MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- A crowd of Bedford Central teachers held a rally in downtown Mount Kisco on Wednesday to demand that the state government roll back a recession-era program that withholds aid promised to school districts.
The teachers are members of the Bedford Teachers Association (BTA), which is the local union. They were joined by sympathetic teachers from several neighboring school districts in Westchester.
The rally, which was met with scores of sympathetic honks from passing drivers, was held at the intersection of Route 133, Kisco Avenue and Maple Avenue. The protest site is near Gov. Andrew Cuomo's residence, which is located up the Route 133 hill to the west and is over the town line in New Castle.
Shouts from demonstrators included "Change our fate, New York State!" and "Cuomo is a joke, leaving Bedford broke!"
The contentious program at hand is called the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). It was imposed by the state in 2009 during the depths of the late 2000's recession. The GEA worked by tweaking the state's aid calculations and garnishing portions of funding otherwise owed to each school district.
“We're out here because state government is formulating their budget, wrapping up probably by the end of this week, and it's time that they stepped up and supported public schools the way they need to be supported," said Michael Groarke, president of the BTA.
Bedford Central is facing a bleak fiscal landscape going into the 2016-17 school year. Facing a budget gap of roughly $8.8 million, officials have proposed an over-ride of the state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases, along with cuts such as elimination of middle-school sports and reduction in elementary librarians.
Since the GEA was instituted, more than $5.8 million has been withheld from Bedford Central, Interim Superintendent John Chambers said at Wednesday night's school board meeting.
Cuomo and the state legislature have a deal to repeal the GEA as part of the new state budget, according to Politico New York , which is due by April 1.
School board President Jennifer Gerken, who blasted the GEA, argued that a repeal of the measure should not be considered a "restoration," because it would not involve restoring funds that the state had “essentially stolen from us” in previous years.
Groarke, at the rally, also likened the withholding of aid to theft.
“Now New York State has a budget surplus and it's time for them to support public schools the way they need to be supported," he said.
Even if the GEA is repealed, it will not be enough on its own to solve Bedford Central's woes for the coming year. A full repeal would only net about $360,000 , according to a district projection. Officials are looking to stave off some of the deep cuts, and still need to find $1.04 million in additional savings.
The district's largest cost driver is its health-insurance costs. Bedford Central, which is currently self-insured but uses POMCO as its third-party administrator, is facing a 15.6-percent hike in total insurance costs for the next year due to a big spike in claims, according to a study released Wednesday by Willis Towers Watson, which is the district's healthcare consultants. The company projects that Bedford Central could save money in the $1.8 million range if it switches administrators.
Another option would be to dump self insurance and switch to an outside state-based pool. In that scenario, the district would save $1 million if a Jan 1., 2017 start date is assumed. The district, on an annualized basis, could save roughly $2.3 million in that scenario.
Meanwhile, officials and the BTA are in talks for a new contract, which would replace the current deal once it expires on June 30.
Video and photos of the rally are attached.
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