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Quality schools in Suffolk County are at risk. That's what a group of teachers, parents, students, administrators and school board and community members who participated in the statewide "Day of Action" warned, saying their schools cannot absorb huge cuts that would eliminate teaching jobs and programs for students.
Several districts - Longwood, Riverhead, Port Jefferson Station, Lindenhurst, Patchogue-Medford, William Floyd, Sachem, Commack, Northport, Half Hollow Hills, Middle Country and Eastern Suffolk BOCES - gathered at Longwood High School to tell lawmakers how dire the situation is. If the governor's proposal to cut $1.4 billion in education aid prevails, 21 Suffolk County low-wealth school districts would see total aid cut by $68.8 million. The districts know that to impose property tax increases on communities with some of the highest foreclosure rates in the state is ludicrous.
"Albany is very confused if they think we can absorb these kinds of tax increases on Long Island," said Gail Bailey, a Longwood parent whose two sons were educated in the district.
In Longwood schools, further cuts on top of the freeze in state aid this year would put educational programs in jeopardy, officials said. Just 10 years ago, 53 percent of Longwood's budget was funded by state aid, according to information from the district. That aid now sits at 40.5 percent and would decrease to 38 percent under Paterson's proposal.
With state aid shrinking, the William Floyd School District would have to cut 140 jobs, including 50 teachers, said Superintendent Paul Casciano. "We should be focusing on closing the achievement gap and how to increase AP courses instead of how to deal with these budget cuts," he said to the more than 100 people who attended the event.
Bob Andrejkovics, who teaches fifth grade at Longwood, said the state is breaking its promise to provide opportunities for students. He is concerned about how cuts would further increase class sizes in every grade. He noted that his class now totals 27 fifth-graders. Dianne Hettrich, a retired Sachem teacher and a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, said high-needs schools and students would be hardest hit by Paterson's proposal.
Robert Hohn, a senior at Longwood High School and aspiring math teacher, said he is saddened to think other students would not enjoy the same experiences he has had. "We have everything you can offer in academics, sports, music. We have the best teachers," he said.
Gary Bixhorn, Chief Operating Officer at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, lamented the erosion of quality education in Suffolk County if cuts are imposed. "Our kids outperform everyone, but now, with these cuts, how are we going to continue that kind of quality," he said. If the cuts go forward, the county will have "an entire generation of students with lost opportunities."