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Westchester County Legislators Demand Hochul Restore School Aid

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Bedford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass, surrounded by members of the Board of Legislators, spoke during a press conference Thursday afternoon at the County Building in White Plains urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to fully restore Foundation Aid.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators joined the chorus of critics against Gov. Kathy Hochul and her proposed Foundation Aid reductions that education advocates contend places countless programs and students in peril.

Accompanied by teachers’ union representatives at the County Building in White Plains Thursday afternoon, school officials and state Sen. Shelly Mayer (D-Yonkers), the chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, demanded that Hochul reinstate the $419 million in statewide Foundation Aid cuts, about $19.6 million of which would be lost to Westchester County districts.

County Legislator Erika Pierce (D-Katonah) said with the tax cap having been in effect for 12 years, which limits the tax levy increase to regional cost of living or a 2 percent maximum, combined with high inflation, Hochul’s plan would be debilitating for many districts and their students.

“It’s a loss in jobs, it’s a loss in access to teachers and support services for every single student, including our students who are most vulnerable,” Pierce said. “It is the loss of access to counselors and programs, and this is not just a Bedford problem. Students in every single district in our county will lose in total about $20 million in funding. That’s $20 million (that goes away) overnight.”

Legislator Emiljana Ulag (D-Ossining) called the reduction with no warning “as a betrayal to our school districts.”

The support shown by county lawmakers followed their unanimously approved resolution earlier in the week calling for full restoration of the aid. Last week, the state Senate and Assembly each passed their one-house budgets that included full restoration with overwhelming bipartisan support, Mayer said.

After years of haggling, last year Foundation Aid was fully funded for the first time since 2007, but was cut without warning in the proposed executive spending plan, as districts face increasing challenges and responsibilities to provide more services following the pandemic, she said.

To save money, Mayer said that Hochul changed the formula to one of the key variables in determining the level of aid, the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI), to average the last 10 years after removing the highest and lowest years. The governor also eliminated the save-harmless provision, which guaranteed that even if a district’s enrollment went down and CPI was low, districts would not see a Foundation Aid reduction from one year to the next.

“This is wrong, the impact is devastating; it cannot be justified,” Mayer said. “There is a time for conversation about updating the formula. We are calling for that, but the time is not right now to pull the rug out, as Erika said, from our schools and from our kids. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

While virtually all districts in Westchester and Putnam counties would see a reduction in aid, some districts’ losses are heavier than others. In Westchester, the Bedford School District stands to lose nearly $1.6 million in Foundation Aid, a 30.5 percent reduction, the greatest cut on a percentage basis of any district in the two counties, except for the K-8 districts of Pocantico Hills and Garrison in Putnam County, which will each lose 39 percent of its aid.

Bedford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass said the abrupt state reduction contributed to him proposing a first draft of his 2024-25 district budget Wednesday evening that would cut 26 teaching positions and seven aides.

Coupled with the expiration of federal pandemic funds and the district under a multiyear plan to right-size its staff to account for a nearly 20 percent enrollment reduction during the past eight years, the loss of Foundation Aid would have devastating effects, he said.

Bedford is considered a high-wealth district, but also has high needs with its increasing percentage of students who come from homes where English is not the first language and many students who meet the criteria for free or reduced lunch.

“So we have had to embark on a three-year plan to systematically right-size our budget, to not chip away at programs but chip away at the budget enough so we can keep as much of our programs in place to have our students more focused, and we’ve been doing that very successfully,” Glass said.

The heads of three Westchester districts’ teachers’ unions also urged to Hochul to restore the aid.

“The reality of this budget represents a broken promise,” said Kara McCormick-Lyons, the president of the White Plains Federation of Teachers. “It’s a broken promise, actually it’s 419 million broken promises to students and school communities across the state.”

Putnam County’s six districts would see a combined reduction of about $1.4 million.

The deadline for the state legislature to complete work and adopt a Fiscal Year 2025 budget is Apr. 1, but last year the budget was late.



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