January 2012
December 21, 2011

Flood relief helps, but more is needed

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Local leaders Dan Whippo, far left, and Jim Miller, along with, from left, Owego Elementary students Brittany Sanguinito, Kaitlyn Lockwood, Amy Huang and fifth grade teacher Deidre Jones open boxes of art supplies. The United Federation of Teachers donated 200 multicolored construction paper packs, 200 sketch pads, 200 storytelling paper packs, 200 triangular crayon packs and 200 watercolor paint sets. Photo by Steve Appel.

Never in decades of teaching has Scott Gray had such a simple New Year's wish.

"I just want to be back in my classroom and that my students have the materials they need," said Gray, a technology teacher in the Middleburgh schools. "I can't begin to describe what the past four months have been like."

Middleburgh High is one of dozens of schools in 30 counties severely damaged by summer flooding in 2011. A 10-foot wave of water wiped out the high school's entire technology lab: $236,000 in tech equipment lost, just part of the $4 million cost to the Middleburgh school district. So far, only an estimated $15,000 will be covered by flood insurance.

So when lawmakers included flood relief in legislation passed in December, NYSUT worked hard to make sure schools are eligible to participate in the recovery grant program. The legislation also allows taxpayers impacted by the storms to pay their property taxes in installments, providing much-needed relief.

"It's a hard lesson that flood-related damage costs are often not covered by flood insurance, or other federal recovery programs," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

Gray, a Middleburgh TA member, never would have imagined that four months after the flood, the technology classroom would still be awaiting reinstallation of wiring and ceiling tiles and other repairs. He and colleague Dave Dickerson are teaching in other classrooms. "We just had to adjust our lessons to teach the same concepts through repairing, rather than building," Gray said. Two advanced technology courses had to be canceled because "we just didn't have the machines."

Buoying spirits in Middleburgh and hard-hit schools across the state is the generosity of NYSUT members and the community.

"It's very rewarding to continually get donations from folks," Gray said. "We got $350 from the car club, $2,000 from the Rotary, $3,000 from NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund. It all adds up."

In mid-December, UFT member Marilyn Manley delivered a vanload of gently used electronics, including TVs, VCRs and DVD players to Schoharie families. Manley was one of 50 UFTers who installed insulation in the area. When she returned to PS 65 in Queens and told her colleagues about the devastated homes, everyone at the school contributed to the effort.