by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Parents, teachers, students and residents fed up with the way New York state does business rallied in a show of support for educating children Wednesday.
Gathered outside Niagara-Wheatfield High School, approximately 70 protestors braved the bitter winds and blowing snowflakes to carry signs displaying their disgust with the state and its education policies. With sayings like “Don’t break the promise, fund education,” “Kids first,” “No matter how you slice it, a cut is a cut” and “Hey, NY, be cool, fund our school,” the gathered hoped to send a message to the man in charge.
“We’ve had enough of Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo taking away from our children,” Niagara-Wheatfield Teachers President Kevin Rustowicz said. “We need to send a clear message: Enough is enough. You swore to uphold the New York state Constitution. But that is funding public education.”
Demonstrators both old and young took to the microphone to express how recent cuts have affected them personally. Music programs, including the middle school play, took a slashing this past year, while modified sports also were eliminated.
Advanced Placement classes also took a hit, which particularly troubled senior Kaleigh McMonagle who said her future career possibilities nearly suffered a massive blow thanks to cuts in the biology program.
“I am planning on going to college for pre-med with a focus on biology,” she said. “So I was upset when I almost wasn’t admitted to AP Biology class this year. Then, when I was in, I was shocked to find out there wasn’t enough seats in the classroom. We were forced into large lab groups.”
A product of the district’s soccer program as well, McMonagle also expressed her displeasure with losing the modified sports program.
She said finding out last year was “depressing and quite a shock” because the sports programs help students in a way classrooms can’t even come close.
Fired up by speakers like McMonagle, the crowd chanted several calls for the end of cuts to school district aid made by the state in the last few years. But they also attacked the unfunded mandates passed down by the state education department, like some of the standardized testing.
Concerned parent Gina Terbot said providing the education the students need doesn’t involve all of the test scores progress is charted with in today’s system.
She said she’d withdraw her child from every state test if she could.
“Education is a team sport,” she said. “Every teacher, every person in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District has helped shape my daughter into what she is today. She is more than just a test score.”
Aside from the unfunded mandate relief, which SED has been promising for years with little coming back in results, the district is also facing another major financial hurdle concerning one of its schools it technically can’t classify as its own.
The district funds the Tuscarora school on the reservation and is supposed to receive money from the federal government — filtered through New York State — to keep it running. To accomplish this, a loan is taken out and the money is then used to pay the loan, plus interest.
But two years ago, the money stopped coming from the state, School Board President Steve Sabo said. And the district is now more than $7 million in the hole there as well. And it needs to be paid every year with or without the reimbursement available.
“We have to take out a loan to pay this,” Sabo said. “That money comes out of paying for programs. So we’re demanding New York pay up.”