With an emphasis placed on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $1.5 billion cut in state educational aid across New York, more than 2,000 attended a rally held by the Long Island Progressive Coalition at Sachem High School East Thursday night.
In what could spark multiple rallies across New York, this first one drew teachers from more than 40 school districts across Long Island. The high volume of traffic into the high school forced Suffolk County Police to shut down Granny Road and the Long Island Expressway ramp at Exit 63.
Around 850 watched and applauded inside the auditorium at East, while thousands more stood guard outside the building listening through speakers mounted on the roof.
“This is the first of many rallies to bring the message from the people,” said John Heslin, president of the Sachem Central Teacher’s Association.
A Siena Research poll released Feb. 14 showed that 64 percent of New Yorkers opposed cuts to education, while 56 percent opposed cuts to CUNY and SUNY. Though it didn’t take much to rally the already loud gathering of educational professionals and their families, hearing from a grandmother, a parent and a student hit home for many.
“What’s going to happen in two or three years from now?” said Amparo Sadler, a grandmother from Central Islip. “Is there even going to be a pre-school there for [my granddaughter] to go to school? This is not a game show.”
New York Assemblyman Steve Englebright called out his fellow legislators for not attending the rally and classified Cuomo’s cuts as abandonment.
“They are choices that shouldn’t be characterized as spending, but as investing,” he said. “To disinvest from our institutions of optimism is to cast off into the abyss of the outer lands and it’s unacceptable. A lot of people are having a tough time, but you know what, you don’t abandon your kids.”
“The students are doing all the sacrificing and the millionaires are in the back room smoking cigars,” said Andy Pallotta, the executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers. “These cuts can not stand, they’re horrendous, they’re brutal and we the people will let them know that this is the end.”
Sachem was represented well during the session, with hundreds of teachers and administrators in the auditorium, as well as School Board Trustee Sal Tripi, who addressed the audience as part of the district’s legislative committee.
“We’ve worked too hard to get to the place where we are today so that simple campaign promises revert us back to where we once were,” he said. “It’s important we get together and rally like this, petition politicians to simply say, 'no we’re not going to take this' and were going to fight for our fair share.”
Sachem issued a warning to 30 percent of its staff last week about potential layoffs due to a potential $16 million cut in state aid. During Wednesday night's board of education meeting, administrators said they will be going to Albany March 23 with buses of teachers to attend another rally.
Countless teachers waited outside the high school and cheered just as loud as those who arrived early enough to see the live action inside. Comsewogue High School teacher Marie Daniels, 37, was one of the those who stood outside and she feels badly for the students.
"We feel terrible about all this,” she said. “It's horrible for teachers, more so for students. The children are our future. If we take more and more away from them, what are they going to do as our future leaders? We care about our students."
Others drove to Farmingville to oppose the proposed two percent tax cap.
“It’s going to change New York State education forever,” said James Graber, 37, a teacher at Huntington High School. “Other states have done it, and it doesn't work. I wonder how it's going to affect the quality of education on Long Island that we have; I hope people don't take that for granted."
Shana Braff contributed to this story.