About 300 Long Island teachers and their supporters kicked off a regional campaign for expanded school funding Thursday afternoon with a Hauppauge rally punctuated by personal stories of cuts in staffing and student services.
"Don't you just get sick and tired of education not being a No. 1 priority?" declared one rally speaker, Angela Tomney, a special education teacher in the Connetquot district.
Tomney, now in her 35th year of teaching, spoke of how her two grown daughters, both certified teachers, are finding it hard to get jobs in a market hit by recent layoffs.
Turnout at the event, held outside the H. Lee Dennison county office building, fell well short of organizers' prediction of more than 1,000 participants.
Lead organizer Danielle Asher attributed the smaller-than-expected crowd to difficulties finding a rally site and to the fact that many teachers this week are participating in evening back-to-school meetings with parents. Asher is chief regional representative of the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide advocacy group that often works in sync with teacher unions.
Darlina Sanchez, 17, a senior at Central Islip High School, told those at the demonstration of a brother whose kindergarten class was cut to half-day sessions from full-day. The district is discussing the possibility of restoring full-day classes.
Sanchez said her own student documentary film club, which meets after school, is without video cameras and largely dependent on students' iPhones. "This is what I want to major in college," she said. "I want to do hands-on stuff."
Rally supporters contend that property tax-cap limitations, coupled with restricted increases in state financial aid, have led to teacher layoffs and cuts in student services, especially in poorer school districts.
Aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and key legislative leaders note that they have approved an $805 million aid increase statewide for the current school year -- a hike of more than 4 percent. Another $712 million increase has been pledged for next year.
Tax-cap proponents contend that school districts can avoid cuts in student services if they bargain harder to curb increases in costs of employee payrolls and benefits.
"It's real simple," said Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island. "With reference to the property-tax caps, the governor and the legislature gave district voters the power to control school spending. "