Stakeholders from school districts around the Capital Region converged Thursday night at Colonie Central High School to continue an annual call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.
Local legislators from around the region were in attendance and given prime seating — on the stage — providing them the opportunity to hear first-hand from area educators, students, parents and board members how a lack of funding, unfair assessments and performance evaluations are crippling public education.
— Angelo Santabarbara (@AsmSantabarbara) February 27, 2015
According to organizers, the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which takes money away from schools to help balance the state budget, has cost Capital Region schools approximately $445 million in promised state aid since its inception. This loss in aid has forced many districts to lay off teachers and staff, and cut educational program offerings to students.
“Governor Cuomo said that teachers wouldn’t be impacted. Tell that to the 30,000 teachers that have been let go,” Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District teacher Laura Bellinger said.
District leaders directed their frustration at the inequitable distribution of aid and pleaded with local legislators to correct the problem.
“I’m not asking for someone else’s piece of the pie,” Watervliet City Schools superintendent Lori Caplan said. “I just want fair and equitable distribution.”
“We have to change the funding formula and make it fair to all districts,” Assemblyman James Tedisco said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all system.”
The teachers who spoke urged the legislators to use a common sense approach when it comes to student assessments and teacher evaluations.
The governor’s budget proposal outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.
“We all deserve better than this,” Schalmont teacher Jessica Melchior said. “Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used — as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community. Let’s judge teachers on things that matter. Let’s not take Common Core out of context for a political agenda.”
Students in attendance also spoke out on testing, questioning the importance of pre-tests, which are given before any subject matter is taught in a given area, to judge how much a student knows.
“It’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously,” Schalmont student Bill Schmidt said. “We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A bubbles on our scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked ‘A.'”
The legislators in attendance urged those in attendance to stay vocal and keep the pressure on the governor in order to get the change they want.
“Keep your voices strong,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “Stay strong. We’re going to get this done.”