Education lobby group holds local rally on underfunding

SARANAC LAKE – An advocate for increasing state funding for public education held a lecture at the Saranac Free Library Friday night.

Chad Radock, the campaign coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education, spoke to the room of about two dozen people about school aid and the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“I’ve been all across the North Country and the Southern Tier,” Radock said. “This funding situation is pervasive; it affects the whole state.”

Radock said the organization began to mobilize supporters in 2000 to put pressure on the Legislature to increase state aid. He described how 35,000 teachers have lost their jobs statewide due to underfunding. Programs like art, music, theater, sports and extracurricular activities have also seen cuts.

“Last year, when we organized our rally for lobby day I asked Jon Buhner, superintendent of South Colonie School District, if there was a band we could use,” Radock said. “He said, ‘Chad, we had to eliminate marching band last year.'”

The problems with underfunding began in 2011 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented $1.3 billion in cuts to state education aid and instituted a property tax cap, Radock said.

“Those two things are making things across the state inequitable,” he said. “We are barely at 2007 and 2008 levels (of funding). That’s how behind state aid is in this state.”

The role of state and local funding has been turned upside down with the local government paying around 51 percent for education and the state paying 40 percent, Radock said. The remaining 8 percent is picked up by the federal government.

“Ten years ago the state came up with 50 percent (of the funding); 40 percent came from local taxes,” Radock said.

The situation with funding has led to a handful of lawsuits. New York State Small City School District has a case that goes to trial in September. Another lawsuit is led by New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights, and the third is being considered by the Alliance for Quality Education.

“AQE will go to 14 school districts and investigate these district’s resource deficiencies because of a lack of state aid,” he said. “And we may proceed to trial.”

Radock said because of the cuts from the GEA, the Saranac Lake Central School District is owed $1 million in state aid. Around $400,000 has been restored.

Don Carlisto, co-president of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, said the Saranac Lake district is in the process of dealing with a $1 million budget shortfall.

“We’re in the process of really trying to find out what the costs are,” Carlisto said. “We’re looking under every rock to close that gap right now.”

Radock said now is the time for people to begin to organize and call for the state to give more funding to education. He noted the success critics of Common Core have had by organizing to stop the program.

“We need to create the same pressure from our ranks,” Radock said.

To do that, the community would need to sign petitions, go to meetings and recruit friends, he said.

“I think there is a sense that this community is ready to organize and help ourselves,” Carlisto said.

Mark Kurtz from Bloomingdale agreed that it is time for the community to get together and attempt to solve the issue.

“Every representative of our district, not just teachers and administrators, but taxpayers at large, school board members, every aspect of the district needs to sit down,” Kurtz said. “We need to have a unified voice to make any change.”