Organized protests against Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed school aid cuts began in earnest Wednesday, as students and staffers in the beleaguered Wyandanch district warned such reductions would force teacher layoffs, along with elimination of Advanced Placement courses, summer school, sports teams and bus rides.
At a morning news conference about two dozen Wyandanch residents, school workers and others broke pencils to protest what they described as the state's broken promises to boost financial assistance to poorer districts. The conference was one of five held simultaneously across the state by the Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition of teacher unions, parents groups and other organizations.
In Wyandanch, administrators contend Paterson's plan could result in layoffs of more than a dozen staffers next fall, on top of 16 who lost jobs last spring. Administrators add that any further layoffs would inevitably cut into academic services spared so far.
"It looks like it's going to be devastating," said Denise Gibbs, an assistant superintendent in the 1,900-student district.
On Tuesday, the governor called for $1.1 billion in aid reductions statewide next school year, to help close a projected $7.4-billion deficit. The plan includes a $991,500 cut in Wyandanch. Paterson's budget message suggested districts could ease the impact of aid losses by digging into $1.5 billion in surplus reserve funds that they've accumulated statewide.
Many districts, Wyandanch included, respond they have little or no cash reserves, because their tax bases are smaller than those of wealthier neighbors. About 80 percent of Wyandanch's enrollment is African-American, and the district's taxable wealth in terms of property and income is about one-third the state average. Paterson's proposed cut is greater than the surplus reserve in 13 Long Island districts.
Last spring, Wyandanch fired reading teachers, security guards and janitors, after the state warned the district its spending was outstripping tax revenues. The district also eliminated several high school elective courses and nearly half its sports teams.
More recently, local officials have had to divert more than $500,000 from regular operating funds to fix the high school's leaky roof. The decision followed the community's rejection last month of a referendum that would have allowed the district to borrow repair money.
Shanisha McGuire, 18, a senior and student council president at Wyandanch Memorial High School, said program reductions there have dashed her hopes this year of playing softball or taking an elective course in African-American studies. Now she can only hope that next year's 12th-graders don't lose more services.
"Their pain is the same pain I feel," she said.