Will Albany come to Port Chester's rescue?
With union negotiations at an impasse and no indication voters will choose to override the tax levy cap, the Port Chester School District is at the mercy of state government for the $2.1 million it needs to save jobs and critical programs.
Port Chester's two state representatives — Assemblyman George Latimer and Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer — have appealed to the state's major decision-makers for help, hoping thousands of letters from parents and taxpayers will catch the attention of assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, senate majority leader Dean Skelos, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Both Latimer and Oppenheimer agree Port Chester's best shot is to get a cut of $250 million Cuomo set aside for competive school grants. Latimer said he understands the governor's thinking on competitive grants, but said the priority should be on districts with immediate needs.
"If your district is doing some wonderful education project where you go and say, 'Hey, we need $500,000 for our plan,' well that's laudible," Latimer said. "But districts like Port Chester are between a rock and a hard place. They don't have the general wealth that other communities do."
Last week, Oppenheimer worked with other state senators to push for re-allocating $200 million from the competitive grant program to general state aid.
“Reallocating these funds to the general education aid budget will benefit all school districts, not just a select few, and will be especially important to lower income districts that have struggled to maintain educational programs and services in this tough economy,” Oppenheimer said in an announcement.
Port Chester school leaders are looking to Albany for relief after unsuccessfully pushing for local solutions. The teachers union has refused a proposal that would require teachers to choose one healthcare provider instead of three currently offered, and agree to smaller raises over the next three years. Those concessions would save more than $2 million. According to several teachers, the union has not put the proposal to its wider membership.
A second local solution is seen as unpalatable and extremely unlikely: The school district could stage a large-scale push for a tax levy cap override. An override would require 60 percent of the vote and would add to the already-heavy burden on village homeowners.
The next step: negotiations between the governor and leaders of the state senate and assembly. Lawmakers have less than two weeks to push for more state aid ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.
Latimer has asked state leaders for $2 million for Port Chester. Out of five districts he represents, Port Chester is the only one that will suffer major cuts to jobs and programs without intervention, Latimer said.
And if the budget passes without a change that would increase aid to schools?
"It's not the end, but it makes it much tougher," Latimer said. "I don't want to speculate what I would do if that happens, because that's accepting that it does happen."
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