The Watertown Daily Times editorial board hit the nail on the head describing New York’s public school system as facing a financial crisis, though it’s hard to understate just how dire the crisis really is (Our View, “Crisis looming: School districts face catastrophe if financial picture endures,” Oct. 11).
Reporting from a New York State United Teachers press conference last month, the Times’s Kate Lisa noted that hundreds of public school faculty and staff positions already have been cut, largely in poorer, inner city and smaller rural school districts. That comes after the state withheld $238 million from districts over the summer and has threatened up to 20 percent cuts moving forward.
It’s a short-term reprieve that the state Division of Budget has said it won’t look to make school aid cuts until after the November election. But that also doesn’t give school districts the long-range confidence to make financial decisions that bank on funding coming through for the remainder of the school year.
Make no mistake: Cuts of any size are not easily absorbed, and 20 percent cuts would be devastating for any district even in the best of times. Now add a pandemic to the equation, and ask teachers in places like Schenectady or Albany whether layoffs are having an outsized impact on students (they are).
The Times is right to point out the restrictiveness of the tax cap and what that means if funding is cut. But school districts alone can’t bear this burden on the local level. The state has an obligation to properly fund education and must use the options it has to help close its budget gap and avoid making cuts. That includes considering new taxes on the ultra-wealthy, tapping its rainy day reserves and borrowing.
The federal government also needs to stop its inane stalling on a real stimulus package that would help keep schools humming and able to provide the same level of services and supports to our students — services and supports that are all the more important given the disruption to their lives this pandemic has caused.
Public schools are the bedrock of our communities. Cutting funding amid all the tumult we’re living through would create a devastating crack in our society’s foundation and one that won’t easily be repaired.
The writer is president of New York State United Teachers.