March 16, 2010

'Committee of 100' education advocates call for end to damaging budget cuts

Source: NYSUT News Wire

View All | Full Screen | Photos by El-Wise Noisette and Andrew Watson

Educators from Brentwood to Buffalo descended on the state Capitol today, urging lawmakers to reject more than $1.7 billion in damaging cuts to schools, colleges and universities.

"These are difficult times, but there are better choices to be made," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said.

More than 600 NYSUT advocates participated in the union's Committee of 100 advocacy day.

First-time advocate and Albany Public School Teachers Association Vice President Jim Grove arrived shortly after helping Albany High School teachers dealing with potential layoff letters. His frustration as he prepared to meet with legislators was clear.

"How are we supposed to fix our schools - as they demand more, they take away more from us," Grove said.

That frustration was evident in many of the dozens of meetings that NYSUT members held with lawmakers as educators across the state are facing layoffs, overcrowded classrooms and fewer opportunities for students.

"The most vulnerable kids keep being placed at ever-higher risk," said Dan Gottfried, a social worker from the Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES.

With schools crafting budget plans based on the governor's proposal, union members implored legislators to work together toward a resolution of the budget and urged them to pass the job-saving 55/25 early-retirement option legislation promised as part of the agreement to create a new retirement tier.

Jeanne Lewis, a 25-year history teacher from South Lewis High School in the North Country, told Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo, "We need you to pass a budget in a timely fashion. Young people are waiting to decide their future, in every one of our schools." 

Cairenn Broderick, president of the White Plains TA, said 26 veteran teachers have announced their intention to retire if the 55/25 option is passed. Those retirements would go a long way to saving some of the more than 40 announced cuts in teaching staff.

"If 55/25 doesn't go through, the penalties will make it not worthwhile for them to retire," Broderick told Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer.

While lawmakers talked about the difficulties facing the state, including a newly announced deficit of $9.2 billion, there was some hope. The Senate recently passed a mandate relief package, which would include help for those districts facing a contingency budget. And several lawmakers expressed their strong support for education.

"There have to be restorations," Sen. Antoine Thompson told members from his western New York district. "I'm not willing to back down." 

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