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Rally against state education cuts held at Benjamin Turner Academy

Rally against state education cuts held at Benjamin Turner Academy

Over 50 community members, students, educators and local representatives lined up on the steps outside Benjamin Turner Academy to protest state education cuts on Friday, March 1, 2024. 

In Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget, the Mount Vernon City School District would lose $2.9 million in state aid. The rally against that decision was organized by the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body.

Dr. Smith speaking at Rally.

To protest the cuts, Dr. K. Veronica Smith, Acting Superintendent; Keith McCall, president of the Mount Vernon Federation of Teachers; Warren Mitchell, Board of Education Trustee; Jamaal Bowman, congressman; Shelley Mayer, state senator; J. Gary Pretlow, assemblyman; Nader J. Sayegh, assemblyman; Michael Benedetto, state representative; Dana Levenberg, assemblyman; Matt Slater, assemblyman; MaryJane C. Shimsky, assemblywoman; Steven Otis, assemblyman; Chris Burdick, assemblyman; and George Latimer, county executive; all spoke and expressed disagreement with the governor’s decision. 

“I just want to make it clear that these 2.9 million dollars are pivotal to our school district,” said Dr. Smith. “A budget cut of that size would be a major setback for our students and programs, as we are already in the midst of recovery from past financial struggles.”  

The Hold Harmless provision was removed for school districts. Hold Harmless ensures that schools receive at least the same amount of state aid as the previous year. As a result, school districts with factors such as declining enrollment are receiving less funding. 

Ms. Person speaking at rally.

The governor also proposed a change to the Foundation Aid formula. Foundation Aid is the primary source of state funding for school districts. The new formula would use a rolling 10-year average (2.4%) of the Consumer Price Index, or inflation. The current rate is 3.8%. While inflation is just a factor in the formula, this change to the formula would result in millions of dollars in reductions of Foundation Aid for many schools in New York, including the Mount Vernon City School District. 

“In our schools today, we are providing the social safety net for our communities, " said Melinda Person, President of New York State United Teachers. “We feed children, we provide mental health services, we support families. We do all of the work to take care of our students so that they get what they need. And the cost of that is part of our education budget. So, when you cut Foundation Aid, you cut our ability to provide basic needs and services to communities.” 

About half of the school districts in the state are also facing potential cuts. Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is also set to expire in September 2024, resulting in less federal funding on top of the state cuts.  

Trustee Mitchell speaking at podium

“2.9 million in cuts is not something that you can actually think of with a clear heart and conscience knowing that we are a school district that is in significant fiscal stress,” said Trustee Mitchell. “Those cuts are coming to the people who are actually teaching, serving and protecting our children. You’re talking about our security workers, our food service, our CSEA. And we’re talking about our teachers, who are the true commodity and the true value of our District.” 

A reduction of Foundation Aid also disproportionately affects Mount Vernon schools. Building Aid, which is a part of the total state aid package, is calculated based on the median income of households in the county. Mount Vernon has the lowest median income in Westchester County, yet Building Aid is calculated at the Westchester County median income. As a result, the District relies heavily on Foundation Aid. 

Dr. Smith and District administration with students holding up signs

“There is no more important investment than the investments we make in our children,” said Congressman Bowman. “When we invest in education, childcare and pre-K we see tremendous economic outcomes. We see the lowering of costs in our justice system and our healthcare system, and we give our kids the access and the opportunity to realize their full potential.” 

Speakers asked community members to write to the governor and state legislators and urge them to reverse course, keep the Hold Harmless provision and keep Foundation Aid at the same level for all schools at least. County Executive Latimer suggested a one-house budget resolution, which could be introduced by State Representative Benedetto and State Senator Mayer. 

“I am urging everyone to write to the Governor’s office and state legislators imploring them to not remove this much needed funding for our District from the state’s budget,” said Dr. Smith. “With your voices added, we can show just how important this funding is for the Mount Vernon City School District. It is truly pivotal for us.” 

Trustee Middleton, Troy Newbey, and RTA students.
Assemblyman Nader J. Sayegh
Congressman Bowman speaking at press conference
State senator Shelley Mayer
Danielle Browne

Danielle R. Browne, Esq., founding attorney of the Browne Firm PLLC and city councilperson for the City of Mount Vernon, graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 2006. She attended Barnard College, Columbia University, where she was the captain of the women’s basketball team, and received her law degree from the University of Miami School of Law. Since then, she has started her own law firm and made her impact on her hometown as a city councilperson.

Dr. Smith receiving proclamation.

Acting Superintendent Dr. K. Veronica Smith received a proclamation from New York State Senator Jamal Bailey, recognizing her for her exemplary service to the community and the State of New York for Women’s History Month on Friday, April 5, 2024. Nakia Hiland, director of Safe Place for Our Girls, from the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau and Unique Groom, community liaison for Jamal Bailey presented the proclamation to Dr. Smith.  

Logo for news post

Dr. K. Veronica Smith, Acting Superintendent of Schools: 

Greetings MVCSD Community,

At approximately 10:23 a.m., there was a 4.8 magnitude earthquake in New Jersey. The aftershocks were felt throughout the Tri-State area. Several of our school buildings felt the tremors, which lasted for less than 30 seconds.

There have been no reports of staff or student injuries due to this incident. As a precaution, we will have indoor activities for our students for the remainder of the day. We will keep you updated on any developments on this matter if necessary.

Students strapping instructor onto board

Mount Vernon City School District students, equipped with medical supplies, administered care to mannequins during their emergency medical technician (EMT) training course at Mount Vernon High School on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department added a new EMT program earlier in the school year, and classes began in December. 

Dr. Waterman Superintendent for a Day

A new, but familiar, face occupied the Mount Vernon City School District superintendent’s desk on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. Dr. Crystal Waterman, Edward Williams School principal, served as the superintendent for the day to begin Acting Superintendent Dr. K. Veronica Smith’s “Superintendent for a Day,” series. Dr. Smith served as the principal at Edward Williams.