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.
The Port Chester-Rye UFSD Board of Education
Blanca Lopez, President
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