At Niskayuna forum, parents urged to speak up for schools
Forum concerned about decisions on state funding
NISKAYUNA Advocates for more education funding want you to call, write and tweet your local legislators — whatever it takes to get more aid to school.
Decisions being made at the state level affect children’s future and elected officials need to hear from their constituents, said Kyle Belokopitsky, assistant director for government relations for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
“Observe what’s happening in Albany — all the time. It’s your new part-time job,” she said Monday at a forum at Niskayuna High School titled “A Call to Action: Your Public Schools in Fiscal Peril — Running Out of Time & Options.”
The event was sponsored by Education Speaks, which is a group sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, in collaboration with Questar III BOCES, HFM BOCES, WSWHE BOCES, Herkimer BOCES, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES and the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership.
It was the follow-up to the Jan. 31 forum at East Greenbush High School. The purpose of Monday’s event was to offer a “how-to guide” for parents and other education advocates about how to contact lawmakers.
Belokopitsky told the hundreds in attendance that the representatives need to hear the good and bad news happening in school.
“Advocacy is not about salesmanship or crisis intervention, it’s about building relationships,” she said.
As a parent of a child who will start in the Guilderland Central School District in a couple of years, she said she is afraid about all the cuts being made to programs such as Advanced Placement classes, increases in class sizes and staff layoffs. Her older son, who has graduated, was able to skip a whole year of college because of all the credits he gained while in high school.
She asked if it was fair that the younger brother would not receive the same education as his older brother did.
“No!” shouted the crowd.
Robert Lowry, deputy director for advocacy, research and communications for the council, said personalized communications are much more effective than form letters or postcards. The squeaky wheel really does get the grease.
“I can remember making decisions on five or six smaller issues because we got letters in the mail,” he said.
There is only a limited time for lobbying. Because of religious holidays and the way the calendar falls, Lowry said the Legislature is seeking to adopt a budget by March 21.
There is a chance for additional aid in the budget, according to Lowry. The governor has proposed $203 million in fiscal stabilization aid and $75 million for competitive grant proposals like extended school days. Lowry said many education advocates would prefer that this all be put into the general education aid.
Education advocates want the Legislature to get rid of the so-called “Gap Elimination Adjustment,” which has been used by the state to reduce the aid that districts were due to get under a court settlement.
NYSCSS supports the governor’s proposals to let school districts apply for waivers of certain special education requirements and to reduce the amount of paperwork districts have to submit to the state, according to Lowry. The organization is still studying the impact of the governor’s idea to allow districts to lock in their pension costs at a fixed rate to provide stability and essentially use some of the future savings they will have when more employees fall under the Tier VI benefit plan.
He said that the organization would also support reform of the Triborough Amendment, which locks in the benefits and salaries of an existing contract until a new agreement is negotiated, and wants to allow school districts to participate in bigger consortia to save money on health insurance.