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In the North County, where most of the small, rural school districts rely on state aid for more than half their budget revenue, personnel and programs will take a major hit if Gov. Paterson's proposal to cut $1.4 billion in education aid stands, educators agree.
The tiny Tupper Lake district would lose nearly one-quarter of its 135-member instructional staff, most of its high school electives, arts and music education and early reading intervention programs, Superintendent Seth McGowan said during the statewide "Day of Action."
The North Country news event took place at Peru Central Schools in Clinton County, where 25 positions are at stake, according to Bob Rizos, president of the Peru Association of Teachers.
"They're saying they don't want to cut programs or staff," Rizos said, "but we're waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Some high school elective courses, like Rizos' advanced French class, might be scheduled every other year, rather than annually. Class sizes would increase at all levels, Superintendent A. Paul Scott said.
Plattsburgh Teachers Association President Rod Sherman, a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, said the needs of the districts are simple. "We want the Legislature to restore the governor's proposed $1.4 billion in education aid cuts," he said. The proposed cuts, he noted, come on top of last year's freeze in funds state lawmakers had put in place in 2007 to satisfy a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that the state had been underfunding its public schools.
While it claims the distinction of having the lowest income and property wealth in the state, with 75 percent of its students on free or reduced-price lunches, the tiny Salmon River district also has a federally designated "blue ribbon" elementary school that could be jeopardized.
"That designation was due to good teachers, who make it work," said Superintendent Jane Collins. She told reporters that some 20 job cuts are currently projected in Salmon River, which depends on state and federal funding for 95 percent of its revenue.