Dear Pelham Community Members:
Over the next several weeks, our elected officials in Albany will consider the New York State budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year. It goes without saying that the budget process will reflect the unprecedented impacts of the pandemic. While there are many different items of importance to Pelham Schools in the upcoming state budget, we believe that three issues in particular are critical to our ability to maintain our high standard for programs and services throughout the District:
- Increasing Foundation Aid funding to our District
- Opposing bundling of expense-driven aids into a block grant
- Providing more funding for mental health and wellbeing initiatives
Below is a letter describing each issue and its relevance for our students. If you share our belief that these actions would collectively benefit the Pelham Public Schools, we urge you to help us in our advocacy campaign. It is critically important that our legislators hear from you in the next few weeks. While Pelham is a relatively small community, we believe that a visible and vocal demonstration of our interests will make an impact when so many other districts around the state will be advocating for their own share of funding.
Please sign your name with your address at the bottom of the letter below, copy the text of the letter, paste it into an email, and send it to the following email addresses:
Additionally, you may send a hard copy of the letter to Governor Cuomo using the following address or submit it via the contact system on the Governor's website:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
We thank you in advance for your support of this campaign. Together, we can make a difference for our students.
The Pelham Public Schools Community Engagement and Advocacy Committee
To: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Hon. Alessandra Biaggi, State Senator
Hon. Amy Paulin, State Assemblywoman
CC: Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Majority Leader
Hon. Carl E. Heastie, Speaker, New York State Assembly
I know that you are a long-standing and compassionate advocate for students and our public education system. I’m writing today to ask you to ensure that our students’ education is not a long-term casualty of this terrible pandemic. As a resident in the Pelham Union Free School District, I want to highlight three areas of greatest concern to our schools and ask for your support in ensuring that they are addressed in the upcoming 2021-22 New York State Budget.
Fully Fund Foundation Aid
The Foundation Aid formula is outdated and inaccurate. As a result, the state has failed to meet its obligations for education funding for many years and this must be changed.
The current formula relies on outdated data; inaccurate measures of student needs and regional costs; and the addition of tiers, caps, and shares agreements, all of which exacerbate the harm to our schools and the student learning experience. For example, the Regional Cost Index (RCI) does not accurately capture the cost of doing business in Westchester County. Pelham, like most NYC suburban school districts, should instead follow the NYC/Long Island RCI rather than be measured against upstate districts. I support the establishment of a new MTA Region to better reflect similar operational costs. In addition, I support the use of updated school district data to adequately reflect changes in student demographics and cost of living increases.
Additionally, the proposed year to year flat funding Foundation Aid is not nearly sufficient and does not address the actual $3-4 billion shortfall. Pelham schools currently receive just 51.9% of the Foundation Aid owed under the current formula. At a minimum, we request that all districts receive a minimum 3% increase and be funded at least 75% of their foundation aid for the 2021-22 school year. This would enable the district to continue to deliver on its mission while easing the burden on our tax payers during what have been truly unprecedented fiscal times.
Retain the Current Reimbursement Formula for Expense-Driven Aids
Currently, districts are proportionally reimbursed for certain expenses, such as transportation and services purchased through BOCES. The Governor’s budget proposes bundling several expense-driven aids into a block grant to be administered to districts. Doing so is likely to result in less aid being provided to Pelham and will create more uncertainty around what revenue the District should expect in its annual school budget.
When the state enacted the tax cap in 2011, the Governor advocated for and incentivized the sharing of services to reduce the overall property tax burden on residents. Bundling and capping expense-driven aids, especially the BOCES aid reimbursement, would serve as a disincentive for shared services and has the potential to increase costs to the District.
Expense-driven aids should continue to be dispersed under the current formula and not be bundled into a block grant.
Supporting Student Mental Health and Wellbeing
The past year has certainly highlighted that the health and safety of our students is paramount. Even before the pandemic and its resulting impacts on students, studies have shown an alarming increase in anxiety, depression, and other serious stressors on students’ mental health and wellbeing in Pelham. These challenges have only accelerated in a time of lockdown, remote learning, decreased social interactions, curtailed and canceled athletics, and other extracurricular outlets. It’s vital that the long-term impacts of this environment are addressed.
While high achieving schools are often overlooked, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently added high achieving schools to their list of at-risk groups, joining children living in poverty, foster care, and those with incarcerated parents. These increasing social-emotional and mental health needs require specialized approaches and additional resources.
I support new flexible funding for school districts to provide appropriate services, programs, and training to address mental health and school safety needs. Grant programs that require districts to compete for limited, one-time funding are not sufficient to meet the needs of students in today’s environment.
I’d like your commitment to fight for these proposals in the upcoming state budget:
- Fully fund Foundation Aid
- Retain the current reimbursement formula for expense-driven aids
- New flexible funding for student mental health and wellbeing
The outdated Foundation Aid formula has resulted in Pelham Schools continuing to be underfunded by $3 million annually. Collapsing expense-driven aids into a block grant only exacerbates the situation and further decreases transparency and flexibility for local school boards. And finally, with the serious and growing mental health concerns in our school-aged population, it’s imperative that funds be allocated to all schools to address this major public health issue.
As a voter, these are the issues of greatest importance to me. As we look to restart and rebuild after this challenging time, I look forward to your continued advocacy for Pelham schools and the children who attend them.