May 27, 2011

Activists rally for education in Oneonta

Author: Bernie Mulligan & Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT Communications

Albany's budget cuts to schools and colleges are being felt - and fought - across the state. Over 300 educators, parents and community supporters rallied May 26 in downtown Oneonta about the real damage to schools and futures.

"I can't be the kind of teacher I want to be because I have so many students," Sandra Bright, a fifth grade teacher in the Oneonta schools told those who jammed Muller Plaza. "I love teaching science ... because of those a-ha! moments like when my students take a prism and plit white ight into a whole rainbow of colors, or discover there is a lizard that can run on water because of surface tension."

Bright admitted those "a-ha!" moments aren't coming as frequently because they demand teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving. Those are in short supply when class sizes are large and "there are so many desks and bodies I have to negotiate a maze to get to the next group."

Organized by the Oneonta Teachers Association and the United University Profession chapter at SUNY Oneonta, the event was also a stop on the Alliance for Quality Education's reality tour to expose that despite Gov. Cuomo's repeated statements that his $1.3 billion in cuts could be absorbed by districts without layoffs.

Kevin Clark, a 31-year teacher and president of the Unatego Teachers Association, helped organize 70 "teachers, clericals, friends, neighbors and retirees" from his community to attend the rally. His local has lost five positions this year, 30 over the past five years. The sole remaining librarian in his local has to cover the district's three schools.

He called on attendees to keep fighting for tax fairness because "what matters is what we do in the coming days, weeks and months ahead."

Advocates point to reports that extending the current millionaires tax could restore most of the cuts.

Gina Keel, a political science professor and UUP activist at SUNY Oneonta, said she is "appalled that even in New York, the governor and many legislators seem to think the answer to fiscal problems is tax cuts for millionaires, corporate welfare initiatives, and risking public good in the service of private profits. - all the while continuing to cut state funding to K-12 schools and higher education again and again."

Billy Easton of AQE led the crowd in a well-received chant: "1 2 3 4 Tax the rich a little more, 5 6 7 8 Our students need to graduate." Urging more lobbying of legislators, Easton told the crowd, "Tell the legislators New York is supposed to be a leader, tell them to stop moving backwards."

Phil Smith, president of the 35,000-member United University Professions, affirmed what has united educators in the budget fight this year, "Our children have a right to a good education. Cutting our schools to the benefit of those at the top is wrong."

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta called for more pressure on state decision makers in the coming weeks.

Urging the crowd to be "resilient and relentless" in lobbying legislators for budget restorations, Pallotta said, "Too many politicians have listened to millionaires and bankers, and not teachers, students and parents. Last week (in school budget votes), 94 percent of New Yorkers voted to support the schools in their communities."

"Governor Cuomo keeps talking about building a knowledge-based economy, why doesn't he fund our schools properly?" Pallotta asked.

Oneonta city council member Mike Lynch led the rally and re reminded attendees of the ties between the fight for workers' rights re-ignited by events in Madison, Wisconsin, and Oneonta's role as a proud union city.

SUNY Oneonta UUP President William Simons said the rally serves as a model for getting voice of unions and union workers out.

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