In Ossining High School teenagers write letters to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking for the District’s fair share of Foundation Aid Funding, across town at Brookside Elementary School in Ossining, New York first graders draw photos of what they love about school on the backs of printed letters of the same subject. Down by the Hudson River one father explains in Spanish to other parents how the district has been shortchanged on Foundation Aid Funding for 10 years. And in yet another corner of town mothers sip wine, express outrage about Foundation Aid funding and devise a plan to get the funding they are due. All over Ossining the topic is the same – how could the district be shortchange 60% of the funding they are due by Cuomo and representatives in the NYS Senate and Assembly?
The formula for Foundation Aid Funding froze in 2008. Many districts in the County have seen a decrease in enrollment which means they are getting more money than they should. But, in Ossining, the district has seen a tremendous enrollment boom. Families moving into the town because of the award winning school district, district wide Universal Pre-Kindergarten, organic diversity, a mix of urban and suburban life, coupled with a big inventory of affordable homes has flooded the schools and left the district scrambling to make ends meet with less money.
School Superintendent Ray Sanchez said: “In the past 10 years the district has swelled to over 5 thousand students. It’s a 24% increase and we are at capacity. Meanwhile our neighboring district Briarcliff has seen a 16% decrease in enrollment. We are thrilled people want to be in Ossining, it is a wonderful community but now we need the State to come in and adjust this formula to give these kids the money their School District needs.”
With the release of the Executive Budget, Ossining Union Free School District is slated to be the lowest Foundation Aid funded school district in all of New York. Ossining schools are projected to receive only 40.7% of our allocated Foundation Aid versus the state average of 80%. At fully funded levels, Ossining would receive over $27.5M this year, and instead is slated to only receive $11M.
Katherin Crossling who has three kids in the district said she was shocked to learn about the frozen aid: “We have a $16 million dollar gap. I’m outraged – Ossining parents continue to have to put in superhuman effort year after year to get this message to our Governor. We demand our representatives work just as hard. This School District needs to be made whole – by the state.”
Another parent, Jennifer Smith Couti, who has one child in the district said: “We moved here from Chappaqua for all the diversity this community has to offer. I’m shocked this discrepancy with the Foundation Aid has been happening for the past ten years. We want the full 100% of Foundation Aid Funding we are due!”
Since the Foundation Aid Formula was established in 2008, Ossining schools have experienced:
24% increase in enrollment (+963 students)
53% increase in free and reduced price lunch applicants
59% increase in students with extraordinary needs
70% increase in students living in poverty
31% decrease in NYS Combined Wealth Ratio (1.629 to 1.123)
With all the outrage in the town, a group of parents have banned together to form Ossining for Fair Funding. The group, with a half-eaten rotten apple as their logo, has regular meetings, live Facebook events, social media blitzing and they plan to testify in Albany.
Ossining for Fair Funding Communications Director Jessica Vecchiarelli said: “With significant enrollment growth and substantial increases in student needs, we are simply asking that Ossining be put on a path to being funded at the same percentage level as the average district in New York State, at least 80% of the fully phased-in Foundation Aid. Ossining student needs are here and now and can no longer wait.”
Ossining for Fair Funding Co-Founder Ben Zebelman: “I can’t think of anything LESS progressive than depriving a majority-minority school district of their foundation aid funding. We are the most underfunded school district receiving Foundation Aid in New York State.”
Last year, the NYS Assembly Majority’s one house budget bill funded Foundation Aid at 100%, phased in over three years, as well as a year-one minimum 50% funding of Foundation Aid for low percentage funded communities. Given Ossining’s prior 38% level of funding, this proposal was tremendously meaningful for our community.
The 2017 NYS Senate Majority budget proposal would have taken 16 years to fully fund Ossining schools, while the Governor’s proposed budget would have eliminated Foundation Aid in its entirety. Ultimately, after final budget negotiations last year, Ossining received an additional $2.2 Million dollars in Foundation Aid, yet remained one of the most underfunded Foundation Aid school districts in the state.
Recently in a Facebook Live event, State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, State Assemblyman David Buchwald and State Senator David Carlucci answered questions about Foundation Aid Funding. While many in the town blame Carlucci for being focused on his district in Rockland County and ignoring Ossining, his only district in Westchester, Carlucci said: “If we don’t have an accelerated phase in for
Ossining, they will be left behind.”
Also in the event Galef said: “I want to compliment all the people in Ossining, they have been terrific and helped us advocate and convey the message that Ossining needs more funding.”
Buchwald chimed in with: “By identifying school districts that are getting too small a percentage of Foundation Aid we can go to our colleagues and advocate for raising the floor of Foundation Aid. Ossining deserves more money. The assembly has put forth a proposal that there should be a basic floor and it should keep going up.
Whatever words were spoken, and letters and drawings were sent both parents and children in the town are focused on getting the 16 million dollars they are owed.
6 year old Nate Torrieri drew a picture of dollars to send to Cuomo and said: “We need more money for more programs.” Starting a civics lesson at an early age – around a topic directly impacting young minds.