By: Eric Gross, Staff Reporter, Putnam County Courier 12/24/2008
PUTNAM COUNTY-The winter recess that gets under way today (Wednesday) for schools throughout the region will be a time of reflection for administrators and members of boards of education since many difficult decisions must be decided in early 2009.
Gov. David Paterson's budget, released last week, calls for whopping reductions in school aid across New York, including a massive $4.2 million reduction in Putnam's six school districts. The governor's budget proposal affords Putnam with $72.6 million in state aid to education, down by 5.6 percent over the current school year.
Mahopac Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Reidy said the budget proposal would result in "some of the most difficult times I've ever encountered during my nearly 40 years in education. Everything is on the table. Business as usual is no more."
Brewster Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jane Sandbank realizes the economy is on a downward spiral, but disagrees that education should take such drastic cuts: "There are ways to look at spending but education is not one of them. We are talking about our future - our next generation - young people who will be competing with others from around the globe."
State Senator Vincent Leibell urged school officials "not to panic. The devil is in the details. Gov. Patterson has thrown out large numbers and now my colleagues and I will sit down and review them. Remember in New York State government, the governor proposes and the legislature will dispose."
Assemblyman Greg Ball, who represents constituents in Carmel, Southeast and Patterson as well as Pawling, North Salem, Somers and Yorktown, said while the governor has made some tough choices, "we can't allow the governor to get government back on line on the backs of our children and senior citizens. What concern me most are his drastic cuts to education and his new taxes."
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who represents constituents in Kent, Putnam Valley and Philipstown in addition to taxpayers in Cortlandt, Ossining and Peekskill, was a bit more pessimistic, telling the Courier: "We are going to have to tighten our belts by changing the way business has been conducted for years in our schools and localities on the county, town and village levels." Galef forecast that state aid to education for 2009 will be reduced: "Record increases in school aid will no longer be the case. I am saddened by this, but we will be forced to look at our systems and begin to make changes by getting greater efficiencies and doing things differently. New York spends more than any other state in the nation when it comes to education and the medical field. We just can't afford to do it any longer."
Under the proposed budget, the Brewster School District is slated to lose $955,926 or 6.35 percent in state aid while the Carmel District will find a reduction of $1,231,651 or 5.4 percent.
The Mahopac District, Putnam's largest, will be receiving $1,533,592 less in state aid or 5.4 percent less under Gov. Paterson's budget while the Putnam Valley District will lose $310,777 or 3.9 percent.
Two districts in western Putnam - Haldane and Garrison - will also lose substantial state aid under the governor's plan: 8 percent in Haldane and 6.9 percent in Garrison.
Brewster Board of Education President Dr. Stephen Jambor realizes that times are tough: "All I am asking is that Albany lawmakers play fair. As a life long educator I believe in the needs of all children but for God's sake if mandates come down the pike, give the schools some dollars to help share the funding. Be fair!"
Jambor said schools were not disputing the "specific rights of children. All we are requesting is for partnership and equity in terms of funding to make these things happen."