Wednesday is the deadline for two state bills that would bring significant financial relief to Rockland County and the East Ramapo school district – if Gov. Andrew Cuomo approves them before midnight.
The Rockland County Financing Act would authorize the county to borrow $96 million and use the money to pay down a significant portion of its $128 million deficit.
Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef’s proposed 2014 county budget presumes the county will get the home-rule authority necessary to borrow the $96 million.
His proposal calls for a 9.9 percent county property tax increase, but Vanderhoef said that could climb to nearly 20 percent without the ability to borrow the $96 million.
The county is legally obligated to pay down its deficit by at least $10 million each year starting with the 2014 budget, money that is not currently set aside in the budget.
Another bill on Cuomo’s desk would advance East Ramapo $3.5 million in lottery funding to help the beleaguered district through the 2013-14 school year.
East Ramapo would have gotten the money in September 2014, but the district sought receipt of the aid in June 2014. The money would be deducted from future lottery allocations over a 30-year period.
The bill, commonly referred to as a “spin-up,” contains a unique stipulation that the money be used to restore salaries for teachers, security guards, nurses and the like, and for intramural and co-curricular activities.
State Senator David Carlucci, D-New City, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Assemblymen Ken Zebrowski, D-New City, led a rally at the Martin Luther King Multi-purpose Center in Spring Valley Tuesday to encourage Cuomo to sign the bill.
Participants included King Center Executive Director Nathan Mungin, King Center Board President Winsome Downie-Raiford, Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman and East Ramapo elementary school students.
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Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester), Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Rockland) and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-Rockland) stood with local community leaders Nathan Mungin and Winsome Downie-Raiford from the Martin Luther King Center as well as Willie Trotman, President of the NAACP Spring Valley Chapter to call on Governor Cuomo to sign the East Ramapo School District Lottery Spin-up bill.
“Passing this piece of legislation was one of my top priorities in Albany,” said Senator Carlucci. “I am pleased that with this bill we will help restore vital services for the students of the East Ramapo Central School District while creating strict oversight and guidelines as to how the funds will be spent.”
Over the past two years the East Ramapo Central School District has reduced its staff by some 400 individuals including, social workers, elementary assistant principals, staff developers in technology and clerical and support services totaling approximately 25% of its workforce. In addition, a significant number of education programs have been reduced or eliminated including full-day kindergarten, sports and clubs, cultural arts, instrumental music, summer programs and extra help programs.
This legislation allows for $3.5 million dollars in accelerated lottery aid to go directly to the East Ramapo Central School District which would be deducted from future lottery allocations over a thirty year period. During this time the district will have to follow strict regulations and will need to report their spending on a regular basis to the New York State Department of Education through an appointed advisory team.
The advisory team will consist of the superintendent of schools of the East Ramapo central school district or his or her designee, a member of the school board, a teacher employed in the school, an administrator employed at the school and a parent of a student.
Assemblywoman Jaffee said, “I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing this bill, so that the students in the East Ramapo School central school district don’t have to suffer any more cuts to essential programs that are part of a basic public school education. I am confident the oversight provisions in this bill will ensure the restoration of some of those cuts that the public school students have been forced to endure.”
The advisory team will need to develop a comprehensive expenditure plan and deliver the plan in voucher form to the Commissioner of Education. Funding can only be used for instructional services, including teacher salaries; guidance services, including guidance counselor salaries; health services, including nurse salaries; security services, including security guard salaries; board of cooperative education services expenses; co-curricular activities, including instructional salaries and contractual services; intra-mural activities, including instructional salaries; and interscholastic athletics, including instructional salaries, contractual expenses, security and transportation.
“This is a big first step to making sure our children are getting the best possible education at the East Ramapo Central School District.” said NAACP President Willie Trotman, “I am very pleased this legislation comes with a mandatory reporting requirement that will make the School District report directly to the State Education Department concerning their spending of this accelerated aid. We need to continue to make sure our schools have adequate funding to educate our students. I applaud the work of Senator Carlucci, Assemblywoman Jaffee and Assemblyman Zebrowski who have made the East Ramapo Central School District a major priority in Albany. The Governor needs to stand with the Rockland Community and make sure our children don’t lose out on their education.”
Assemblyman Zebrowski said, “This legislation will protect the programs and services that the East Ramapo students deserve and provide the necessary oversight to ensure that the additional funding is appropriately spent.”