YONKERS, NY — January 2, 2018 — In my eleven months as your City Council President, and four years as a proud Yonkers Public Schools parent, I have gained a lot of insight into the operations of Yonkers Public Schools. In Yonkers, our schools have withstood the storms of lawsuits, toxic mold, weather emergencies, budget shortfalls, insufficient state funding, crowded classrooms, and much more, while remarkably producing the astounding achievement of an 86% graduation rate: above both the statewide average and every other “Big Five” school system. In the face of such adversity, this is an incredible achievement, however, we must always be thinking about ways that we can optimize the performance of Yonkers Public Schools. I have seen enough of the operations of YPS to know two things: firstly, our district is home to some of the most incredible administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents you will ever find. Secondly, the time has come to change the organizational structure of our school system to eliminate duplicity of services, allow better oversight of the Board of Education, and enable our teachers and administrators to focus solely the delivery of a quality education to our children.
From the day I arrived at City Hall, my office has been in regular contact with constituents with questions and concerns regarding Yonkers Public Schools ranging from the issue of school placements and balloting, to bussing and special education. Due to the lack of municipal oversight of our school system, the best that my staff is able to tell these concerned constituents is to call the Board of Education because of the statutory limitations of city government. This is frustrating and unacceptable; as an elected official, I want to help solve problems, not pass the buck to someone else.
Presently, Yonkers Public Schools are governed by a nine-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Mayor (without approval of the City Council), who are in turn empowered to hire a Superintendent to manage the day-to-day operations of the school district. The functions of the schools and the municipal government are largely separated from one another, however every year, the City Council appropriates roughly half of our total city budget to send to YPS, with minimal oversight of the operations and policies of the school system. This is no longer acceptable. As City Council President, I believe that protecting residents’ tax dollars and providing our children a quality education are my foremost responsibilities, and I do not believe that I or any of our elected officials can in good conscience continue to send a blank check to Yonkers Public Schools without greater oversight and accountability for the school system.
The time for change is now. Our city government needs more effective oversight of our school system. The present organization and relationship between the municipal government and the school district is codified by Article 52 of the Education Law of the State of New York, which creates what amounts to a “one size fits all” approach to education in Yonkers, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, and New York City. We constantly lament the inequitable state educational funding formula that underserves Yonkers schools, yet we ignore this other great injustice to our students and schools. Yonkers is unique from the rest of the “Big Five” school districts by virtue of our proximity to New York City, and the fact that every other “Big Five” school district is governed by an elected school board. Creation of a municipal Department of Education, or expansion of the inter-municipal agreement between the Board of Education and the municipal government are clear possibilities for exploration. Any reorganization of our schools is certain to have pros and cons, however, what I know for certain is that our present system is not working, and it is incumbent upon us to explore measures that will maintain local control of our schools, while ensuring accountability, eliminating bureaucracy, and finding financial savings.
Work has already begun along these lines, but we must reapply ourselves to seeking solutions for our schools. In 2014, the Board of Education and the City of Yonkers agreed to integrate certain departments such as human resources, department of finances, legal services and information technology. The time has come to evaluate that agreement, determine if it’s working, and potentially seek ways to expand it. For example, our school safety officers presently exist under the umbrella of the Department of School Safety and Security within the Board of Education. Why not eliminate this unnecessary bureaucracy, save precious tax dollars, and enjoy the benefits that would come with integrating this essential function of our school system into the Yonkers Police Department? Why not integrate departments that care for municipal and school buildings and grounds? Could the snow-disaster of November 15th, which left hundreds of children trapped on school buses and at the Riverfront Library been averted through a combined command structure and greater cooperation between those responsible for bus dispatch and snow plowing?
I believe that most of us agree that the current organization of Yonkers Public Schools and its relationship with the City government leaves much to be desired. We must approach this issue in good faith and with unity of purpose. We travel to Albany so often to appeal for additional funds for our schools, and I will continue to fight for additional resources for Yonkers schools, however, we fail to look inwards at what improvements we can make at home to meet the challenges our schools face. Furthermore, how better to demonstrate to statewide leaders that we are deserving of additional funds, than demonstrating our commitment to exploring all options for innovation and savings, and ending “business as usual?”
I call upon all of the stakeholders: my colleagues on the Council, our state delegation, the Mayor, the Superintendent and Trustees of YPS, labor leaders, as well as concerned parents and citizens of Yonkers to come together to study this issue, and implement the reforms that we need. In these troubled financial times for our city, we need to be creative and fearless when it comes to our schools for the good of our children. The decisions we make for our children today will reverberate for years to come, and we cannot afford to fail an entire generation of Yonkers students.