Schenectady County

Advocates rally for state funding outside Schenectady school being shut down

As the books closed on another school year Thursday, education advocates were pushing for increased

As the books closed on another school year Thursday, education advocates were pushing for increased funding for schools to avoid more cuts that some say devastated districts.

A handful of activists rallied outside Oneida Middle School, which closed permanently Thursday as part of $5.3 million in budget cuts Schenectady City School District officials had to make.

“We had to close an entire building and force these students into tighter spaces and eliminate a number of courses at the high school,” said parent Jamaica Miles.

Akeem Celestine, who will be a senior at Schenectady High School in the fall, said he is concerned that the number of periods in the high school day was reduced and students like him who take advanced courses will have to come in before or after school.

This was one of about a half-dozen rallies scheduled to take place around the state this month, according to Chad Radock, area coordinator for Education NY Now!, a coalition whose members also include parents, teachers, the New York State United Teachers union and the Alliance for Quality Education.

Organizers had hoped more people would attend, but Miles said they were likely scared off by the hot temperatures. He noted that district Superintendent Laurence Spring has pledged his support for Education NY Now! and the Board of Education is taking up the issue later this year.

The group is seeking a more equitable funding formula for state aid. Radock pointed out that wealthier school districts seemed to experience fewer aid cuts and were not as affected by those cuts as poorer districts.

Total state aid for K-12 education increased by $800 million, or 4 percent, this year, to $20 billion. This was after years of unchanged or declining state aid. The adopted budget calls for an increase of $712 million, or 3.5 percent, for the 2013-14 school year.

However, Radock said the problem is future increases in school aid funding will be tied to growth in personal income. This aid cap, combined with the property tax cap implemented this year, place a double squeeze on school budgets, he said, noting that even state Education Commissioner John King Jr. has pointed out that districts could be facing “educational insolvency” in the near future because of continued cuts.

“At some point, they’re not going to be able to provide a program that is actually benefitting our kids,” Radock said.

The organization has received more than 1,000 letters of endorsement from education advocates and is looking to triple that amount over the summer.

Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, was optimistic about the chance for increased aid in the coming year, along with some relief from state mandates, which has not yet happened.

“Because we have dealt with deficits the last two years by tightening up the state’s fiscal belt and concentrating more on spending priorities while balancing budgets and spending less, we are poised to be in a position as a state to more heavily reinvest in one of those priorities — that being the education of our children and their preparation as part of New York’s 21st century workforce,” he said in an email.

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