March 24, 2011

Educators to lawmakers: Keep New York’s education legacy alive

Source: NYSUT Newswire

NYSUT members from across the state descended on the state capitol on Tuesday urging lawmakers to make a better choice. With many schools set to lose much more than the 2.7 percent touted in the executive budget proposal, educators said schools may not be able to recover from a $1.5 billion cut to education. And one-house budget proposals from the Senate and Assembly are a start, but don’t go far enough.

“Our district is losing 17 percent in state funding. What can you do to fill that hole?” Jason Carter, president of the Wayne TA, asked Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Rochester.

The Syracuse district is scheduled to open a new school in September. Meanwhile, 249 educators recently received layoff notices - 580 may be let go. “The governor says the cuts are being made equitably,” Ed O’Rourke of the Syracuse TA said. “It’s not the same as fair and we need fairness.”

In office after office, more than 600 grassroots education activists from NYSUT’s Committee of 100 made the case that a budget plan calling for massive cuts to education while also giving a multi-billion dollar tax break to the wealthiest New Yorkers is far from fair.

“This budget puts a lot of people on unemployment,” said John Nichols from the East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers.

Justin Bird, a teacher from Jamesville-Dewitt, near Syracuse, agreed. “The problem is the people with no disposable income are taking the brunt of the cuts.” Add to that schools struggling to deal with the second consecutive year of decreased state support and public services, including health care, also preparing to take a hit. Bird told Assemblyman Sam Roberts, D-Syracuse, he fears the situation will only get worse if lawmakers don’t step in and make significant restorations.

“I’m selling my house. I’m leaving because it’s not going to get better,” Bird said.

As lawmakers enter the final stretch of budget negotiations, NYSUT members were hoping to make the legislators see the human impact of their decisions. Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a vocal proponent of schools and supporter of extending the so-called millionaires’ tax, offered encouragement.

Englebright urged educators to keep impressing upon lawmakers the importance of the income tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest citizens over harmful cuts to education and other services. The Assembly did include a version of the millionaires’ tax in its budget bill.

“Senator Bonacic (RC-Mount Hope) has  come over. Senators need to understand if they don’t find other revenue sources then they have failed and they will be held accountable,” Englebright said. “It ain’t over til it’s over. Your presence here is timely.”

Loretta Donlon, a Syracuse TA retiree and member of the NYSUT Board of Directors urged lawmakers to really think about what’s at stake.

“ We’re building an intellectual product. Has anyone taken the time to see how much it will cost to have no production? We want you to keep our legacy.”