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Seventh-grade students from Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady listened to the somber news on March 4 about what proposed state budget cuts to education will spell out for them. They were surrounded by teachers, the school superintendent, parents, a retired teacher, the president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, school board members and School-Related Professionals on March 4 as part of a statewide "Day of Action" to oppose Governor Paterson's proposal to cut $1.4 billion in education aid.
The cuts would mean a total deficit of $11.5 million for Schenectady, said SFT president Juliet Benaquisto.
It means jobs will be lost, programs will be eliminated and class sizes will increase, she said..
It means there might not be a high school business program. The last budget proposal "wiped out the entire business program," Benaquisto said, before funds were restored.
It means there might not be librarians for the 18 elementary school libraries in the Schenectady district; all of these, and the jobs of 13 elementary school librarians, were targeted last year.
Teacher Walt Mahoski said he was particularly worried about the future of arts programs that are not state-mandated and vulnerable to cuts.
"Arts is where some students are able to feel some instant success," he said. "It's not an 'extra.' It's a vital piece." For some students who struggle with other academic subjects, excelling in art allows them "to be lifted up and shown as an example." Schenectady High School is known for its stellar arts program, which includes dance, sculpting, theater, drawing and printmaking.
Schenectady School Superintendent Eric Ely spent the morning at the state Capitol meeting with legislators to help them see how much the proposed budget cuts would hurt. He said Schenectady has narrowed its achievement gap 75% in the last four years.
"I would encourage the politicians to put partisanship aside," he said.
"These cuts are on top of the broken promise of reversing the effects of our state chronically underfunding schools as determined through the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in New York State's highest court," Benaquisto said. "Last year's state budget gave a 0% increase in these funds and this year we face further reductions. When is enough, enough?"
New York, she said, has to align its priorities.
"Our schools have been making steady progress, as indicated by the increasing levels of students achieving success on state-mandated testing," Benaquisto said. At Van Corlear Elementary Schools, 92% of students are now meeting state-mandated performance levels - an increase of 20% over last year. Mont Pleasant Middle School now has 70% of students reaching the state goals, an increase across grade levels of 25%.
"I want them to have an education comparable to what my seven children had in the city of Schenectady. They got a good education here," said retired music teacher Myron Hermance, looking at the students. Three of his children now teach in the district.