By Holly Crocco
Advocates recently gathered at the Mahopac High School to denounce Albany’s attempt to make local school districts pay for the required changing of mascots and logos that include Native American names and imagery, which the state Board of Regents has deemed offensive.
The ban forces more than 50 districts across the state to remove and replace their school mascots and logos, or at least have a plan of action to do so, by the end of the 2024-25 school year. No financial aid from the state will be provided to help districts make the transition.
“They’re threatening to withhold nearly $30 million of absolutely necessary state aid to ensure that the Mahopac School District actually complies with this, and to make it ever worse than that, they’re making the school district foot the bill,” said Assemblyman Matt Slater, R-Yorktown, on April 28.
According to Slater, changing the mascot and the accompanying logo on all facilities, clothing, vehicles and elsewhere throughout the district will cost an estimated half-a-million dollars.
“This is really the typical big government unfunded mandate obsession that we’ve seen out of Albany time and time again,” he said. “It disrespects taxpayers, it ignores local elected officials and our duly-elected school board, and it takes the conversation out of the hands of the people who call this great community home.”
Slater said the district needs every dollar to go into the classrooms, and toward facility upgrades, increase programing and filling the education gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and not wasted on changing a decades-old logo. He has introduced legislation in the Assembly that would reimburse districts for the costs associated with selecting new logos or mascots.
“It shouldn’t be on the backs of our taxpayers, and most importantly, shouldn’t be taking dollars out of the classrooms in order to accomplish this,” said Slater.
Superintendent of Schools Christine Tona said the mandate will have “significant financial implications, which would pull needed resources from our budget and, ultimately, our programs that directly affect our students.”
School board member Tanner McCracken said the state has gotten too comfortable requiring local governmental entities to implement policies without any support.
“This is something the state will do every year,” he said. “They’ll tell us to do something but they won’t supply the funds for it. So we believe that we should always have money from the state to fund these unfunded mandates. The state is bringing this burden on Mahopac. They should bare it.”
Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne said bureaucrats in Albany have an obligation to make sure districts have the resources to make the changes being required by the state.
“The Board of Regents is not elected by the people of Putnam County or the Mahopac School District,” he said. “The State Education Department is not elected by the people of New York. The State Legislature is. The school board is. They are the ones that should be empowered to make local decisions. They are the ones you have access to.”
Carmel Town Supervisor Mike Cazzari noted that the mandate isn’t only a burden for school districts, but also for seniors and other residents who may see their taxes go up so the district can comply with the mandate.
“If Albany wants something, send us a check for it,” added Town councilman Frank Lombardi.