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Education ‘fact-finding tour’ makes stop at Amsterdam school

Advocacy group pushing governor for more school aid

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
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— The Greater Amsterdam School District has cut 40 teachers since 2010 because the district hasn’t received enough state aid to keep them on the payroll.

Superintendent Thomas Perillo said the schools have been using federal grants over the past few years to sustain several programs. Some district administrators are also paid using those grants.

“Because of the lack of state aid we have actively pursued grants,” Perillo said during a news conference Tuesday in Amsterdam. “The reason we have some basic resources that any school would need is because of those grants.”

But Perillo said the grants would be drained in a couple of years. That means those administrators and programs would most likely be eliminated. Perillo is calling for more state aid to avoid that outcome.

During his budget address last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed an $807 million increase in total education aid for the 2014-15 school year, with $608 million provided for school districts as formula-based aid.

The Alliance for Quality Education and Campaign for Fiscal Equity are pushing for a $1.9 billion increase in school aid. Cuomo’s proposed total state aid to school districts for 2014-15 is $21.9 billion.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity visited Amsterdam on Tuesday as part of a statewide education “fact-finding tour.”

The goal of the tour is to gather information that supports the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s case that not all students in the state are provided with a “sound basic education.”

Classes for kindergarten through second grade in Amsterdam have an average of 25 students. Perillo said he’s never had the option to decrease class sizes. The district has about 3,700 students and 300 teachers.

“We don’t have the staff,” he said. “Sometimes we can’t even keep the class size below 25, which is a high class size already.”

Wendy Lecker, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s senior attorney, said students in high poverty districts such as Amsterdam are not receiving the same quality of education as wealthier districts with smaller class sizes.

In 1993, the nonprofit advocacy organization filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that the school aid system was underfunded and distributed unfairly. The group won the 13-year-long-challenge, but advocates say the state is neglecting its obligation.

Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring said last month that Cuomo is not concentrating school aid for high-needs districts. He said Schenectady receives 54 percent of its required state funding.

The district has a $10 million budget deficit, and Spring said Cuomo’s $2.3 million boost in aid to $98.7 million for Schenectady for 2014-15 is not enough. Schenectady is one of the highest-needs districts in the state.

“Spring has filed an office of civil rights complaint against the state for discrimination against minority students because of the constant underfunding,” said Chad Radock, campaign coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education. “Our schools have faced inequitable funding from the state, and that needs to change.”

 
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