As "Cardboard Cuomo" stood silent sentinel in the foyer outside the auditorium, a sea of cheering public school supporters clad in red shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Respect Public Education, It Works" greeted speakers at the Lansing Community Forum in March. More than 200 educators, administrators, lawmakers, parents and students gathered to send a clear message to Gov. Cuomo — the current budget proposal is a disaster and must be stopped.
"Only by presenting a united front can we stop this budget," said Lansing Faculty Association President Stacie Kropp, whose local was instrumental in organizing the event at the Lansing Middle School, near Ithaca in Tompkins County. "We need parents, board members, administrators all working together."
The forum walked the walk of partnership, with six districts joining forces to rally the community in support of the union effort — Lansing Central Schools, Ithaca City Schools, Trumansburg Central Schools, Dryden Central Schools, Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES and South Seneca Schools.
Participants were urged to take action by signing a petition aimed at lawmakers to preserve local control of their districts; adequately fund schools; and to support learning, not testing; and locally designed assessments. Handouts were also distributed encouraging supporters to contact their state representatives, sign up for the NYSUT Member Action Center as well as Tuesday text alerts, and to contact the governor with their opposition to his so-called reforms.
"The strength of our communities is our schools and they are under attack," said Liz McCheyne, president of the South Seneca TA. "These cuts have snowballed over the last three years and have really hit small schools hard."
Adam Piasecki, president of the Ithaca Teachers Association, in partnership with a political action committee of Ithaca teachers and school-related professionals, brought two busloads of students to the event, many of whom publicized it as part of a class journalism assignment. "As high school students, they understand this is an issue impacting them as well," said Piasecki.
Jamie Dangler, vice president of United University Professions, NYSUT's local representing members at SUNY campuses and hospitals, highlighted higher education's shared commitment to fighting back against the governor's budget proposal. "In higher education, as well as in K-12, Pearson is raking in the dough while young people are being discouraged from entering the teaching profession," said Dangler. "I'm honored to stand side-by-side with my K-12 brothers and sisters to make sure the governor knows that he's wrong."
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, encouraged participants to keep up the pressure on the governor and pledged her support for increasing education aid, maintaining local school control and a reduced focus on standardized tests. "The governor needs to feel the pressure of the people," she said.
Other speakers included union leaders and administrators from each participating district, a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-23, and a number of community supporters.
NYSUT Board of Directors member Catherine Savage, who moderated the event, cited the collaboration of parents, teachers, students and administrators as one of the few positives of the governor's attacks on education. "It's made us more unified," said Savage. "We're sticking together and fighting the good fight."
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The forum in Lansing wasn't the only pro-public education event taking place Thursday night. Activists took a stand at forums, rallies - and even a "bowling spectacular" - in communities all across New York State. Yes, just another Thursday night during budget season 2015.