Albany Dysfunction Fails Students; Maxes Out Credit Card On Their Behalf
YONKERS, NY – March 31, 2014 — The Yonkers City Council Majority, Yonkers City Council President Liam J. McLaughlin, Majority Leader John Larkin, Councilmen Dennis Shepherd, and Michael Breen) say an Albany power grab has muddled the message they sent last week when passing a resolution that called for Albany to immediately address Yonkers school funding deficit. The Councilmembers say the Yonkers State Legislative Delegation, Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator George Latimer, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, and Assemblymember Shelley Mayer, have opted instead to institute a virtual control board of city finances while providing little to no financial assistance.
“Funding was provided, but not the way it should have been,” says City Council President Liam J. McLaughlin, who believes that the responsibility for the error rests mainly with the Yonkers state legislative delegation.
“Rather than taking an opportunity in this budget to rectify the long standing underfunding of education in Yonkers, our state delegation is now trying to run City government on a credit-card from Albany,” McLaughlin said. “Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the most dysfunctional conference of the most dysfunctional Legislature in the country, and her former counsel, now Assemblymember Shelley Mayer, are looking to take over city government when they know nothing about it.”
A 2007 New York Times article previously pointed out that the Yonkers legislative delegation was “asleep at the switch,” according to one Albany power-broker, when it came to funding Westchester schools. Council President McLaughlin said the Yonkers state delegation’s current proposal for school funding was “akin to a band-aid on a mortal wound.”
Majority Leader John Larkin said the Albany funding solution did not even provide a band-aid, and felt the state delegation could have pushed harder for additional spin up aid as was done with the Ramapo school district.
“For four years, the State has starved the school systems through the Gap Elimination Adjustment in order to create a $2 billion surplus,” Larkin said. “Yet now we are forced to borrow $45 million at taxpayer expense, which only compounds the problem for ten years. Borrowing to pay this deficit is not what our resolution asked for. It is not an option we would like to entertain and it does nothing to address the inequities to Yonkers caused by the 2007 school funding formula change.”
Albany’s plan is to have the City borrow $45 million, access to which is overseen by a de facto control board consisting of the state budget director, the state comptroller and the state education commissioner, who is indirectly appointed by the legislature.
“The state created this mess in the first place by certifying the school district’s budget, and now they seek to put more controls over the City when they don’t utilize the ones that are already in place,” Councilman Mike Breen said. “Perhaps if our Albany Delegation had been listening more to the public instead of hiding behind closed doors, they would have understood that this was about funding our schools and ensuring local control. Who does our Albany Delegation represent, the people of Yonkers, or the status quo?”
Following the public outcry over a $55 million accounting error caused when the former Yonkers Public Schools Administration overestimated state aid payments, the Council Majority had joined with the Mayor in calling for a new management structure for City schools. Since then, members of the Council Majority had attended countless public and personal meetings with stakeholders to determine the best course of action for the school district.
Members of Yonkers state legislative delegation, especially the State Senate Minority, opposed a new governance structure for city schools and would have preferred to focus solely on funding, according to their published statements. Yet rather than providing funding, the Albany delegation has chosen instead to put the bill on the credit card, the Councilmembers say.
Councilman Dennis Shepherd responded, “Give us the money, settle down, be quiet and go on your way. By borrowing to cover a deficit you make the deficit even larger and pass the bill to our kids and grandkids after years of underfunding our schools.”
Last week, the Council Majority voted to support the new governance structure after hearing from a majority of parents and taxpayers who demanded local accountability of school finances. This seems to have been instituted in the budget despite opposition by Yonkers State Delegation.
“From day one we have said that a new management structure for our schools will increase accountability and accessibility for the entire educational system,” Council President Liam McLaughlin said. “Our resolution was meant to give us a legal basis to end duplication and share services and invest those savings back in the classroom. We saw past the scare tactics from special interest groups and demagogues who manufactured the illusion that this was about ceding control of the classroom to the Mayor and instead listened to the majority of stakeholders.”
The language contained within the State budget allows the City to assume all current City school district finance and budget functions and most other non-academic functions, in line with the proposal supported by the Council Majority. It also includes a state aid increase of 7.67% and a one-time funding sweep of $28 million from the State Mortgage Insurance Fund, plus the additional revenue from bond anticipation notes preceding the sale of $45 million in serial bonds that the Council Majority says shortchanges Yonkers in the long run.
However, a separate stand-alone provision says that in order to access much of these funds, the entire City Budget must now be signed off on by the State Education Commissioner. “The Council Majority is asking Governor Cuomo to break out his line-item veto pen and remove this careless language from our State Delegation that was at best, crafted, and at worst, missed entirely,” McLaughlin concluded.
The author, Liam J. McLaughlin, Esq., is president of the Yonkers City Council.