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Beekmantown students rally to protest job, program cuts (Photo:  Brian Mann)
Beekmantown students rally to protest job, program cuts (Photo: Brian Mann)

Students stage vigils, protests as school cuts run deep

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In a sometimes emotional public meeting last night, parents, students and taxpayers questioned Beekmantown's board of education about proposed teacher cuts that would affect a wide range of programs. The meeting followed a day of vigils and protests by students, who were also on hand in large numbers for last night's session.

The $38.7 million budget outlined by the district restored some of the most unpopular cuts, to arts and music programs. But it still contemplates more than a dozen staff cuts. As Brian Mann reports, many kids worry that the core quality of their school is slipping away.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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I'm standing in a packed auditorium at Beekmantown Central School and the budget plan that's being talked about in this community contemplates dozens of teacher layoffs and deep cuts to arts programs, including the music program.

Hundreds of kids and parents have turned out to hear the presentation by school Superintendent Scott Amo.

"State aid cuts presented a new challenge," he said.  "The governor's proposed budget to our school district resulted in significant state aid cuts, the magnitude of them were not anticipated."

In early drafts of the budget, Amo had proposed cutting as many as thirty positions.

Last night’s meeting followed days of vigils and meetings and sit-ins, staged not by teachers or unions, but by the students here.

"Most of the initial gatherings and responses were from the students in the music department," said Devan Anderson, a senior at Beekmantown High who holds a non-voting seat on the board of education here.

"But there have been many other groups of students who have come together to inform themselves, get their voices and out say we wouldn't like to see all these things go."

Now, it can sound a little condescending to say that it’s remarkable just how informed and deliberate these students seemed.

But really, Anderson and a half dozen other kids I talked to here spoke complexly and with nuance about the budget crisis their school faces. 

"It's a dire situation.  We're hoping to see no cuts, but that's optimistic," said Min Coyer is a sixteen year old sophomore.

Coyer and stands next to Dan Frederick, a seventeen year old junior.  Both are dressed neatly – one in a tie the other in a sweater. 

They say the catalyst for the student action was concern about arts programs, but they worry that the overall enrichment and quality that they’ve seen during their years in this school could slip away

"For us it's not just music either.  It's the social aspect, it gets us higher learning, it's cognitive thinking," Frederick said.

"We could lose advance placement programs," Coyer added.

As the public meeting got underway, many of the actual taxpayers – the folks who will vote on the school budget – embraced the idea of reinstating all the job cuts.  Here’s Elton Jodoin.

"Don't underestimate the people here.  This district when we started was in worst trouble than we are now.  There was no tax base.  The farmers picked up the bill.  The school is the heart of this district."

But school officials point out that restoring all the teacher cuts would add about a million dollars to the school’s budget – that would add up to about $100 a year in extra taxes for many families.

Dale Thompson, a worker at the Georgia Pacific mill, said he’d like to see the jobs restored, but he’d also like to see salary and benefit concessions by the teachers.

"New York state has the highest rate of businesses leaving the state because of the tax rate," he said.  "And if people don't wake up there ain't going to be nothing here to pay your taxes."

In the end, the student actions here seem to have had some real effect. 

When Superintendent Scott Amo introduced his actual list of job cuts last night, many of the arts and music positions had been restored.

But Amo still unveiled a laundry list of job losses and program cuts, including a half-dozen elementary school teachers, a foreign language teacher, a science teacher, and an English teacher.

And even before voters cast their ballots on this budget, Amo also issued a warning about future years. 

This spending plan proposes a 3% increase in the district’s over all spending.  If the legislature passes that 2% property tax cap, it will force districts like Beekmantown to make even deeper cuts in the future.

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