Some called for an end to the tax cap, and some called for an end to unfunded state mandates. But all called on state lawmakers to consider fair public education funding in a way that doesn't decimate schools' programs or cause districts to rely too heavily on taxpayer support.
Hundreds of people – including educators and residents, parents and students – showed up to support fair school funding in a "Stop the Cap, Close the Gap" rally at Ward Melville High School on Thursday afternoon. The event, part of a campaign by the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Educate NY Now, was one of more than a dozen rallies held across Long Island Thursday.
Deanna Bavlnka, a Board of Education trustee, urged people to reach out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to try and get relief from state requirements that schools must both implement and fund on their own.
"New York’s unfunded mandate crisis is a nonpartisan challenge that threatens all local governments, all school districts and all taxpayers," Bavlnka said. "... They are crippling LI school budgets and taxpayers are tired of carrying the unfair burden of higher taxes. If we make enough noise maybe then the state legislators will eliminate the older mandates that aren’t applicable or as necessary."
She called on those in attendance to reach out in support of a bill by Assemb. Brian Kolb, R,C,I-Canandaigua – the "Mandate Relief for School Districts Act" – which is under review by the state's education committee. She also asked people to sign a "mandate relief petition" at http://best4ny.org/.
But Claudia Reinhart, president of the Three Village Teachers Association, called for more than just mandate relief. Not only does she take issue with the tax cap, she said, but she also objects to the idea that a 60-percent supermajority of voter approval is needed to override it.
"We want the tax cap gone, and we want our majority, our right to vote as a democracy, back," she said. "... Just putting a cap on what we can now spend, while they're still making the rules in the form of mandates that are unfunded without our being able to vote on that, is just irresponsible. And it's going to kill us."
Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said with the combination of the tax cap and unfunded mandates, giving every student a quality education will become more and more difficult.
"We stand here today united and committed to standing for fairness and equity in educational funding and fairness and equity in our tax structure," she said. "We have not seen that for a very long time. ... We must continue to work together to address the limitations of the tax cap and the diminishing state aid and the impact these factors have on our educational system."
The message resonated with many who attended the rally.
"We chose to live in this community partly because of this school district," said Loree Alu, whose family has lived here for 10 years. "I think Three Village has certain things we offer our students that may be lost. ... Unfortunately, the state is controlling the way our money is spent and the mandates are out of control."