White Plains Schools finds itself among the 400 districts in New York State owed millions in Foundation Aid which pays for mental health personnel like social workers.
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) President Andy Pallotta said the state owes school districts $3.4 billion, with White Plains owed $12.8 million in Foundation Aid.
In February he testified at the joint legislative budget hearing on K-12 education that schools statewide need a significant new investment from the state to address issues that range from a lack of social workers to staffing shortages to the loss of critical college and career preparation programs.
Pallotta told lawmakers the numerous needs that teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators have relayed during a recent NYSUT’s Fund Our Future bus tour.
The tour made a stop in White Plains where union officials visited an elementary school, a middle school and an alternative school along with local union presidents and lawmakers.
In last month's testimony, he said White Plains had to cut social worker positions, which has left just two to deal with caseloads of more than 600 students "at a time when the social-emotional needs of students are increasing."
Asked about the cuts, White Plains Districts Superintendent of Schools Joseph Ricca told Daily Voice Plus that the statement was "not completely accurate in that any reductions in staff took place years ago during the recession. I do not believe that social workers were part of that reduction. We do, however, strongly believe that our children need more access to social workers and we will be recommending adding, as appropriate, following our long-range plan."
According to NYSUT Press Secretary Matt Hamilton, the reference staff cuts "during the recession and post-recession periods" were from attrition.
"The fundamental point that was relayed during our visit in White Plains last month (and elsewhere, for that matter) is that current staffing levels, in this case, the number of social workers, are not adequate to meet the needs of all students. I don't have an exact number, but I believe we're told that the student-to-social-worker-caseload ratio in White Plains is something like 640 to 1," he continued.
"So the point that we heard was that because of underfunding by the state , districts like White Plains have not been able to hire additional staff or provide additional programs to address things like the social-emotional needs of students," Hamilton said.
"Without a doubt, the $12.8 million in Foundation Aid would help to support additional pupil services opportunities for our children," said Ricca.
Districts in parts of the state outside of Westchester addressed in Pallotta's testimony include ones where AP classes were cut, a school roof was leaking with mold on a wall and one where over 100 educators were laid off last year.
“Social workers, college prep courses, proper class sizes and safe classrooms are not luxuries. They are necessities,” Pallotta said. “Our children do not get a do-over. The state must increase funding to meet the needs of all students this year.”
NYSUT, as a member of the New York State Educational Conference Board, is calling for a $2.1 billion increase in state aid in the 2020–21 state budget, which includes the first installment of a three-year phase-in of the more than $3.4 billion in Foundation Aid owed to more than 400 school districts around New York.
In order to generate the revenue needed to fully fund public education, in addition to other state services like public higher education, health care, housing and transportation, NYSUT is supportive of new taxes on billionaires and multimillionaires.
Pallotta’s full written testimony can be found here.
Click here for a report on the teachers union bus stour stop in White Plains.