Donna Noesci of the Middle Country Teachers Association had to raise her voice to be heard over the music, the car horns and the chants of thousands of grassroots activists gathered in Holbrook Monday.
"It's a perfect storm right now," she said. "With the APPR problems, the testing and the roll out of the Common Core, and the GEA (gap elimination adjustment)... something's gotta give."
The rally was a Long Island uprising organized by Connetquot TA President Tony Felicio focused on Gov. Cuomo's education policies. Picketers marched outside near a Suffolk County Democratic Committee dinner where Cuomo was speaking.
"I teach special education (ninth grade) and my concern is that some of my students are not going to graduate high school now," said Three Villages TA's Sue Garcia, "because of the current spate of education reform policies, the lack of state aid and the impact of the tax cap and tax freeze. How do I explain that to them?" Garcia turned out with her husband, Eddie, also a TVTA member, and their enormous dog, Brooklyn.
Deer Park TA President Bruce Sander was a businessman before he became a teacher 14 years ago. He said the state's current model for education funding just doesn't add up.
"Every year, we have more mandatory costs, and less funding, more mandatory costs, and less funding," he said. "It's destroying us."
Rose Champion, a music teacher and member of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, brought her 2-1/2-year-old, pigtailed twin daughters to the rally in a tandem stroller.
"I would like my job to go back the way it was", she said, "and I don't want my kids to go through it like this." Champion cited the diminished support for music and the arts and the increased pressure on kids to perform and pass tests.
"The powers-that-be have forgotten we're dealing with children - not testing or profits - who are organic, changing human beings, as are teachers," said Deirdre Bambrick, a second-grade teacher from Herricks TA. "I would like to invite any of these lawmakers to come spend an ordinary day in my second-grade classroom," she said. She is sure that priorities would change.
Ron Gross, president of the William Floyd United Teachers, explained that his district has the lowest property wealth of any district on Long Island, and it has lost $36 million in state aid due to the GEA over the past three years. In 2010-11, it absorbed a hit of nearly $9 million and laid off 100 teachers who have never been replaced. WFUT has had to go to court to correct the inaccurate results of the first APPR agreement. Their first year produced skewed ratings, but it's official, because there was no trial period.
"We worked with our district to get it done. We tried it for the very first time, and it counted. And a lot of educators got hurt," he said. "We didn't even have crash test dummies."
"I want the schools to get what they deserve," said Talia Mochi-Cliffe of the BOCES Educators of Eastern Suffolk. "We need what DOES work to be properly funded. We're already doing awesome things, and we're doing it with bare bones. Imagine what we could do if we had the funding we deserve."