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Bedford Schools Bracing for Big Hit as State Aid Fight Heats Up

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Bedford Teachers Association President Carol DeGeorge, left, speaks with New York State Union of Teachers President Melinda Person last Friday at Fox Lane High School. Person visited Fox Lane as the Bedford School District faces a $1.6 million loss in state Foundation Aid.

For the fifth year, Fox Lane High School teacher Lindsay Lappin-Burke is leading a small but passionate group of students through the school’s Fashion Design Program, giving some of them a greater sense of purpose and direction in their academic careers.

In its first four years, program graduates have been accepted to some of the top institutions of higher learning that prepare future fashion industry talent, including Parsons School of Design, Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute and schools across Europe.

Lappin-Burke attributes the program’s success to the students’ drive and the opportunity to work in a small-group setting.

“The small class sizes is critical because I’m really a facilitator for 12 to 15 different students creating different projects all day long, all year long,” Lappin-Burke said. “If we didn’t have the ability to have those smaller (class) sizes, I think some of that student choice would be compromised just because I wouldn’t be able to help on an individualized basis.”

Over the next few weeks, Fox Lane’s Fashion Design Program and likely hundreds of other programs in school districts across the state could be in jeopardy of feeling the scalpel, the effects of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed slashing of state Foundation Aid. The New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) estimated districts across the state would be underfunded by about $419 million if Hochul’s proposed executive budget was to be approved.

Last Friday, NYSUT President Melinda Person visited Fox Lane to meet and talk with teachers, students, administrators and policymakers to highlight what is at stake as the Apr. 1 deadline for finalizing the state’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget approaches.

“This kind of experiential learning is so great. It’s the kind of stuff that brings kids to school who might not otherwise have an interest, right, and it’s the kind of thing that sparks the love of learning that is lifelong,” Person said.

Hundreds of districts across New York face gut-wrenching decisions in the weeks ahead as they work on the next academic year’s budget. But Bedford would be one of the hardest hit districts in Westchester, if not the state, if revisions in Albany aren’t made. It stands to lose $1,591,741 in Foundation Aid, a 30.5 percent reduction.

(On Tuesday, both the state Senate and Assembly proposed fully funding the state’s Foundation Aid formula as written, a promise the state made last year after a more than 30-year fight.)

For Bedford, enrollment has seen a steady decline in enrollment since 2016 of nearly 800 students, one factor in determining foundation aid.

But many districts have also been hurt by the rolling back of the “hold-harmless” provision, a policy that had guaranteed the level of aid wouldn’t be cut even if variables such as enrollment, an increase in wealth within the district or low inflation would dictate otherwise, said Assemblyman Chris Burdick (D-Bedford).

Hochul’s proposed plan also uses a 10-year average of the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI), eliminating the highest and lowest years, instead of relying on the most recent year. Person said that alone is costing schools statewide about $200 million.

“If, in fact, we are not successful in restoring the proposed cuts might this be on the chopping block?” Burdick asked while visiting the Fashion Design Program. “The answer is it could be. At the very least it could be reduced. Obviously, it could compromise the effectiveness of this.

“We are trying to develop in schools, opportunities that we have that are more than your traditional four-year liberal arts (program),” continued Burdick, who lists the school aid issue as his top budget priority this year. “Instead, something that is career-path oriented I think is fabulous.”

Assemblyman Chris Burdick with Fox Lane High School’s Fashion Design Program teacher Lindsay Lappin-Burke. Burdick has said full restoration of state Foundation Aid is his biggest priority during this year’s budget season.

Legislators from both parties have universally pledged to fight to restore the aid, Person said. NYSUT has visited at least 40 districts statewide while continuing to apply pressure on lawmakers for full restoration, she said.

“Everybody knows there are great public schools here in New York State and nobody wants to see them cut,” Person said. “So you have near universal support in the legislature, and right now it’s really more about making sure we impress the Division of Budget.”

This year’s fight comes just one year removed from full restoration of Foundation Aid after a protracted battle, which was cut during the Great Recession.

Bedford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass said the attitude among some in Albany and the public that districts should use its undesignated fund balance to make up a shortfall is wrong and shortsighted. With emergency repairs and expenses that can arise and the state-imposed limit of 4 percent of a district’s operating budget that it can hold, reserves can evaporate quickly when there’s a nearly $1.6 million shortfall or some other unforeseen circumstance, he said. Bedford’s approved budget for the current school year is $152.5 million.

Furthermore, with learning loss having occurred during the pandemic and schools being asked to provide more services to students than ever, budgetary pressures continue to mount, Glass said.

“We’re at that 4 percent mark, or below, of what we are allowed to maintain, and it’s a good thing we have it because this year we’re looking at significant reductions needing to draw $1.6 million of ours out of that reserve just to make payroll,” Glass said. “If we don’t do that, if we had this $1.6 million reduction not happening, we would be balanced after some significant cuts. That’s the world we’re living in right now.”

Bedford Teachers Association President Carol DeGeorge said Foundation Aid is critical to maintain the programs the district has in place. Additionally, Bedford has a new literacy program that will be starting and professional development, some of which is mandated by the state, DeGeorge said.

Students in Fox Lane High School’s Fashion Design program. It is one of hundreds of public school programs that face an uncertain future unless state Foundation Aid is restored.

Challenging for Bedford is that it is considered a high-wealth district, but has a high percentage of students who come from non-English-speaking households, Glass said.

He warned that impacts of any cut will include higher class sizes, reduction in aides, deferred facilities maintenance and potentially certain staff members losing their jobs.

“In the next week or two we’ll be announcing exactly what our decisions are, and when we do that, there is going to be some fallout from that,” Glass said. “At a minimum, (staff) will be relocated, moved or facing layoff. This is what happens in these scenarios and it’s not the way a system really should be when you’re trying to design for stability.”

If reductions and layoffs loom, ultimately it will be students who are affected. Junior Juana Recinos, part of the Advancement through Individual Determination (AVID) program, which helps immigrant or first-generation students navigate their high school years, said her two older siblings were helped to get into college by dedicated teachers. She now wonders whether the support system that they had will be there for her when she will need it most.

“A lot of us need it because a lot of our parents don’t speak English, they don’t know about financial aid, they don’t know how to apply to colleges,” Recinos said.

Mara Taplitz, another junior who is part of the Fashion Design Program, said the program gave her clear purpose and focus.

“I’ve seen so much growth in myself personally,” she said. “It’s such an amazing feeling that I progressed from to this.”

Person said in the remaining time until the new budget is approved, NYSUT, districts and education advocates across the state will work hard to restore state aid.

“We really need to come up with something that protects our students and make sure they have the educational opportunities they deserve,” Person said. “We just finally fulfilled the increase in Foundation Aid so to pull the rug out from under them a year later is wrong.”






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