Primary and Secondary Education

New York has some of the best public elementary and secondary schools in the nation — and some of the worst. Westchester is not exempt. Yet, all of Westchester’s local public schools cost more than property taxpayers can afford.

We need to immediately restore fair state aid for our schools. We need to change the arcane, politically-constructed school aid formula that gives more help to Nassau than Westchester.

We need to change the State school-aid formula’s cost of living adjustment to place Westchester not in the same category as upstate counties, but rather with New York City and Long Island. The costs of everything are far higher in all New York City suburbs than upstate.

Then, over the longer term, we need to explore fairer and more innovative ways to allocate state resources for education.

We need to compare approaches with other states and various school districts around the country.

For example, we could examine a point system used elsewhere where each student is point-rated and schools are give a percentage of the total education budget based on the sum total of student points. (A point system could allocate money according to the needs and abilities of each student; perhaps a typical student 1, a student with special needs 1.3, a student on subsidized lunch program 1.15, etc.)

We need to encourage our schools to partner with not-for-profits who have specialized expertise.

For example, as county legislator, I developed a special grant program through which Westchester County has annually provided assistance for music therapy for children with disabilities in less affluent Westchester schools.

Higher Education

Post-high school education has become a pre-requisite for entry into the job market — whether it’s college and a professional school to become a doctor or lawyer, graduate school to become a teacher, engineer, researcher or business professional, or technical schools to enter one of the trades — if you have limited skills, you have a limited future.

New York must maintain its numerous and diverse post-secondary institutions of higher education. The State University of New York (SUNY) with its network of universities, colleges and community colleges is a vital component. Its excellence and affordability must be maintained especially in these very difficult times when so many families have few resources but need the education to move on.

As a County Legislator and budget committee member, I have worked with my legislative colleagues to review and revise the Westchester Community College Budget. I have worked to insure WCC’s high quality, maintained the required County support and kept the tuition costs within the means of most Westchester residents. They have just considered and approved a balanced on-time $116 million Westchester Community College budget which leaves the student tuition cost far below SUNY in Westchester.

Special Act Schools

Our community has the highest concentration of the Special Act School Districts – 7 of the 13 Special Act School Districts in the state:

– Greenburgh-Graham School District (Hastings)

– Greenburgh Eleven School District (Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry)

– Greenburgh-North Castle School District (sited at Jennie Clarkson School in Valhalla, and St. Christopher’s in Dobbs Ferry)

– Abbott School District (Irvington)

– Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls District

– Pleasantville Cottage School District

– Mount Pleasant-Blythdale School District

These public school districts were established to provide for the unique educational needs of a struggling population classified as neglected or delinquent minors with full or partial residential placements. Many of the students are assigned to these districts through the court system, committees on special education and social service departments.

These Districts operate very differently than traditional school districts. Their state appointed boards must meet strict specific State Education Department mandates and operate with limited state-controlled funding streams. They also must interact with municipal officials and community members with respect to a wide range of issues from public safety to building codes to community interactions.

As an Assemblyman, I will continue the efforts that I have made as a county legislator to ensure that these districts interface cooperatively with their host local governments and with their residential neighbors. I will work to ensure that these school districts are sufficiently funded to meet their students needs and don’t become a burden on the community.