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. (Click on the links above to view Yorktown Central School District’s letter).
Here is what The Yorktown Central School District wrote on its website urging parents to write letters to state officials:
The Yorktown Central School District continues to be a leader among districts throughout Westchester and New York. This is a direct result of a strong community support system and strong local control of schools. Quality public schools in Westchester are essential, for both our present student population and to ensure that long-term, our property values remain intact.
But as you know, public schools have been living under the legislated tax cap for the last two years and public education in New York State has reached a critical juncture. The law, as written, places many school districts throughout New York – Yorktown included – under added financial stress, resulting in the very real possibility of having to eliminate important programs and services that students and families are counting on.
It is our strong opinion that our legislators must provide meaningful mandate relief that they have promised to districts. By doing so, our district and districts throughout New York will be able to continue to meet the local educational needs of their students and the fiscal demands of their communities.
A group of dedicated parents have been meeting regularly to execute a letter-writing campaign to remind legislators and our Governor of the promise to provide mandate relief. The campaign was originally launched last year and you can see it and take part in it right here!
What do you need to do? You need to be educated about the issues and you need to have your voices heard. You need to encourage your legislators to do what they promised in terms of mandate relief, tax cap, APPR and local control.
“Times are changing and they are changing fast,” said Pyper, who has a sophomore and a senior in Hastings-on-Hudson High School. “You can no longer just send your child to school and expect that all the programs and staffing and everything will be there. Parents are going to have to learn how to be advocates for public education and for their child’s education because we have less and less control over school budgets because of the unfunded mandates and reforms that are being pushed at such a fast rate.”
The LWEC projects APPR alone will increase local school budgets in the lower Hudson Valley by 3 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.
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