For years, the Yonkers school district has been underserved and underfunded. With most of its schools crumbling and many of its students struggling, the district every year begs the state for millions of dollars to plug the gap in its budget. Now, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano is asking the state to support his $2 billion schools reconstruction bond. Here is the latest in a series of Journal News reports about the region’s largest school district.
YONKERS – Mayor Mike Spano is flexing his rallying and collaborating muscles across the state this week to support his $2 billion schools reconstruction bond.
A bill was introduced Tuesday by Democratic state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins to support the bond, which comes about a week after the bill’s counterpart was introduced in the Assembly by Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer.
In an effort to continue pushing the bond’s campaign locally, Spano, also a Democrat, led a rally of about 100 students, parents, teachers and school officials in front of Martin Luther King Jr. Academy on Wednesday morning. The borrowing plan would, over 13 years, refurbish and rebuild the city’s 39 deteriorating schools and build two new schools on Ravine Avenue and off Ashburton Avenue.
“Most of our schools are in disrepair,” Spano said. “At the end of the day, we can achieve great things, but we can only achieve this bond if we have the support of New York State and our governor.”
The bond did not make it into this year’s $145 billion state budget, despite the mayor’s push in Albany. In order to get this plan passed before the end of the legislative session in June, the Assembly and Senate have to pass their bills.
“For the first time in many years in Yonkers, we are taking on the responsibility of rebuilding our schools,” said newly-appointed Yonkers schools Superintendent Edwin Quezada. “This is going to be a team effort and we have to do it together.”
Wednesday’s rally reflected a diverse team effort with representatives and speakers from every stakeholder, ranging from MLK Academy seventh-grader Xochi Bustos, to state Board of Regents member Judith Johnson.
“Seventh- and eighth-graders are housed in an elementary setting. We should have a technology activity room for recess. Provide us with lockers and bathrooms appropriate for our needs,” Bustos said. “As I walk around the building, I notice cracks on the steps and paint coming off the wall.”
Johnson said it’s largely because of students like Bustos and her peers throughout the district that she came to the rally and supported the bond.
The proposed borrowing in Yonkers — a district of 26,800 students that is 4,100 students over capacity — was announced in February and is modeled after other massive overhaul plans executed in Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester schools in recent years for which the state’s reimbursement rate was as high as 98 percent. Yonkers is slated to receive a state reimbursement rate around 70 percent, but Spano has been pushing for a higher percentage more in line with the other big cities.
Sophia Wu, treasurer of the Yonkers Council of the Parent Teacher Association, said the showing at the rally was a good start, but more needs to be done.
“We need more showing, not just here, on the computer to sign up so that it will go the state,” Wu said, referring to an online petition in support of the bond that has so far garnered about 10,000 signatures. “With a school of 27,000, we should have 50,000 (signatures).”
Wu said she’s hopeful the bond can get passed this year.
“Otherwise, this is going to wait another year and we can’t afford that,” she said.