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Sachem North rallies to focus attention on state aid

Students, staff and residents, many with signs, filled

Students, staff and residents, many with signs, filled the stands of the gymnasium at a rally for Sachem schools held at Sachem High School North in Ronkonkoma. (March 9, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

More than a thousand people packed Sachem High School North's gymnasium and auditorium Saturday to support their cash-strapped district, as officials plead for more state aid.

Chants of "We are Sachem!" pulsed through the school during the rally -- a shout-out to lawmakers as the district faces a $26 million shortfall next year.

"We hope Governor Cuomo and other state politicians take notice of Sachem's pride and honor," Sachem Superintendent James Nolan said in a statement. "We are a district that relies on state aid and to be cut like we have, it's detrimental to the future of our district."

The event showcased many of the district's offerings, including dance and song performances -- and even a robotics demonstration.

The district -- Long Island's second-largest, with 14,300 students -- has been hit by a combination of shrinking state aid, rising costs and caps on property taxes. Without more money, Sachem officials said, they either would have to cut services and increase class sizes, or boost taxes up to 16 percent.

John Quinn, a high school senior, said he wants his two younger siblings to have the "same opportunities" he had.

"They deserve it," he said. "From sports to academics, to arts and music, Sachem has so much to offer to its students. Our future generations deserve the best education and experience possible."

Speakers at Saturday's event included students, alumni, administrators, faculty and elected local and state officials.

"Frankly, we need to get you more money," said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate's education subcommittee.

Flanagan said the subcommittee's "No. 1 responsibility has to be to provide good, quality education for every kid and for every community across the state of New York."

The rally was the latest effort by Sachem to bring attention to the district's fiscal woes. About 40 people, including staff and students, took a bus to Albany last week to lobby lawmakers.

This year, the district's budget is about $291 million, including $106 million in state aid. Next year, Sachem is to receive $105 million from the state.

Nolan said a proposed budget has to be presented to the public by April 15.

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