By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star
---- — A group from Unatego Central School was among the participants at an Albany rally Wednesday seeking state action for financial challenges facing schools.
The 17 participants from Unatego, including students, teachers and administrators, were among 700 people from around the state who were brought to the state capital for “The Educate NY Now” event. Held on the lawn of the Capitol building, speakers called upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to address the fiscal crisis facing state schools and fulfill the state’s court-ordered commitment to increase the share of funding for neediest school districts, according to a media release. Cuomo will propose a spending plan next month that the legislature will consider before approving a state budget. The deadline for it is April 1.
The Unatego district has lost about $3 million over the past 3 years, Unatego Superintendent Charles Molloy. The funds came largely from yearly gap elimination adjustments that the state takes from each district’s aid to balance its budget.
“We can’t afford to make further cuts,” Molloy said. Last year the district reorganized its two elementary schools to help make up the shortfall. It faces closing one of the buildings and cutting non-mandated programs if similar cuts are made to state aid for 2012-13.
“The group’s effort are certainly needed to make Albany and the broader community aware of the problem,” Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said. He met with the group for about an hour at the state museum before the rally.
“It is a passionate group that is focused on insuring our children have a future with the proper education,” he said. The process of funding schools is “disjointed” and does not bring the necessary stakeholders into the equation, he said. With resources scarce since the economic downturn, “the challenge will be to transform the status quo so we can provide a quality education on a sustained basis.”
In order to do this, Albany has to move away from the current method of school funding and “focus on providing a comprehensive package of legislative and budgetary measures that will help stabilize the situation and move forward.” This includes improving the state aid formula to provide adequate funding for rural schools, fulfilling the state promise of substantive mandate relief and providing schools with more flexibility in meeting their needs, he said.
Unatego junior class president Ryan Carson spoke about the issues at the rally, Molloy said. Getting on the bus, Carson said he was involved with a similar effort last year in Albany.
“It’s important to keep pressure on legislators or nothing will get done.”
High school government teacher Jennifer Mileski was also on the trip.
“This is a great example of participation in government at its best,” she said. She said she’s deeply concerned about the inequities in the state aid formula that fail to meet the needs of upstate school’s.
Sen. James Seward, R-Milford said about the rally: “I commend students, staff and faculty for taking an interest in the issue.” Mandate relief for area schools is something that is long overdo, he said, and a method of funding pensions that will take the peaks and valleys out of process would also be helpful. He said he’s hopeful that a commission appointed by Cuomo to address the problem will make recommendations that will help schools deliver a quality education that all parties can afford.