Westchester Democratic lawmakers gathered last Friday in Ossining to highlight a $78 million funding shortfall in foundation aid for several area school districts.
As the Ossining School District continues to remain one of the lowest funded districts in the state, Democratic leaders stood outside Roosevelt Elementary School urging residents to vote blue in the Nov. 6 election with the hope of fixing the foundation aid formula and reducing the property tax burden.
“Ossining is one of the poster children for the shortage of foundation aid,” 40th Senate District candidate Peter Harckham said. “That shortfall needs to be made up in property taxes.”
Under the current formula, Harckham cited at least 19 school districts in Westchester and Putnam counties that aren’t receiving enough foundation aid funding and are currently owed $78 million from the state.
Last year, Ossining received an 8%, or $884,167 increase, only getting 44% of its allocation of aid, while nearly 275 districts throughout the state received more than 100% to 2,000% of their allocation. 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.
According to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the Peekskill School District is owed $14.5 million, with the Lakeland School District owed $5.7 million and the Brewster School District short $4.3 million.
“When you have a random formula like this where some districts are funded appropriately, some are above the formula and some are far less, this inequity makes it very burdensome for property taxpayers,” Harckham said. “The educational mission of the state should be equal opportunity for every student regardless of the zip code they live in, and the same goes for taxpayers.”
Harckham noted that the Hendrick Hudson School District only receives 53% of foundation aid, the Pleasantville Union Free School District receives 58% and the Somers School Districts gets 52%.
Officials are confident residents will recognize the disparity and put Democrats in control of the state Senate, where Harckham and Senator David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) believe they can resolve the hefty shortfall. Harckham added that he would like to see funding for full-day universal pre-K and other programs, accusing Republican incumbent Senator Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown) of focusing his efforts on increasing charter school funding.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) added that the discrepancy with foundation aid was caused by Republican senators. She said the Democratic-controlled Assembly continues to press for mandating more equitable aid for Westchester, but Senate Republican leaders have repeatedly voted it down.
“Unless we have a democratic Senate, we are not going to solve this problem of foundation aid,” Galef said. “It will help you as a taxpayer.”
County legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) said the problem with inequality has impacted residents for several years. She said the foundation aid formula is a “flawed system.”
“When schools are underfunded they are forced to make decisions that shortchange our children,” Borgia said. “People struggle to pay their property taxes and it is not fair for us to not receive the proper level of foundation aid.”