is right----it seems like it takes a fire to find the illegal housing. I only pray that we don't lose lives before we solve the overcrowded housing problem. I believe Mr. Steers is giving it his all-----I hope it will be quick and enough. In the meantime, let's get behind Chris and support the efforts to clean up the housing mess. We, as the BOE, will do everything we can to manage the budget under impossible circumstances. How do you fairly balance the legit needs of the children and the ability of taxpayer to fund our educational program. That is the $2 million question, It will be impossible this year without a miracle.
George Datino February 17, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Maybe Jim he can quickly outline, with an allowable 2% increase in the Tax Levy and assuming a status quo in the programs and staff, what are the major increases that are creating this $2.34 million dollar budget deficit? Are we losing this in State Aid in comparison to this year? Now we know that overcrowding is the root cause to the problem, but even without the Tax Cap, taxpayers wouldn't have tolerated any increase over 2% anyway,so we would have the same problem.
Greg Tart February 17, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Once again Mr.Datino makes sensible recommendations.
Jennie B. February 18, 2012 at 02:57 PM
ttt - I am EMBARRASSED to read your comments. Please try to provide insightful comments/concerns as the others have. What we are trying to frame is a solution to this important matter. Work needs to be done at the local, state and federal level in order to correct this. The dilemma of our school district did not occur last year, it began a long time ago and it is now hitting its tipping point. Individuals benefited and have benefited from overcrowded housing - not just landlords but previous village employees as well. The state benefited by passing legislation over many year placing the burden of pensions and health care to each school district and in turn to property owners instead of fixing how employee pensions and health care is distributed and paid into; and the feds decided to "revolutionize" the way education is delivered in this country by creating these policy failures like No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top where the details and implementation is left to each state without any financial support whatsoever. Couple this with the rise in unemployment, rise in foreclosures and a poor economy, and we wonder why our school district has a 2.34 million dollar deficit? George, I believe that the last time the school budget was turned down was in 2007, and tax payers have supported an increase of over 2% many a times. These past two years have been the lowest ever at a high 2 or low 3%, I believe.
George Datino February 18, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Jennie I believe the BOE agrees with my assessment that there would be difficulty getting more than a 2% increase past the voters otherwise they would be trying to pass an override. My question really is with in comparing this year to next and assuming a status quo in programs and staff, what is causing the tax levy to rise 2% + $2.34 million?
George Latimer February 19, 2012 at 04:51 PM
I appreciate all the comments, from Mr. Datino on down. I've been fully engaged in the schools' budget issues for the last two months; I've met with school administrators, personally met with PTA reps to receive and deliver the thousands of letters from parents, did a Q-and-A on cable TV with those reps, and spoke last week with the MS and HS students. I've specifically asked the Assembly for a stopgap measure - an additional $2 mill in aid for PC schools for this year, to buy us time, to get the state mandate relief the schools (and every other govt) needs, all the more urgent with the tax cap in place. I worked with the PC Village Board to get state legislation passed for a third Village Justice to adjudicate housing cases faster. This is serious stuff, and I treat it seriously. George Latimer NYS Assemblyman 777-3832
John B February 19, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Mr. Latimer, Many thanks for all of your efforts.
George Datino February 20, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Mr. Latimer, thank you. I just feel bad that the community has to beg for money with "tail inbetween legs" from the all mighty bureaucracy in Albany. I went through some of the material available on the PCSD website concerning the 2012-2013 Budget and came across some interesting numbers. I was really trying to understand what was causing the deficit. I wanted to see if the problem was on a loss of revenue or was it expenses. From what I can tell, the deficit is coming from expenses, not revenue. Here is what I found. With the allowable Tax Levy increase, there is a $1.2 Million Dollar increase in the Tax Levy. The is a projected increase in State and Federal aid of over $0.6 million and local resouces of about $0.3 million. There is a reduction in the Fund Balance of about $0.7 million. Adding all that together, there is a projected increase in revenue of about $1.5 million dollars. As for expenses, there is an expected increase in expenses of a little under $4.5 million dollars. The biggest expenses increase, over $4.3 million dollars, are under two line items (Instruction ($2 million increase) and Employee Benefits ($2.3 million increase)). The Teacher Retirment System (TRS) had a 8.62% rate in 2010/2011 school year. It shot up to 11.11% in 2011/2012 and there is another projected increase to 12.5% in 2012/2013. I am not laying this at the feet of our teachers. This problem is the result of a system created in Albany and permanent fixes need to occur there.
George Latimer February 20, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Mr. Datino - Simply put, you're absolutely right. The situation has been created in Albany over 40 years, with Republicans and Democrats agreeing to mandates and decisions that tie the hands in Port Chester and elsewhere. The permanent fixes - the mandate relief referred to - can only be created in Albany. Happy to outline what those fixes are anytime. George Latimer 777-3832
George Datino February 20, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Mr. Latimer - Thank you for your response. Yes, I would indeed be interested in seeing your vision on what needs to take place to fix this very important and complicated issue. I would also imagine that many other people would be interested as well. Have you a prepared document outlining the fixes you are talking of? If so, I am sure many readers of Patch would love to see it or is there a link you can provide that we can follow to see? Thank you for efforts and taking part in this discussion.
Aidan February 23, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Mr. Dreves, the "REAL problem" also lies with our federal government ... for not enforcing immigration laws across the nation. We are not so different from the border states at all. We are all suffering because the federal government will not enforce the laws of this nation. Financial considerations bring such folks to this village in disproportionate numbers. And the financial crush homeowners feel is due to this federal laxity ... AND the reluctance of state leadership to protect us homeowners from this burden. The state and the federal government are complicit in our tax misery.
Aidan February 24, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Mr. Latimer, I also wonder if the idea of a state income tax ... dedicated to education might be adopted to replace the property tax now used to fund schools. It seems to me that if the state is truly interested in equality when it comes to school funding, it should consider a state-wide approach. This would soften the "wealth effect" among districts ... some of whom (like Port Chester!) ... are at great disadvantage to their more wealthy neighbors. A dedicated state income tax levy for education in lieu of property taxes (which unfairly burdens those on fixed income especially) would bring about more equality ... for both taxpayers and students alike. And it might relieve the annual pain and stress for district that rely heavily on "iffy" educational assistance from Albany ... such as Port Chester.

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