NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Four of southern Westchester’s top elected officials convened in New Rochelle on Thursday night for a comprehensive discussion about the issues plaguing area school districts.
New York State Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, State Sen. George Latimer and Assembly members Amy Paulin and Steve Otis joined forces on a panel at the New Rochelle High School to answer the pressing questions and concerns parents in the district have.
During “An Evening With Our State Legislators: A Discussion of Current York State Education and Budget Issues,” moderated by High School Principal Reginald Richardson, the officials talked about everything from opting out of immunization and state testing, to federal funding and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approved state budget, which has come under fire for its education reform.
When asked whether local school districts were getting a fair percentage of federal funding, Otis noted that it’s a competitive statewide environment, with Westchester districts getting penalized due to high property values. Latimer added that cities such as New Rochelle and White Plains are in a unique situation because they include both incredibly wealthy and poor residents within one district.
“No, we’re not getting our fair share, but I don’t think that any district is. The fact that it’s based on property tax figures doesn’t make sense,” he said. “To correct that, we need a fundamental overhaul that won’t happen. Until we, as a state, undergo a massive overhaul, we will just do as best we can to improve year-to-year.”
The budget, specifically the new teacher and student evaluation system that stresses even further importance on state standardized testing, came under fire from each of the politicians.
“We all know there is way too much testing in our schools,” Otis said. “There’s no one way to measure different teachers in different places, because different districts have different needs.”
Paulin, who was part of a contingency of nearly two dozen superintendents, worked extremely closely with the governor’s office in an attempt to eliminate and alter certain aspects of the education reform. She said that at the 12th hour, after being promised that there would be less rigid standards for professional development, teacher evaluation and no outside investigator conducting teacher evaluations, all of that was taken off the table.
“We wanted New York to be a model for the country,” she said. “Cuomo did not want the teachers or the unions to win.”
Latimer discussed the discrepancies between resources available to certain students and districts, and how it creates an inequitable system that unjustly penalizes less fortuitous areas.
“Don’t tell me schools are failing because of teachers or administrators. We’re on the wrong path,” he said. “The reality is we’re building everything on a rigorous testing model. This will work for some kids, but even more will fall off the merry-go-round. I wholly support opting out (of testing) to make a statement.”
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