FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Small and rural communities: Save our schools from disaster
ALBANY, N.Y. February 29, 2012 — Representatives of entire school communities — from superintendents and teachers to parents and students — will converge on Albany from small city and rural upstate districts today to make a desperate plea to state legislators: Save our schools from disaster.
Some 800 New Yorkers from small cities and rural school districts — many of whom boarded buses at 5 a.m. for the long journey to Albany — will tell legislators that three consecutive years of state cuts have pushed their schools to the edge. Deep budget cuts and the draconian property tax cap have already led to layoffs among teachers, administrators and staff; exhaustion of district reserve funds; and the elimination of programs like Advanced Placement courses, music, physical education — and these small school districts can't take it anymore.
The lobbying activity will include a forum in The Egg at the Empire State Plaza beginning at 11 a.m. Legislators from the North Country, Mohawk Valley and other rural parts of the state are expected to attend. The event is being co-sponsored by New York State United Teachers, Alliance for Quality Education and New York State Association of Small City School Districts.
"The very presence of teachers, students, board members and school leaders from the North Country and other rural areas of the state shows that schools are the lifeblood of these local communities, the fabric that helps hold towns and villages together," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Greater state support for education is essential to help restore programs that students in these small and rural communities need to graduate, go on to college, as well as stabilize local economies by investing in the middle class."
"Three consecutive years of state cuts to education hurt students all across the state, but the pain is being felt most acutely in small and rural communities that don't have the tax base to support the programs their students need," added NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. He noted that a budget proposal to "turn $250 million in funding into competitive grants hurts these areas even more because many of these districts can't afford Advanced Placement programs or art and music, let alone someone to write grant applications for the state funding their districts should receive based on need alone."
About 250 students, parents and school leaders from Ogdensburg, Massena, Potsdam, St. Lawrence and other North Country districts boarded buses early this morning. Delegations from flood-ravaged Schoharie County, the Hudson Valley, Capital District and other communities are also joining the effort.
"The cuts to students in my rural community are devastating," said Schoharie Teachers Association President Martin Messner. With much of the state funding in this year's budget proposal earmarked for emergency generators, "When you get down to the details on how this budget impacts the classroom, our district's cuts include: reduction to half-day kindergarten, elementary class size increases, physical education class size increases, cuts to social studies, science, library, music, guidance counseling, social work, library services and teaching assistants and aides. It gets worse, because even after all those cuts, our district still has a $343,000 budget hole to fill so that's why we are here to ask lawmakers to restore aid to our schools."
NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who helps concentrate support for the hundreds of local NYSUT affiliates in small and rural communities, noted, "We must continue to fight for an increase in funding for New York's schools. Small city and rural schools have been especially hard hit, and are already reeling from deep cuts in programs and staff. We must fight for the resources for all of the students in New York. Our small city and rural school districts are not only facing devastating cuts, but the possibility of insolvency. We are calling on the Legislature to restore the full $1.3 billion in education aid that was cut last year, and redirect the $250 million in competitive grant funding contained in the governor's proposed budget back into school aid."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.