View All | Full Screen | Photos by Miller Photography
Close to 2,000 parents, educators, students and concerned community members rallied at Sachem East High School in Suffolk County, Long Island last night to protest what would be the largest cuts to education in New York state history. Crowds for the event were so large that exit 63 of the Long Island Expressway was closed.
Organized by a coalition of parents and educators, including NYSUT local unions, the rally called on state lawmakers to oppose the $1.5 billion cut in education aid proposed in the executive budget. If passed, the cuts would devastate public schools and colleges and lead to the elimination of essential student services and programs statewide.
"The public needs to be educated about the ramifications of the cuts," said NYSUT Board member Dianne Hettrich, a Sachem Central Teachers Association retiree and one of the event organizers. "It's only by understanding their potential impact that people will be energized to reach out to their legislators and get things changed."
Originally planned as a single rally at Sachem East High, community interest was so great that loudspeakers were set up for hundreds gathered outside the school to hear the entire program.
"These cuts are horrendous, brutal and they must not stand," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice president. "Students are told to sacrifice while millionaires are in the back room smoking cigars."
"Where are my colleagues?" asked Assemblyman Steve Englebright. "The choice in the budget process is to invest or disinvest - to disinvest is to cast us into the abyss."
Amparo Sadler, a grandmother from the Central Islip district, offered a blunt assessment of education funding. "I'm mad that our kids have to compete for funding. This is not a damn game show."
Amelia Flaumenhaft, a fifth -grader in the Sayville school district, told Newsday that cuts would derail student progress: "No one will know how to do anything."
Community organizer Danielle Asher said New York state must renew the millionaire's tax. "Why should the budget be balanced on the backs of our kids?" Asher said.
"Are there any millionaires in the room?" asked John Durso of the Long Island Federation of Labor. "Everyone knows there are problems in this state, but I don't think anyone here caused them. The power to change the budget is in your hands."
Other speakers included a high school student from West Islip; a North Babylon science teacher facing layoff; a board of education member from Sachem Central and a parent advocate from Wyndanch. The sachem Board of Education was saluted by the crowd for their cooperation with the event.
John Heslin, president of the Sachem Central TA, moderated the event. Facing a $16 million loss in district aid under the proposed state budget, 450 Sachem employees, including 375 teachers, could see their jobs eliminated - 30 percent of the district's workforce. With an average tax increase of less that 1 percent per year for the last five years, and a solid relationship between the union and administrators, Heslin feels the district is under attack.
"These cuts will wipe out many of the gains in our district," he said. "I'm hoping the educational community and the parents can all stick together and let the legislators know these cuts are not fair to students."
Educate New York State will stage a series of rallies statewide over the next few weeks to protest the proposed education cuts. The next event takes place March 10, 6 p.m., at the Long Island School of the Arts in Syosset, Nassau County, Long Island.