ALBANY, N.Y.-- Hundreds of Sachem teachers and administrators traveled to the New York State capital Wednesday to have their voices heard.
Rallying around massive educational aid cuts, which could hit Sachem by way of $16 million if Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget withstands changes by the April 1 deadline, Sachem staffers lobbied, dropped off letters and spoke with state representatives at Empire State Plaza.
Classes were not in session at Sachem as teachers had a scheduled staff development day on the calendar.
"It seems like we got through to legislators," said Jon Weston, 25, an English teacher and building union representative at Sachem North. "They saw the actions they make and the actions the governor makes have drastic affects on people in their district, especially the kids in Sachem. Hopefully they will relay the message to the governor in the revised budget in the coming months."
State Sen. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, told district officials that the senate has proposed to restore $280 million in educational aid, compared to the $200 million the state assembly re-budgeted for in proposed plans. The assembly, however, is leaning towards retaining the millionaire's tax, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the calendar year.
Twenty five percent of the $280 million would be allotted for Long Island schools, and a small portion would be given to Sachem, said Zeldin, who, while pointing to Sachem’s fiscal responsibility, a theme teachers rallied around Wednesday, said it was “crazy” that a district so stable could be cut so much in aid.
“We don’t have an agreement on what we want to do [in the senate],” he said. “We want to restore money, but can’t get a consensus on what we want to restore. I firmly believe that state aid cuts will be less. Sachem will get less cut, but I’m not sure by how much.”
He mentioned Sachem could see another $1 or $2 million in aid, which would still leave the district well above the state average of a 7.9 percent cut.
Sachem Central Teachers Association President John Heslin prepared teachers with documents spelling out Sachem’s financial preparedness during the last few school budgets, including a five-year average budget increase of .56 percent and being recognized by the state for maintaining low administrative costs.
One document given to teachers was titled, “Sachem: The District That Did Everything Right.”
“I don’t feel people in the trenches are part of the process,” said Sachem Superintendent James Nolan, referring to the educational budgeting process at both the state and federal levels. “It’s borderline unethical when you paint with such a broad brush.”
Nolan also expressed his frustration to State Sen. John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, about two form letters he received stamped by former Gov. David Patterson, after he originally wrote to Cuomo.
That conversation quickly turned to Flanagan pointing fingers at Cuomo for the less than favorable situation Sachem is in right now.
“The governor put us in this box,” said Flanagan, who chairs the state senate education committee. “That’s been exacerbated by what’s happened over the last two years. Long Island was disproportionately hit. The governor did this on purpose. By design he’s tried to pin all of us against each other. Sachem finds itself in this position because of the governor. He feels emboldened by his proposals.”
Heslin said he's worried legislators are not focused on the children and their education. Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-Stony Brook, the only elected official to attend the at Sachem High School East last month, was outspoken again about Cuomo.
“It’s for our kids,” he said, slamming his hand on a conference room table speaking intimately with 30 Sachem representatives. “I don’t understand what they’re thinking. It really is a stupid budget.”
“We came up because we wanted to send a message to the governor that Sachem is a district that’s doing everything that school districts should do,” said Kevin Tougher, 31, a Sachem alum teaching third grade at Cayuga Elementary School, “to budget responsibly and to provide quality education. We’re the district that gets hit the hardest and that’s not fair. That has to change.”
Notes & Quotes
- For a recap of updates from throughout the day in Albany, check the @SachemPatch Twitter feed and follow with the hash tag #sachemtoalbany.
- State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, R-C-I-Port Jefferson, was busy in a committee meeting, so teachers and administrators met with his council person Brian Murphy, who sat and fielded questions and gave back little in response. He believes there should be some mandate relief, and suggested people not buy into much of the political rhetoric that comes from Cuomo’s office.
- Richard Iannuzzi, the president of New York State United Teachers, spoke briefly to the crowd of Sachem teachers. A former Long Island teacher himself at Central Islip for over 30 years, he sympathized with the close neighboring district. “Sachem has been there for us and we’re there for it," he said.
- Sachem school board President Rob Scavo on the trip: “We’re here and we’re not going to stop fighting until we get our fair share. We want to protect the future education of this district. We want to continue to offer the high quality education in Sachem that it’s traditionally been known for.”
- Teachers wore shirts that said, "this is what a laid-off teacher looks like."