A night of advocacy for state education funding

Posted at: 02/12/2013 12:03 AM
By: Dan Levy

NISKAYUNA - In Niskayuna Monday night there was a call to action involving an issue that involves every man, woman, and child in the Capital Region -- education funding.

The meeting follows the well-attended meeting at Columbia High School eleven days prior when educators from every school district in the region were reminded that all public schools in the state may be on the brink of financial ruin, and are running out of time and options to fix things.

"A lot of districts don't have time and so I'm thinking it's the next six or seven weeks (in which we need to make things happen)," said Robert Lowry, Deputy Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, one of several speakers inside the Niskayuna auditorium determined to beat the drum of advocacy.

"This makes a difference. The squeaky wheel gets the grease," Lowry asserts, "The more people who go out and say they're concerned about their schools, the greater impact and the greater likelihood that something will get cone that is helpful."

Students, teachers, parents, and school administrators are part of the army of advocates who are being urged to contact state lawmakers.

"The legislators may not want to hear from me at times," said Bethlehem School Superintendent Thomas Douglas, "They may not want to hear from school boards or town municipalities, but they do want to hear from those people they represent."

Colonie Assemblyman Phil Steck insists the entire contingent of local state lawmakers is committed to the issue.

"It is our primary focus," Steck says, "It's actually the only focus that I'm having with respect to the budget."

Mid Hudson Assemblywoman Didi Barrett says the issue isn't just about school districts receiving more money.

"It's about what you do with the money and how you spend it wisely and how you look for a sustainable model," Barrett opines.

Without a sustainable model, without rapid change in the education funding formula, school districts will be forced to make more cuts.

"When you take away some of the teachers, you're changing our home and changing our family," says Colton Jaquith, a Niskayuna 7th grader.

"I have a younger brother and sister who I definitely fear will not have the same opportunities that I have," said Olivia Jaquith, Colton's older sister, a Niskayuna senior headed to college in the fall on an athletic scholarship.

"Little things like musicals get cut so my daughter won't have the musical to go to," Mary Beth Arcidiacono, the mother of three Niskayuna students, points out, "Class sizes will be bigger and that will affect all my children."

"I think that one of the things (Monday night) is about is the acknowledgement that the most important things we do with money in New York State is educate children," says Susan Salvaggio, Niskayuna's superintendent.

Despite the seemingly daunting task that lies ahead, despite the $1.4 billion state deficit, stakeholders seemed optimistic that harnessing their collective voices can lead to significant change.