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Some CNY educators branch out, oppose the governor's education reforms

Ellen Abbott
Attendees of a recent forum on education.

Central New York educators are galvanizing support as they oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education policy.

Cuomo is proposing sweeping education reforms as part of his 2015 budget. They include stricter teacher evaluations, tougher tenure rules and expansion of charter schools. In his State of the State message, he tied it all together with money.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

"If the legislature passes these reforms, I propose a 4.8 percent increase in the budget. A $1.1 billion investment in education, because it will be the right education system," Cuomo said.

That doesn’t sit well with Bonnie Russell, the president of the New York State PTA, or the parents she represents.

"They feel that their student’s fiscal health is being held hostage,” she says.

Phil Cleary, a teacher in the North Syracuse Central School District, believes this tactic goes beyond education.

“This is a bully governor who’s saying all of his reforms, in every single aspect of New York State government, have to be taken just his way -- or it’s nothing,” Cleary says.

The rhetoric has been pointed on both sides. Cuomo called the current teacher evaluation systems baloney in his State of the State message. The governor has been decrying for years the fact that New York state spends more on public education than almost any other state in the nation, yet still lags many states on measurements of educational success.

Charles Borgognoni, who is head of the Central New York School Boards Association, believes Cuomo won’t admit the true reason for this unbalanced picture.

"The way we distribute it, the equity involved in distributing those resources, in any study you look at, is from 45 to 50 in the United States,” he says.

Borgognoni says  rich districts get more money than poor districts, and that creates bad outcomes in poorer districts.

All of these groups are joining forces for a massive lobbying effort this budget season, as the state legislature negotiates a final spending deal with the governor. Parents joined teaches and administrators at a forum at a Syracuse-area school earlier this month; replete with primers on how to lobby a legislator.

More events are planned in coming weeks across the state. Cleary says the groups will be dogging Cuomo wherever he goes.

"If he’s going to pick a fight with teachers, and he’s going to assail parents who want local control for their kids, and he’s going to deny opportunity to students -- he’s going to find teachers, parents and students everywhere he goes," Cleary says.

While that might be nothing new for Cuomo -- he’s been at odds with teachers unions and education advocates throughout his administration -- Russell says the question has come up, whether this year he’s gone too far.

“‘Has he overplayed his hand?’ someone said. And I think, we’ll have to see. I believe he has, but I think the legislature’s going to be the key to that,” Russell says.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.