School superintendents across Westchester urged Washington to approve federal aid for education as districts across New York face potentially crippling cuts due to a $14.6 billion state deficit caused largely by the coronavirus.
Gathered outside Ossining’s Roosevelt Elementary School Wednesday afternoon, the group of school chiefs representing mostly diverse districts throughout the county called on the U.S. Senate to pass the House of Representatives’ revised $2.2 trillion HEROES Act. Sen. Chuck Schumer hopes the stimulus would provide $175 billion in fiscal relief for public schools throughout the United States.
“New Yorkers should be furious. This is not a handout. This is not a bailout. New Yorkers, just like the other 49 states, are looking for the federal government to intercede in a disaster,” said White Plains Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Ricca, who also serves as president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents.
“We’re trying to protect the programming that we built in our communities for our children so that we can protect the future of our communities and the great state of New York,” he added.
Superintendents at Wednesday’s press conference pointed to the potential 20 percent cut in state aid as part of possible across-the-board reductions Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly mentioned unless Congress approves funding for state and local governments. The measures passed by Congress in the spring included no money to help municipal and state governments.
Districts have also incurred reopening expenses for personal protection equipment, Plexiglas partitions, testing, cleaning and extra staff.
Unless there is help from Washington soon, there is the likelihood that districts will have to begin cutting programs and/or laying off staff. Districts in less affluent areas would be particularly hurt because those school systems rely more heavily on state aid.
If cutbacks occur, public education would be diminished, said Public Schools of the Tarrytowns Superintendent Christopher Borsari.
“What’s motivated me, and I know everybody here, is the promise of American public education,” Borsari said. “Our country is built on the promise of American public education. It still serves as a beacon to the world.”
Ricca said White Plains stands to lose about $6 million if the 20 percent state aid cut is realized while Yonkers Public Schools would lose $69 million. Yonkers Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edwin Quezada said his district has already eliminated nine pre-k classes.
“For us, it’s complete devastation,” Quezada said of a 20 percent reduction.
Peekskill Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Mauricio said the threatened cuts would cause the deterioration of services.
“I’m here to advocate because millions of dollars in cuts in the Peekskill City School District and other districts of my colleagues here today will definitely impact our programming, our social-emotional learning, supports for our students and our family engagement opportunities, which we know is critical to have our students have success,” Mauricio said
Now that New York is in need of help, having been hit hard last spring by COVID-19, Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter said the state is looking to Washington for assistance. She pointed out that New York is the top donor state in the nation, having paid $26 billion more in taxes in 2018 than it received.
“We need this now,” Fox-Alter said. “Friends who we have helped out year after year, decade after decade to the tune of billions of dollars, and it is a moral imperative that we not allow COVID-19 and the pandemic set us back and limit the exceptional learning opportunities for New York students while we keep our staff, our students and our communities safe.”
The superintendents were joined by state Sen. Peter Harckham and County Executive George Latimer who supported the calls for federal funding. They were adamant that Congress make sure the next generation isn’t shortchanged.
“These should not be partisan issues,” Harckham said. “These people – teachers, administrators – are putting their lives at risk to educate our children. We can’t ask them to do that and not provide resources that are necessary to do that.”