ALBANY, N.Y. February 15, 2011 - New York State United Teachers, in a blitz designed to coincide with the union's testimony opposing $1.5 billion in proposed education cuts, is bringing hundreds of rank-and-file educators to Albany today. Teachers and support staff, along with college faculty and professionals, will urge elected legislators to reject education cuts and share the pressing message: "Don't erase our progress."
More than 300 teachers and other education activists are expected to call on their hometown legislators in their Albany offices. They will present them with chalkboard erasers asking them not to erase the progress students have made, while sharing with them stories about how deep budget cuts would impact programs, student achievement and the state's fragile economic recovery.
The 600,000-member union noted that on Monday, a new Siena Research Institute poll showed New Yorkers staunchly oppose the proposed education cuts, and strongly support extending the income tax surcharge on the wealthiest residents.
"Teachers and others who work in our public schools and colleges are taxpayers, too, and they understand that New York's fiscal crisis is serious," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Educators have rolled up their sleeves and done the hard work to provide cost-savings to their districts, while still protecting student programs and ensuring that classroom professionals are treated fairly. Now, it's time for the governor and Legislature to step up and protect public schools and colleges from even greater harm, and to ensure that the notion of 'shared sacrifice' includes all New Yorkers, including the most affluent."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta's testimony to legislators noted a drop-off in federal aid, abandonment of the state's promise to fully fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision and the threat of an ill-conceived tax cap are squeezing school districts, creating a 'perfect storm' exacerbated by $1.5 billion in proposed budget cuts. He said the governor's proposed budget, if enacted, would balloon class sizes; deprive students of art, music and the services of guidance counselors; and lead to the elimination of extracurricular activities in many communities.
"The Executive Budget proposal alone would devastate our schools," he said. "The cuts in this proposal would be the worst in a generation."
Pallotta added early reports from school districts are chilling:
The Syracuse City School District is contending with a $47 million budget gap. If the Executive Budget proposal to slash $14 million in school aid to the city stands, officials project at least 539 job cuts, including 165 teachers, 156 teaching assistants, and 15 administrators and supervisors.
The Sachem School District on Long Island, facing a $16 million cut in state aid, is looking at slashing some 450 positions or 30 percent of their entire staff.
In the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, which is facing a $6 million budget gap, state aid to the district would drop by $1.4 million under the governor's proposed spending plan. As a result, officials are reviewing all non-mandated programs for possible elimination, including kindergarten, gifted and talented programs, electives, co-curricular activities, as well as increasing class sizes.
The Yonkers school district is facing a $17.5 million cut in state aid and as such, the potential elimination of 100 teachers and 100 School Related Professionals. As a result of last year's cuts, Yonkers already suffered the evisceration of art, music, athletics and critical student support services. Music and visual arts would be reduced to intermittent instruction at the elementary level and many will not receive art or music instruction. Already two departments, Instruction/Curriculum and Reading/Language Development, have been eliminated. The district's guidance counselor/student ratio will increase from the already absurd maximum counselor caseload of 1:1,000, stretching those services even thinner.
Cuts like the ones proposed in Syracuse, Sachem, Buffalo and Yonkers would negatively impact students and the progress they are making, Pallotta said.
"NYSUT has made it clear it is willing to work, as partners, at the state and local level to preserve essential services," Pallotta said. "It should be absolutely clear, however, we can't cut our way to educational excellence, and New York voters understand that as well. They also understand that as deep cuts are proposed for education, the wealthiest 3 percent of New Yorkers would enjoy a multi-billion dollar tax cut - which they resoundingly oppose."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.