YONKERS, N.Y. - This week I joined mayors from New York’s largest cities to testify before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Albany. My message was simple: We need a renewed partnership with the State that recognizes that the financial burdens of rising health care and retirement costs, deteriorating infrastructure and the growing educational needs facing New York’s cities are unsustainable.
Over the last two years we’ve been able to balance our budgets without additional cuts to services and without breaking the property tax cap. We’ve done so by operating a leaner government – achieving savings through efficiencies and recovering lost revenue streams. Yet these achievements cannot keep pace with the rate at which costs are pushed down to Yonkers from the Federal and State levels. So this year I asked the State to increase funding for the AIM program, which is down nearly 20% in Yonkers since 2009. I also asked the Legislature to reform the School Aid formula which is inherently unfair to Yonkers’ students. Our schools receive far less funding per pupil than Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse, but Yonkers’ taxpayers spend more per pupil on education than those three cities combined.
I also met with State leaders about a very serious matter that was recently brought to light. Just a few weeks ago I was informed by Superintendent Pierorazio that his 2012-13 and 2013-14 budgets accounted for $55 million in so-called “spin up” aid from the state that actually never existed. The impact of this overstatement could be devastating for taxpayers and schools.
My immediate priority is to protect our students from unfairly becoming the victims of the Board of Education’s error and I, along with our State delegation and City Council, am working to help the BOE reach a responsible solution. But we also have a responsibility to taxpayers, parents and students to ensure that these accounting errors don’t ever happen again. It’s a matter of common sense – more than $500 million is paid to the Board of Education by taxpayers with little oversight or accountability.
This year I will ask the State Legislature to pass school governance reform legislation that would hold the Board of Education accountable to Yonkers’ taxpayers by providing the City with greater oversight over the BOE’s finances. Doing so will also save taxpayers millions of dollars by consolidating overlapping operations in the Board of Education’s front office. It just doesn’t make sense for Yonkers to have two law departments, two IT departments and two HR departments – one on the municipal side and one on the educational side – when we can put those functions under one roof.
Despite our challenges, Yonkers has come a long way in the last two years. We’ve moved our city in a new direction. United in a spirit of bi-partisan cooperation with a focus on growth, our economy is improving, new projects are breaking ground and new businesses are opening their doors. Never has it been more important to keep our progress moving forward and working together, we will.
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