The Northern Westchester Examiner

Ossining School Advocates Still Feel Shortchanged by Cuomo

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A large group of Ossining parents are imploring Governor Andrew Cuomo to deliver the Ossining School District its fair share of foundation aid funding as the district continues to remain one of the lowest funded districts in the state.

For several months, parent advocacy group, Ossining for Fair Funding, has held demonstrations, conducted letter writing campaigns and advocated in Albany challenging Cuomo and state officials to fully fund the school district with their intended $27 million.

While their efforts resulted in the district receiving an 8%, or $884,167 increase, Ossining only received 44% of its allocation of aid, while nearly 275 districts throughout the state received more than 100% to 2,000% of their allocation.

“To have Governor Cuomo come out and publicly say he delivered equity and it doesn’t matter what zip code you live in is insulting, especially when we’re nowhere near receiving our fair share of funding,” said Jessica Vecchiarelli, the organization’s communications director. “It’s frustrating because all the money is there, it’s just not being allocated properly.”

The increase brought the districts 2018-19 total to $11.9 million resulting in a $15 million gap of what is owed by the state.

“We have excellent educators and I can’t imagine the experience my children would have if they were in a fully funded district,” Vecchiarelli said.

The parent group feel the disparity in the distribution of funds has made it difficult to manage the district’s substantial increase in enrollment over the last decade.

Since the foundation aid formula was established in 2008, the district has failed to receive funding to support the school’s 24% (963 students) enrollment increase. While most of the more than 700 districts in the state have decreased in enrollment, Ossining is one of 18 districts statewide to experience an increase of more than 500 students.

With more than 4,800 students, Superintendent of Schools Ray Sanchez said the district’s schools are nearing capacity. He added that the lack of funding has resulted in the district struggling to provide the necessary resources to ensure students receive the best possible education.

The district has also experienced a 53% increase in free and reduced lunch applicants, 59% increase in students with extraordinary needs, 70% increase in students living in poverty, and a 31% decrease in the combined wealth ratio, which measures the community’s ability to share the burden of educating its students.

While roughly $3.7 million of appropriated fund balance was used to cut $3 million within next year’s budget, Sanchez said the gap is even larger for the 2019-20 budget. He said programs will have to be eliminated if the district doesn’t receive a reasonable amount of state funding.

“Sometimes you take actions proactively to maintain your fiduciary responsibility to your taxpayers and your community, but the other part is maintaining a great program and the question is, how long can you do it for when you’ve gone to every possible length,” Sanchez said. “Are they waiting for us to reach a point of failure where things start to crumble? Because people react to disaster and then it’s too late.”

If the school were fully funded, he said he would have liked to increase guidance counselors and social workers across the district to address the social and emotional wellness of students, extend after school learning opportunities that have been dramatically reduced, fund infrastructure needs and reduce the tax levy.

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) said the Assembly fought to increase the districts aid to 50% but couldn’t citing a $4 billion deficit in the state budget and the state Senate refusing to increase any revenue producers.

“(The increase) was good, not what we wanted, so we have to keep working on it year-after-year,” Galef said.

Recently the parent group slammed state Senator David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) for using photos of Ossining students in his marketing materials claiming that he didn’t fight on behalf of the district.

“If David isn’t going to fight for us, he can’t use our kids,” parent Kerri DiMiceli said. “He comes here for photo ops and to take advantage of our beautiful diverse kids. David doesn’t support our diverse school district, he supports where his big donors are.”

Carlucci did not respond to communication regarding the organizations claim, but a representative from his office said Carlucci agrees the formula hasn’t considered the district’s enrollment increase and funding has not been equitable.

“The foundation aid formula has never been run properly and we have clearly demonstrated that this school district is capable of cutting staff to keep our buildings and grounds maintained properly,” said Ossining for Fair Funding co-founder Ben Zebelman. “We are never going to get to where our kids are getting the money that is legally obligated to them. We’re being staved and our current normal is not okay.”

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