Small Rural Districts Gather To Make Their Voices Heard
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What happened Thursday at the Batavia Career & Technical Education Center can only be described as an all-out assault on Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators for what Genesee Valley educators call “gross, inequitable cuts” to school aid for small, rural school districts.
"Sadly, I have to acknowledge that our districts have taken major steps backwards,” said Dr. Michael Glover, GVEP superintendent.
With a property tax cap pressing from above, and growing state mandates pushing from below, New York's smallest public schools are stuck in the middle – and feeling the financial squeeze.
"We are struggling for survival,” said Sandra Duckworth, Wyoming Central superintendent.
Wyoming Central School is a K–8 with one of the smallest school budgets in the state.
"We had to do something radical this year: we had to eliminate on-site cafeteria, and now we do a bagged lunch and bagged breakfast from an adjoining school district,” said Duckworth. “But quite frankly, we feel fortunate that we can even offer that, at this point."
Duckworth says the Governor's across-the-board cuts to state aid have been unfair, taking only two to five-percent from richer suburban districts, while slashing as much as eleven-percent each year from her own budget.
"I think he needs to get out of Albany, quite frankly, and take a nice bus trip. Come on out to Wyoming,” Duckworth said. “He can come in and see what we've had to cut – maybe we'll even give him a nice bagged lunch!"
Parents are also heartbroken, watching fond memories of high school being eroded for their children.
"My daughter, Katie, she's fifteen... was not able to make her soccer team. And that's fine. What was the saddest part about it though, when she asked me, ‘Well, what do I do now?’ – there were no other activities for her, no other options,” said Beth Slazak, a parent in the Attica School District.
And the cuts extend to Advanced Placement courses, arts courses, and even school supplies. Local educators say if state aid is not restored soon, the results will be disastrous.
"We cannot have a society of 'haves' and 'have-nots' perpetuated by our public school system. That's unconscionable, and everyone should be incensed about it,” Glover said.
The next step here: the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership is hoping its members, its parents, its students will all write letters and push their state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore state aid to public schools. More than $2.1 billion has been cut from public schools in the past two years, and these educators say those kinds of cuts are unsustainable.