Long Island teachers arrived by the busload at Hofstra Fitness Center Thursday evening bearing colorful signs and deep voices to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threatened $1.5 billion reduction in the state aid to school districts.
The budget cuts, the teachers said, would jeopardize small class sizes, arts education and after-school programs. A group of teachers from the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District expressed the trepidation that many of their peers are experiencing as the State Legislature is negotiating a partial restoration of school funding.
Cuomo’s 2.7 percent cut to the education budget was proposed to help plug a $10 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year. His predecessor chopped $1.4 billion in education funds in 2010. Aid was frozen the year before.
It was apparent from the din of the noise that the crowd understood the urgency of the moment.
“We’re seeing what’s going on in Wisconsin and there is trepidation as to what might happen here,” said Myra Brand, a teacher from the Stratford Road Elementary School in Plainview.
The teachers argued against layoffs because their students reap the benefits of small class sizes made possible through higher staffing levels.
“We are pro-union but also pro-education,” said Plainview teacher Marilyn Kirsch. “We are all concerned about the future. If you want good education, you need to have small class-size.”
A Babylon teacher agreed with Kirsch.
“We’re in the classroom; we see the specific effects,” said Brian Finlay. “We have increased amount of students.”
Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers President Morton Rosenfeld put it more bluntly saying, “The Governor’s proposed cuts will devastate public education in New York. He is completely disingenuous.”
One particular rallying cry for teachers this year is to urge enaction of a so-called "millionaires’ tax" to raise additional revenue through increasing taxes on those earning more than $1 million. The Governor has publicly opposed the tax.
The State Assembly budget restores $200 million in school aide, while the Senate adds $263 million. Yet educators say this is not enough.
“A lot of times you have politicians who make these cuts and they don’t see the faces of the teachers,” Finlay said.
At the rally, Long Island Assemblyman Joseph Saladino saw roughly 2,500 faces of educators, students and parents in the Hofstra crow and he heard the message loud and clear.
“This is a show of unity,” he said. “I stand with all of my Assembly members to say that Long Island matters.”
He initiated a chant: “Protect kids, not millionaires” that rang out across the rafters.