News Coverage on Education
Schools teeter on edge of cliffPaul Nelson
NISKAYUNA — The executive director of the state Council of School Superintendents told an audience of educators and concerned residents from the Capital Region that "more school districts are closer to their fiscal cliff today than ever before."
That dire prediction Monday from Robert Reidy came during a presentation and discussion focused on advocacy that was part civics lesson and part budget primer for the large crowd assembled at Niskayuna High School.
"I wonder what the education of our children's children will be like in the future," said Reidy, who along with the council's Robert Lowry Jr. and Kyle McCauley Belokopitksy urged the hundreds assembled to let their voices be heard by telling their personal stories to their elected officials.
Belokopitsky, the council's assistant director for government relations, told the crowd to make it their new part-time job, even when school is not in session, to become an advocate for education in the name of their children, their neighbors' children and their community. "You really have to take an active part in advocacy," she added, noting the council has many allies, including NYSUT, BOCES, The Business Counciland NFIB.
While Lowry, the council's deputy director, acknowledged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget was more positive than the organization anticipated, he said it still leaves school districts with a lot of financial uncertainties.
As a result, the message to legislative leaders should be to eliminate the gap elimination adjustment, provide meaningful mandate relief and adequate state aid to education, Lowry said.
He outlined what he called the "three moving pieces" in the spending plan related to schools as the $322 million gap elimination budget, the $50 million high tax aid and $289 million in everything else.
Afterward, Guilderland School Board member Judy Slack said she routinely hears complaints about money and unfunded state mandates from residents in her district.
She cited the federal Race to the Top Program that the district has spent $170,000 on this year alone but has only received $30,000 in funding in the past four years. The program was created to spur innovation and reforms in state and local districts from kindergarten through grade 12.
Kathleen Bushek, an elementary school art teacher in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, left Monday's meeting feeling buoyed.
"Our district has been especially hard hit and its really been hard to keep it positive and help the community understand what it means to be a teacher," said Bushek, noting she recorded the meeting on her iPad.
"I need some ammunition and I got it tonight." Bushek, who attended the event with her daughter, Genevieve and husband, Joe, plans to take that ammunition to her Parent Teacher Association meeting Tuesday.
Fifteen-year-old Genevieve said she has watched teachers being laid off, and now there is talk about eliminating some junior varsity softball and soccer among other sports in her local school district.
"A lot of kids are depressed and some have even changed school districts," she added.
The meeting also featured a social media advocacy component with two communication specialists discussing an media campaign through their Educationspeaks.org.