March 04, 2010

School aid cuts in Troy would be 'catastrophic'

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT News Wire

View All | Full Screen | Photos by Andrew Watson

Inside Troy High School, there is a classroom where computers sit unused, drafting tables collect dust and the desks are empty. The room, in fact, has been vacant all school year - a casualty of the state budget cuts that slashed $3 million in aid from the Troy district this year and led to the elimination of 47 positions, including the high school's only technology education teacher.

"We cannot lose sight of the importance of education by over-emphasizing the importance of a dollar," said Travon Jackson, a Troy High School junior who, on March 4, was part of a statewide "Day of Action" to oppose Governor Paterson's proposal to cut $1.4 billion in education aid.

Jackson said students - already upset by the loss of teachers with whom they had strong bonds - now fear losing more teachers and academic programs. Under the governor's proposed spending plan for 2010-2011, the Troy City School District would lose another $3 million in funding.

"Catastrophic," is how Kathleen Slezak, a district administrator and president of the Troy Administrators Association, characterizes the governor's proposed cuts. Local taxpayers, she said, will be hit especially hard in a district such as Troy, where more than 60 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced lunch and nearly 50 percent of the property in the city is tax-exempt.

Superintendent F. Atiba-Weza said the district is weighing options that include: significant reductions in teachers and other staff, essential academic and interscholastic program cuts, and a potential property tax hike of 33 percent in the event the governor's proposed reductions are not rejected.

Mark Walsh, president of the Troy Teachers Association, said the governor's "short-term fix" for the state's budget deficit will have "long-term implications" for students, schools and taxpayers.

"People are leaving New York state because their taxes are too high," said Walsh. "Our public education system is this state's golden apple and we need to hold onto it." Seth Cohen, a high school science teacher in Troy and former president of the TTA, agreed. "This is not just a union issue, or an administrators' issue, or a student or parent issue. It's a public issue."

Still reeling from the staff and program cuts caused by the reduction in aid in the last state budget, Troy officials say the district has been forced to increase the number of students in elementary school classes and eliminate its Theater Arts program, as well as several technology classes and business courses that aimed to prepare students for today's challenging job market.

Jackson, meanwhile, worries about his future - especially given the fact the governor's budget cuts also include the proposed elimination of hundreds of millions of dollars for the state's public higher eduction system.

"I'm not only concerned about the impact these cuts will have on my education now, but how they will affect my future," he said. "A dollar should not hold more weight than a diploma."

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