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Westchester Assembly Members Hear State Budget Concerns

The Westchester State Assembly listened to the community's concerns on the affect of the 2013-2014 state budget.
The Westchester State Assembly listened to the community's concerns on the affect of the 2013-2014 state budget. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Combined Wealth Ratio and a Gap Elimination Adjustment are impairing Westchester County education, school representatives told New York State Assembly members in Greenburgh on Thursday.

Several school representatives from across the county talked about the 2013-2014 Executive Budget Proposal and the affect it would have on their schools. The state budget, which was submitted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 2, proposes a $142.6 billion budget — a 5.3 percent increase over last year's budget. About 15 percent of that budget is allocation to state education.

Brenda Myers, Valhalla School District superintendent, said the formula arranged in the Combined Wealth Ratio has cut their state aid by $200,000. The ratio, which takes in the average income per resident and the average assessed value per resident, hiked the taxes as property values in Mount Pleasant and Valhalla continue to decrease.

Combine that with the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) — the state's decrease in school aid — and Valhalla is seeing a $1.2 million deficit, despite already freezing teachers' salaries.

"Those two facts together make us the hardest hit school in Westchester County," Myers said. "The burden is on the community to support their schools, but it's hard during these economic times."

Formula-based aids will generate $550 million for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to the budget proposal .

Ronald Ross, Greenburgh Central 7 School District superintendent, said the GEA and costly teacher evaluations means he'll have to start cutting elsewhere. It could mean cutting back on the school's transportation services, trimming the bus routes from 15 miles down to five, he said.

"It costs over $5 million to transport students to other schools," Ross said about the 700 students Greenburgh 7 transports to private schools in the area. "It's almost as if I'm in charge of two school districts."

Pat Puleo, president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers and a Mount Pleasant resident, was disappointed that the budget proposal "wiped out" funds for teaching centers. The state is making a mistake assuming teachers will learn solely from the Annual Professional Performance Reviews.

"We want our teachers to continue to learn, and teaching centers are the only way to do that," said Puleo, adding that the allocations were cut in half to $10 million last year and were completely cut this year. "I've seen crying teachers and crying students enormously upset over the amount of testing. The state education department has to reduce testing."

Assembly members told school representatives and other speakers at the public meeting that they'll consider their financial concerns and make sure they're heard in Albany. The state budget's deadline is April 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

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