Assemblywoman Russell urges Massena to take a stand against education cuts
Friday, January 10, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Ogdensburg City Councilor Dan Skamperle, a social studies teacher at Massena high school, asked if the Assembly majority is unified in the push for restoring poor rural districts’ lost aid monies.

MASSENA -- Assemblywoman Addie Russell urged a small crowd at Massena High School on Thursday night to band together, get friends involved and demand that Albany restore school aid promised years ago, but which has never been delivered.

“Kids’ education is dying a death by a thousand cuts,” she told the crowd.

Massena, like most other districts throughout the state, was promised millions of dollars in funding before the 2008 recession but most of it was never delivered.

“They balanced the budget on the backs of students,” said Jasmine Gripper of the Alliance for Quality Education.

A 2007 lawsuit settlement promised Massena $14,064,002 in foundation aid, but only $4,204,927 ever made it to the district, according to Russell and Gripper. This results in bigger class sizes, slashing educator positions and losing programs including advanced placement, international baccalaureate, art, music, theater and sports. Last year, Massena cut 25 educator positions; 35,000 have been cut statewide since 2011.

“If Massena had that $10 million the state owes it, you would be doing pretty well,” Russell stated.

“You have so much in common with school districts in this region … in New York City, in Buffalo,” Gripper noted.

The Alliance for Quality Education is pushing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore $1.9 billion to school aid for the 2014-2015 budget. It breaks down to $1 billion for new classroom operations, $225, million for full-day pre-kindergarten, $110 million for community schools, $300 million for curriculum restoration and enhancement, $250 million for expense-based aid and $20 million for improving school climate.

“This is not a bill, this is a request the governor put in his proposed budget,” Russell said. “The majority of the (Assembly) majority is in support.”

Russell, a Democrat, in part blames the education system’s fiscal inequality on a small Republican contingent in the Senate that represents the wealthiest areas in the state, suburbs surrounding New York City. She said in addition to having a bigger tax base to offset aid cuts, they “hijack the budget process” until they siphon as much aid from rural districts as they can.

“They cannot go home with less money than the year before, that they weren’t entitled to begin with,” Russell said, noting that the 100 wealthiest districts spend $8,600 more per pupil than the 100 poorest.

“We can’t go out to a tax base and get money like a school in Westchester County,” Massena school board member Loren Fountain said during a question and answer period. “We need that money to the general fund through foundation aid.”

Albany’s tax cap also unfairly burdens poor distressed districts, Gripper said.

“At the rate where that cap is, our schools cannot survive,” she said.

Gripper offered her agency’s hand if locals can gather a group of activists to join rallies in Albany. She said the AQE can provide busing if a large enough group commits to attending events such as one Jan. 14 when their goal is to send 1,500 people to Albany from across the state to protest school aid cuts.

“We want the governor to know … it’s all across the state, it’s not a downstate, upstate issue,” Gripper said.