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Port Chester Schools Look To Albany For Bail-Out

The fate of the school budget is in the hands of state leaders.

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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FJT March 19, 2012 at 12:31 PM
The school taxes foisted upon Port Chester residents are utterly and totally out of control, not to mention a disgrace.
Aidan March 19, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Absolutely.
Linda Turturino March 19, 2012 at 01:25 PM
agree with FJT out of control is an understatement the whole system needs a major overhaul and not sure waiting on a government bailout is the answer hope it is not a long wait
George Datino March 19, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Not sure why anyone would be surprised that there would be an impasse. At this point, there really is no incentive on the union's part to move off their current position. I mean, until all other avenues are exhausted, why would they move? The process needs to play out and until Albany closes up its budget, negotiating is a bit premature. The real negotiating won't take place until after an answer from Albany comes down. If no additional aid comes, then it will be real interesting.
JJ March 19, 2012 at 08:27 PM
THE WELL IS DRY.............................WHO DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THAT?
George Datino March 19, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Well, I understand the well is dry but the union is probably having a wait and see approach if Albany comes up with the additional funds to close the current budget deficit. If that happens, then they will be able to keep the status quo for at least this year. The really interesting negotiations will start if Albany answers No to any additional money and it is up to the BOE to come up with a plan to close the deficit.
JC March 20, 2012 at 01:41 AM
The feeling around the town is, they are sick of raising taxes, senior citizen feel chuck, parents feel that their kids are not receiving the education that they deserve specially with the hight taxes we pay here, leadership lacks of new Ideas, and the only to options are raise taxes or accept cuts I think is time to say No to the budget. push them to come with something else and shame in part of the teachers if they don't push the union leadership to let them vote today may is not you but what about tomorrow, let me know how it feel to be in cobra or not to have insurance, today the class room are large tomorrow they are going to be even largest, how are going to feel to have 40 kids in your classes. is time to stop and fix this before is too late or may is time to have the trigger law in place.
JC March 20, 2012 at 01:07 PM
BY the way the trigger law that Iam talking about is the law that has pass 20 states including CT and California where the parents can take control of the schools with 60% of the parents approval.
Cadeyrn March 20, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Looking to Albany is NOT the only solution. The structural flaws in compensation have to be addressed. Eighty percent of the budget is personnel costs. Of that figure, salaries are the largest component. Until the issue of automatic raises based solely on returning to work each year is addressed, we'll face this issue again and again. The current compensation methodology is archaic and unsustainable. This is no secret. Yet no BOE ... in any district ... will confront this part of the new reality. Some have tinkered here and there, but that is just another band-aid for a system in critical condition. This should not have happened. The signs have been there for years and years, yet here we are. Many commenters have been more to the point: There is no more money. Taxpayers are on the ropes. To even contemplate over-riding the new tax cap ... right out of the box ... would be a gross insult and sure to bring about even greater dissatisfaction. Unwise would be an understatement.
PC Mom March 20, 2012 at 04:51 PM
When is the union going to step up to the plate and put the proposal on the table for the teachers. It needs to be offered bottom line!
FJT March 20, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Maybe we should stop thinking of Port Chester as a community. With taxes being what they are, it seems this place has become a host upon which certain entities perennially feast -- and remarkably are permitted to do so. We know it's no longer about the children. It's about certain self-serving adults who don't know how or when stop. This place ( which is not a community in my book) can only raise so much money by driving out property owners with insanely high school taxes and then selling their foreclosed properties to investors -- some of whom will stuff them with low-income taxpayers.
Richard Codington March 20, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Maybe they should mandate that school teachers reside in their home state. Most of Portchester school teachers live out of New York State & pay less then the Teachers who reside in New York in tax's. That would help give more cash flow to the state to fund the schools. If your are a police officer in New York state, you have to live in New York, that not fair.
Blogger March 21, 2012 at 04:12 AM
@JC - please do some research before posting. Trigger laws or some version thereof have passed in 6 states, not 20 (the 6 are: CA, CT, IN, MI, OH & TX). NY does NOT yet have a Trigger law. The basic concept of a Trigger law is to provide parents with the ability to intervene in their child's school if it is performing poorly. With enough signatures from parents, any number of actions can be taken against a low performing school. Options include converting it to a charter school, replacing some of the school's administration and faculty, or closing the school altogether. Port Chester has challenges, but it is not a low-achieving school district. Some would argue that Port Chester does an admirable job academically, given current budget constraints and socio-economic factors. How is it that you can think that a Trigger law would solve Port Chester's school budget issues? If you are upset about the idea of cutting teachers/programs and closing a school, why would you advocate for a law that enables parents to remove staff and/or close a school? Trigger laws are designed to turn around failing schools, not reverse difficult budgets. p.s. next, please do some research on your claim that there will soon be 40 students per class in PC's schools. I have seen nothing to this effect in any proposals.
JC March 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM
@Blogger, you should get your facts straight, because I never mention that NY has passed the trigger law. When I suggest 40 students in the class room I was talking about a scenario that we never want to reach, so for that reason I was appealing to those FEW teachers who may think that the cuts won't affect them and if things are continuing this way is the possibility that 40 students in the class room can become a reality for the same reasons that now we have so many in the class room. Now about the trigger law it is true that the intention of the law was to give parents control over under archive schools but in many cases parents had bring the law as a tool to put pressure in negotiations like the one is taking place here in port chester with the teachers union, because laws some times are intended for one thing and exercise in others ways and that is a scenario that many districts don't want to face, so just thinking about the idea that something like that can happen here could make them to do more. YES, Port Chester it does well compare to others Districts but their are a lot of parents who don't feel that way. The intention of many people here is to highlight that change is need it, NOT to Put Port Chester Down. We have many great teachers and that is the reason we don't want them to be fire or put more pressure over the ones that are left. thats the reason I mentioned those scenarios. Put your own ideas instead of just checking what others have to say. Thanks
Jennie B. March 21, 2012 at 11:37 AM
JC, if you are going to contribute to this discussion make sure your comments make sense. You are saying one thing but then you say you mean something else. What is it? Only the state can sign legislation on trigger laws and that is not going to happen in New York anytime in the near future. So why bring it up? Maybe you need to do your research and speak to the experts first. Voting No on the budget is not going to do your kids any good. Voting No will not harm the teachers' union either or push them to change the budget for the better. Don't you see that once the budget is voted no, more cuts will occur and in effect, hurt our educational programs even more? Teachers will continue to get their salary and benefits under triborough because they are protected by it. Alas, there is really no incentive on the teachers' union to come to another agreement.
JC March 21, 2012 at 01:18 PM
@jennie b. When did I said that the legislation can pass at local level? and the conversation about this law has already started, so because it won't help us this time it means that we can talk about and because you are for YES for the budget you assume that people who say no don't know the consequences, and how can you ask us to say yes with out knowing our economic situation maybe that extra money is the one that we need for our medicine, and you want me to say yes without trying to have the teachers to vote (yes or no) to change for one carrier, others has done it already. At least I was trying to put some food for thought. I don't agree with every bodies comments but I respect them because thats their right and I don't go criticizing them if I don't agree because I believe that any suggestion is stupid only when you keep it to yourself. Should I say that the reason you want to vote yes is because you have a kid going to kinder garden and you need that extra half day, NO that will be Wrong of My Part to suggest that RIGHT? why don't you do the same. Thanks. Ps What ever you have to say at this point I won't respond to you. so you have the last word.

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