Parents across Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Orange counties—who are tired of seeing property taxes rise; their children’s teachers fired; and programs like sports, arts and language eliminated or in danger of being eliminated from school curriculums—now have a way to fight back.
More than 18 school districts in the quad-county area, who represent more than 50,000 students, are launching letter writing campaigns encouraging parents to write New York State legislators and education officials asking for relief from unfunded mandates, which the Lower Westchester Education Consortium (LWEC) says are bleeding schools of its funding and diminishing the quality of education.
“The idea was to start to inundate legislators with these letters while budget negotiations were going on so they would understand where parents stood on these issues,” said Hastings-on-Hudson parent Tracy Pyper, LWEC Chair and Advocacy Chair for the Westchester East Putnam Region PTA.
The LWEC—a group of local school district officials, parents and others interested in education—was started by Ardsley Superintendent Dr. Lauren Allan and Rye Neck Superintendent Dr. Peter Mustich as a regional advocacy group for local schools in January 2012.
The letter writing campaign asks parents to send four letters to public officials asking to for: relief from mandatory and increased testing requirements such as the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) legislation; modification of the 2 percent tax levy cap; to end or amend unfunded mandates like Wick’s Law; and the for the return of local control over educational policy making.
The LWEC projects APPR alone will increase local school budgets in the lower Hudson Valley by three percent annually due to its required costs for professional training, the purchase and correction of new standardized tests, data storage and network upgrades. APPR testing will cost between $502,560 to $1.3 million among districts.
The LWEC estimates that its school districts will be on the hook for $6 milion in unfunded costs due to programs like Common Core, 3012C Training Assessments, technology and professional development.
Though State legislators and the governor promised to ease the burden of state mandates when the 2 percent tax levy cap was passed, no relief has come, the LWEC says. According to the LWEC, the State’s pension requirements also exacerbate fiscal constrains on local schools districts since the State does not contribute to pensions for public school employees and requires local schools districts to fully fund these increasing costs.
Unfunded mandates combined with a reduction in State aid has forced some school districts to make tough decisions that the LWEC says will only get tougher if things don’t change.
Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, a Democrat from Yonkers, told the Legislative Gazette during a recently rally by The Association for Quality Education and the New York State United Teachers in Albany that her district has lost more than 350 teachers, art and music courses for lowers grades and sports for middle schools. According to Mayer, Yonkers has nothing left to cut from its budgets.
Pyper said she has spoken to some state legislators who are using the letters as lobbying tools in Albany.
“They can use these letters to walk into someone else’s office and say ‘This is what parents believe,’” said Pyper. “I think parents are going to be far more engaged and outraged when we start seeing the losses to staffing and programming that is sure to come in a year or two as a combination of the tax cap and unfunded mandates really kick in. I think we [LWEC] are just getting stronger and we truly have not only the strength of our convictions on our side, but we know that people want quality public education. They do not want this compromise, so we just feel like it is our job is to educate both parents and legislators on how critical this is.”
Some participating school districts include:
- Ardsley Union Free School District
- Irvington Union Free School District
- Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District
- North Rockland Central School District
- Eastchester Union Free School District
- Rye Neck School District
- Edgemont School District
- Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns
- Elmsford Union Free School District
- Valhalla Union Free School District
- Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free School District
- Yorktown Central School District
- Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District
- Chappaqua Central School District
- Clarkstown Central School District
- Harrison Central School District
- Ossining Union Free School District
- Warwick Valley Central School District