February 27, 2024

Onteora Eagles: Don’t let Foundation Aid cuts clip our wings

Author: Emily Allen
Source:  NYSUT Communications
onteora parents
Caption: (Left to right) Parents Jessica Wisneski, Kara Colevas and Jenny Jared talk to NYSUT President Melinda Person about how Onteora Central School District stands to lose $3 million in the proposed stage budget, with a 38.7 percent cut to their school district's Foundation Aid. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Chatting over a cup of coffee in rural Ulster County, a group of parents proudly tell NYSUT President Melinda Person they will be attending the upcoming Bennett Elementary Jazz Band concert in the New York State Empire Plaza Concourse in Albany.

It just so happens the performance will coincide with another busy budget season as the Senate and Assembly work to pass their one-house budget bills in response to the governor’s executive budget proposal, which includes cuts to Foundation Aid that will be felt by every school district in the state.

“We should leave a viola case open with a sign asking for donations to help cover the cuts!”

They’re not joking. Jenny Jared, Jessica Wisneski and Kara Colevas all have students in the Onteora Central School District, which stands to lose over $3 million with a 38.7 percent cut to their Foundation Aid.

“It’s putting public school children on the backburner in a major way,” said Jared. “There’s no fat to trim in our schools. All our ‘extra’ programs are not extra; they’re essential. And within our school district community, we have a large population of lower-income families who could never access or afford the supports our schools offer without the district providing them for free.”

Colevas added, “I want to continue having our phenomenal teachers and staff. They are the core of our schools.”

Prior to sitting down with parents in the district, President Person met with Onteora Teachers Association leaders and district administration who addressed potential eliminations of staff, programs and student supports if the full funding is not restored.

“Worst case scenario involves layoffs and that’s a terrible culture to have where our people are anxious and stressed,” said Superintendent Victoria McLaren. “It’s putting people through a traumatic situation for no good reason and it’s a really awful thing to do.”

And time is ticking to make difficult decisions with school boards required to make their budgets available no later than May 7.

“We’ve got about six weeks before the Board has to adopt a budget and they will probably do so before the state does, so which budget do they adopt? One with state aid restored or one without?” asked Assistant Superintendent for Business Monica LaClair.

President Person assured that NYSUT will be pressing the governor and Legislature for an on-time budget and doing everything in our power to ensure it includes fully restored funding.

“The state is not in a recession,” Person said. “There’s no need for these cuts.”

Onteora HS Visit

In addition to grappling with the dire consequences of state aid cuts, Onteora CSD is already dealing with a reconfiguration plan that will close two elementary schools over the next five years; astronomical transportation costs in the mainly rural district that encompasses approximately 300 square miles; special education costs that have increased more than any other area of the district’s budget, according to McLaren; and the continued, crucial need for student mental health supports that are desperately lacking outside of the school buildings.

“My main concern comes down to our students,” said Onteora TA President Scott Via. “They are directly affected by these proposed cuts, and I don’t want to see any opportunities for them taken away, whether it’s mental health services, art and music programs, AP courses, or hands-on electives like our science of survival course.”

Onteora TA will be represented at NYSUT’s annual Committee of 100, March 4–5, and will be lobbying lawmakers with hundreds of other NYSUT activists to support public schools and students and restore funding. Join the fight and make your voice heard.