On May 17, vote for what kids need in their classrooms, in their schools and in their communities.
That's the message NYSUT sends this month as the statewide union, through a series of regional radio ad campaigns, is encouraging the public and especially its members to vote.
In careful consultation with local and regional leaders, NYSUT found a wide disparity in what it means to cut $1.2 billion from nearly 700 districts. In some regions, budget cuts will erase years of progress. In others, school districts had reserves they could tap to spare programs.
"On May 17, taxpayers have the chance to say whether they agree with a school budget that invests in our children and invests in the future, or they disagree with a budget that is destructive for our communities," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "Voting is an important part of the process this year and NYSUT locals must make voters aware of the impact a 'yes' or 'no' vote can have on kids and programs."
When budgets fail, districts are allowed one revote, but most often they adopt a contingency budget — capped this year at 1.92 percent.
Union leaders ask voters to consider what would be lost under an austerity budget when deciding whether to support or oppose budget proposals.
"A 'no' vote could mean an even more draconian budget situation," said Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.
Under a contingency budget, a district may fund only prescribed items. Some expenses, such as those for voter-approved capital projects and expenditures attributable to increases in enrollment, are exempt from the contingency budget cap.
Any district revotes will be held on June 21.
As NYSUT United went to press, districts were up against deadlines for setting property tax report cards and completing budgets, but the preliminary drafts are drab at best.
Numerous districts plan to cut or eliminate programs, lay off teachers and other support staff and even close schools. In New York City, where residents, like in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, don't have the right to vote on school budgets, the mayor says he will lay off 4,600 teachers. Statewide projections call for an additional 10,000 layoffs of instructional staff.
Local unions across the state have sacrificed raises or agreed to increase payments toward health insurance to help save jobs and programs in their districts.
In the coming weeks, locals have a variety of options to get their message out to voters in their districts.
Postcards are an effective, inexpensive tool for reaching voters. NYSUT has developed downloadable postcards local unions can bring to a union printer in their area. Members and parents can address the cards together and mail them to district voters in the days before May 17.
Just as effective are phone calls. A number of local unions will run special nights for members to get together to make calls. Some local unions sponsor art and music shows the days leading up to, or the day of, the vote to showcase student efforts. Check with your union to find out about your local's efforts.