Then, on Sept. 4 — the Friday before school was to start on Tuesday — she found out she was one of 107 professionals the Schenectady City School District was laying off because of the threat of a $28 million cut to its state aid payments.
“This is not equitable, and it isn’t right,” said Lewis, one of the speakers at a pro-education rally held on Eagle Street outside the Executive Mansion late Saturday afternoon.
About 250 people attended, with a large contingent from Schenectady. The rally culminated a day-long effort in support of education funding that began with a car caravan to the nearby state Education Department building. Attendees said a 20 percent aid cut — what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has threatened due to the economic devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — would be devastating for the Capital Region’s public schools.
Schenectady’s Board of Education, facing the likelihood cuts will happen, voted to eliminate 107 teaching, social worker and counseling positions along with 230 para-professional positions.
With poorer urban districts like Schenectady and Albany already making deep staffing cuts because they rely more on state aid than suburban districts, rally organizer Jamaica Miles of Schenectady said students and staff feeling the impact are disproportionately brown and Black.
While Cuomo has repeatedly said there would be 20 percent cuts to aid programs if the federal government doesn’t provide new pandemic relief aid to state and local governments, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget said Saturday that the cuts to date have been just $300 million — less than one percent of all state school aid.
“There has been no cut to school aid, even as we’ve waited six months for the Federal government to deliver the resources the State needs to offset a $62 billion, four-year revenue loss,” spokesman Freeman Klopott said in an email. “Instead, the failure of the Federal government to act has forced the State to temporarily withhold less than 1 percent of school funding. We will work with our partners in government to address any remaining gaps in federal assistance and, in the absence of Federal funding, any future aid withholdings will take school district need into consideration.”
Still, districts have acted on the assumption deep cuts are coming.
“We’re here to try to raise our voices to say a 20 percent cut across the board is unfair,” said Jeannine Jacobs, a Schenectady parent who has four children attending district schools; all were at the rally with her. Three are in middle school or high school, where all their classes will be virtual. “Three of my kids really don’t have a choice,” she said. “I work full-time and my husband works full-time, and I really don’t know how this is going to work.”
Saturday’s events were organized by the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, and All of Us. Similar rallies were planned across the state.