ALBANY, N.Y. February 2, 2010 - New York State United Teachers today detailed for a joint legislative committee the devastating toll the proposed education budget would have on students and their schools, saying Gov. David Paterson's spending plan would trigger program cuts and property tax increases while erasing the progress schools have made toward ending the achievement gap.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi called on legislators to reject the governor's $1.4 billion in education cuts. He said continuing to invest in education is the best way to transform New York's economy and stimulate job growth, particularly in upstate communities bedeviled by high unemployment. Iannuzzi said the governor's goal of a "knowledge economy" built around high-tech jobs cannot be reached if the state budget forces layoffs and eliminates the vital programs students and teachers need.
"The next generation of New York's workers must come from New York's public schools and universities, not from other states or other nations," Iannuzzi said. "The business community demands it, and our education system must have the resources to meet that demand. The promise of a knowledge economy without an investment in knowledge is a hollow promise."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, in testimony to the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, said school districts eliminated more than 5,000 teaching and support staff positions last year - a blow softened only by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which the Obama administration credits with saving 18,600 education jobs in New York.
Pallotta said this year's executive budget - even with additional federal stimulus money - would mean more deep pain for students and schools. Already, he said, school boards and superintendents are projecting larger class sizes, elimination of art, music and other important programs, job losses, as well as large property tax increases. He said, for example:
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is warning that the governor's budget plan would mean 8,500 fewer teachers next year, greatly increasing class sizes in already overcrowded classrooms. After-school programs would be curtailed and remedial services would likely be reduced.
In Albany, district officials are projecting that the governor's plan, if approved, would mean the elimination of more than 100 positions, as well as program cuts and building closures.
In the Wyandanch district on Long Island, which laid off reading teachers and support staff last year, the district would now cut additional teachers, AP courses, summer school, sports teams and busing to address a $1 million shortfall in state aid.
North Rockland has cut 99 positions in the last three years, while in South Glens Falls, the superintendent says a "heavy duty" tax increase may be unavoidable because of a $3 million cut.
Pallotta said cuts - in those school districts and elsewhere - would erode the positive effects of the stimulus package while wiping out the academic gains schools have made, including significant progress toward ending the achievement gap. He noted that New York is already $4.2 billion behind in its court-ordered obligation to fully fund schools, especially those where students in poverty have been denied access to the programs and resources they need.
"Adding resources fairly to public schools across the state, with an extra commitment in areas of high need, was and continues to be the right priority for both children and taxpayers," Pallotta said. "The proposed cuts are on top of an already broken promise to our school children. While we understand the tough fiscal times the state and our nation are experiencing, keeping the promise to our school children is the right choice for our state."
To avoid crippling cuts to schools, the 600,000-member union proposed lawmakers amend the state's Stock Transfer Tax, an existing sales tax on stock transactions which, currently, is fully rebated to Wall Street brokers. NYSUT said if 80 percent of the $16 billion raised annually by the stock transfer tax was rebated, the state would not only reduce trading volatility, but collect $3.2 billion in new revenue to support education and health care.
NYSUT wants lawmakers to use new funding to restore the governor's cuts, restart the Foundation Formula and minimally provide the level of resources for our schools adopted in the 2010-11 Regents Aid proposal, a $469 million year-to-year increase. Pallotta said NYSUT would work, as always, with legislators from both parties on a final education budget that protects students and taxpayers.
"The governor's proposal is the first word in the annual budget battle," he said. "Legislators from both parties clearly understand the impact this proposal would have on the ability of schools to meet the needs of students. We are counting on them to improve this spending plan to ensure that the final budget - the last word - meets the needs of our public schools."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.