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Educators protest cuts to schools at regional forum

Five districts converge to bemoan slashes in state aid alongside tax cap

South Colonie Board of Education President Leonard Motto delivers closing remarks during a forum on Thursday, Oct. 18, at Sand Creek Middle School, with area five school districts protesting state funding reductions to education.

South Colonie Board of Education President Leonard Motto delivers closing remarks during a forum on Thursday, Oct. 18, at Sand Creek Middle School, with area five school districts protesting state funding reductions to education. Photo by John Purcell.

— “I don’t think it is acceptable to defund public school education,” Buhner said. “It is not smart and it is not acceptable to me as a superintendent, as a taxpayer and as a person who lives in this state.”

Buhner agreed the tax cap will help control costs “over time,” but said defunding schools is different. Other district representatives at the forum shared his sentiment.

“The GEA has been bad news for school districts and their budgets,” said Niskayuna Central School District Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois. “The gap elimination adjustment was the method by which our elected officials reduced state aid payments previously promised to school districts.”

Bourgeois said schools used state aid as a basis to craft budgets and he urged lawmakers to restore funding to provide the level of education a community values. He was one of the educators to protest not the spirit of the state tax cap, but the fact a supermajority vote is needed to override it.

“A democracy shouldn’t require a 60 percent approval for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Bourgeois said. “School districts have always had the responsibility to put forth a responsible budget that provides the programs and services that will promote student success.”

The new law’s provision is a contingency budget must include no tax increase puts schools between a rock and a hard place, he added.

Schenectady Board of Education President Cathy Lewis said keeping budget cuts away from children is only getting more difficult, with the district closing a middle school last year.

“We tried to keep program cuts out of the picture — keep cuts as far away from the young people as possible — but the nuances of some of what we have done is becoming more and more apparent,” Lewis said.

Over the last three school years, she said the district has eliminated around 110 positions and closed two schools. She said the school has a “bare bones budget” and cuts to programming is the only option left.

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