East End teachers came together at the Pulaski School in...

East End teachers came together at the Pulaski School in Riverhead to rally to end state spending cap and increase state education. (Oct. 25, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

About 200 people, most wearing red in a show of solidarity, rallied outside the Pulaski Street School in Riverhead on Thursday evening to protest the state's cap on property taxes and what many said were years of reductions in state aid to schools.

It was one of several coordinated rallies across Long Island supported by Educate New York Now, a statewide group that in May launched a yearlong lobbying effort for quality education and additional spending on resources. The Riverhead rally drew teachers from Center Moriches, Tuckahoe and Shoreham-Wading River. Other rallies took place in Amityville, Brentwood, the Connetquot school district, Selden, St. James, East Setauket and Port Jefferson Station.

"We are all concerned about the funding crisis taking place on Long Island today," said Catherine Kent, a teacher and one of the rally organizers. "We're facing an education crisis because of Albany . . . In Riverhead, you see staff cuts, and class sizes have grown. We're already bare bones."

Kent said that in the past four years, Riverhead's teaching staff has been cut from 450 to 375. She said local districts have done all they can to raise taxes and cut spending, and that the state should step in and cover more of the cost. "As a taxpayer, I agree we need relief," she said.

Among the speakers -- mostly teachers, parents and students -- was Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten, who said her district had grown from 850 high school students in 1969 to nearly 1,500 today, and that courses and programs have expanded as well, all of which have added to the district's expenses.

Town supervisors and village mayors also have struggled with the state's 2 percent tax levy cap.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller called the cap "a simplistic approach to a complicated problem. The issue of taxes has taken years to get to where it is . . . We've just created a short-term Band-Aid." Teller predicted that, sooner or later, property taxes will have to be replaced as the main source of school funds.