Albany cuts $28 million in IMA money
from Yonkers schools facing $89 million hole
YONKERS, NY - The State budget process has drawn to a close, and members of the Yonkers City Council are fuming over what they say is a failure by Albany representatives to properly fund City schools. Local lawmakers castigated their State counterparts for failing to deliver $28 million in funding they say is owed to Yonkers.
"Once again Yonkers has been sold a false bill of goods, and by cutting $28 million from our funding, our Albany delegation has all but put the nail in the school budget's coffin for 2015," Council President Liam McLaughlin said. "Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the alleged Democratic leader of the Senate, George Latimer and our delegation have failed to deliver for the City of Yonkers. Forget pre-K, forget sports, librarians, guidance counselors, arts and music. According to our own duly elected state delegation, in Yonkers, everything must go."
Last year, the Yonkers Public Schools were faced with a budget crisis following a $45 million accounting error by the district. Albany lawmakers offered $28 million to help close the shortfall, on the condition that the City assume the non-academic functions of the school district through an inter-municipal agreement, or IMA.
The City Council adopted the IMA, which cost City taxpayers over $9 million, in May of 2014, after which it received its $28 million from the State. Members of the Council Majority also increased education funding locally in the 2014 City budget.
Other conditions of the agreement added a new layer of oversight to the City budget whereby the State Comptroller and Commissioner of Education can mandate changes to the City budget that the Council must then adopt.
Earlier this year, it was announced that City schools faced a shortfall of over $89 million, according to school Superintendent Dr. Michael Yarzulo. Unlike most school districts, the City of Yonkers collects taxes and directly provides funding for City schools.
The Governor's proposed budget for this year did not contain any language to address this massive hole in the budget, even though the State Constitution mandates Albany must provide each child with a sound basic education. The final State budget, adopted late and after the April 1st deadline, did not re-appropriate the $28 million, which Council members say is a failure on the part of Yonkers' state legislative delegation.
Majority Leader John Larkin said, "Once again it becomes a smoke and mirrors act by our state delegation who on the one hand will state they have increased school funding while on the other hand failed miserably to totally address the needs of Yonkers students. Andrea Stewart Cousins, who holds the position as the Democratic Senate Minority Conference Leader stated she did not have a seat at the table. We would have expected that as the Senate Minority Leader she would have addressed the needs of Yonkers schools directly to Governor Andrew Cuomo. How unbelievable that a State spokesperson for the Governor would say that they cannot be expected to financially bail out Yonkers each year. We are not asking for a bail out. We are asking for what is rightfully ours as taxpayers. Our State delegation, both Senate and Assembly members, along with the Governor, should provide what is our constitutional right - a fair and equitable education for all our students. Anything less is not acceptable."
Thanks to Senate Republicans, Yonkers did receive a base $13 million increase in foundation aid, plus $6 million restored through a partial restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, a 5-percent take back of school funding implemented by Stewart-Cousins and the Senate Democrats when that party had full control of all three houses in 2010. But without the $28 million from last year, this means school funding has been cut in Yonkers by $8.4 million this year.
Council member Mike Breen said, "Last year, our Albany representatives failed to close the gap, while putting our budget in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, and we heard we should be 'thankful' for the great job they did. Yet this time around, again, they couldn't deliver. They left us holding a $28 million dollar bill and it is our children who will suffer."
Council member Dennis Shepherd said, "The abject failure by Senator George Latimer, Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, and our fearless leader Senator Stewart-Cousins would almost be comical, were it not that the blood of Yonkers Public Schools is on their hands. When will we learn our lesson that we can't expect a different result if we keep sending the same people to Albany?"
The City must now figure out how to close the remaining gap in the 2015 school budget, without the $28 million in revenue. "Albany mandated we take over the school district, but yet they didn't pay for it, and now Yonkers taxpayers will pay the price for the incompetence and indifference of our state delegation," Council President McLaughlin added.
The City Council Majority has also voted to commence litigation against the State by joining a Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, New Yorkers for Students Education Rights v. State of New York, which seeks to overturn the Gap Elimination Adjustment and restore $110 million in GEA monies cut from Yonkers Public Schools. Recently, a Judge issued a ruling allowing Yonkers to join the lawsuit, making the City the first municipality to successfully join a CFE case.