Photo by Michael J. Okoniewski
Hundreds of educators, parents, students, administrators, school board members and lawmakers rocked the Lyncourt School in Syracuse Wednesday to demand what "All Kids Need" from Gov. Cuomo.
The auditorium, the upstairs balcony and even the second-floor media center with a closed-circuit feed, were standing room only, with crowds spilling into the hallways. As friends, neighbors, teachers and school leaders took turns at the microphone, the crowd punctuated the proceedings with explosive bursts of prolonged applause, hoots and hollers.
"Gov. Cuomo's 'reforms' will further hurt our schools, our teachers and ultimately, and most importantly, our children," said Kristan Wager, a mother of three, former teacher and emcee of the evening. "They are not reforms, but a hijacking of local control, funding dollars and education."
"We believe teachers should teach, administrators should administrate and boards should govern," said Michael McCole, president of the Auburn Enlarged School Board. "Some of us still believe in the quaint concept that we know what's best for our children and our community." He called for an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has cost his district $24 million dollars over the past five years.
Speaker after speaker protested Cuomo's "reform agenda" that he has tied to school aid increases in this year's state budget. The governor's missing the essential points: Schools are starved for resources, overburdened by ineffective, destructive standardized testing and handcuffed by a lack of autonomy. This is especially difficult in a time when children need high quality programs more than ever.
"We must prepare our children for careers that we have not yet imagined, nor had the need for in the past," said Pamela Herrington, a high school science teacher from East Syracuse-Minoa.
NYSUT Board members helped organize the grassroots forum, including Chittenango Teachers Association President Andy Voigt, Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern, Solvay Teachers Association President Mike Emmi, Retiree Council 7 President Loretta Donlon.
Participants completed petitions demanding local control, adequately funding for schools and limitless learning, not endless testing. They filled out postcards addressed to legislators urging them to stand up to the governor. The local media turned out in droves.
People were notably upset with Cuomo's plan to more than double the weight of test scores on teacher evaluations. Many students will never be able to measure success on these tests, said a number of speakers, including parents.
"Whether they're students with disabilities or English Language Learners or students from impoverished areas, they need extra tools, extra staff, extra everything to help them succeed," said Phil Cleary, a teacher from North Syracuse and a NYSUT political activist.
Michael Lyons, United University Professions chapter president at Upstate Health Sciences Center in Syracuse, raised the spectre of the state's new teacher prep plans, "which are horrible." He pointed out that the governor wants to continue years of chronic underfunding. The Cuomo budget would cut operating aid by 10 percent across the board for the university.
All the comments aside, the electric enthusiasm in the room sent a clear message to Albany, Wager said.
"Our kids matter! And you matter! You showed up to show the governor and lawmakers how much you care!"
Regional forums are slated all over the state in the coming weeks. Check with your local president or NYSUT Regional Office to find one near you and be there to stand up for public education and for what #AllKidsNeed.