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Pols protest Gov’s school-fund appeal

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Busloads of Queens citizens joined city residents carrying signs broadcasting their fury — “Your Budget’s Balanced on Our Children’s Backs, Your Political Career Won’t be Built on Them” — at a protest last Thursday decrying Gov. George Pataki’s appeal of a court decision to give city schools a fairer share of state funds.

In front of Pataki’s Manhattan office on Third Avenue at 41st Street, the angry crowd of more than 100 people screamed for the governor to drop his appeal of State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse’s January ruling. DeGrasse ruled in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and ordered the state Legislature to find a better system of providing money for schools in the state’s five largest cities led by New York.

“The decision is very important for southeast Queens, New York City and the other cities whose children are not being educated due to inadequate funds,” said state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village). “We want the governor to drop his appeal, sit down with the state Legislature and come up with a solution.”

Clark, along with the New York State Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Legislative Caucus, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, United Parents Association of New York City and other organizations, sponsored the rally against Pataki’s position on allocating funds to city schools.

She said education is a right guaranteed in the Constitution and the children of the city are being shortchanged.

“It’s unfortunate that the Democrats continue to play politics with school aid instead of working on a bipartisan solution to fundamentally reform the school aid formula, so that every child gets the best education possible,” said Joe Conway, a spokesman for the governor. “The governor remains committed to working in a bipartisan fashion in order to achieve these fundamental reforms this session.”

In his ruling, DeGrasse cited overcrowded schools in Queens and the other boroughs to illustrate the city’s overwhelming need for additional resources. DeGrasse’s decision was hailed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of parents and advocacy groups that originally filed the lawsuit in 1993 and drew praise from many borough political leaders.

Observers have cited a deficiency in state funding as one of the reasons for severe overcrowding in Queens public schools. The city Board of Education has 38 percent of the state public school population but receives only 35.5 percent of the state’s educational budget, said the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The lack of funding affects the city’s ability to hire enough qualified teachers, build much needed classroom space and reduce the drastically overcrowded school system, said state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans).

“The thing is we are really suffering in southeast Queens,” he said. “The decision really does impact our area. The governor needs to do what is right and drop the lawsuit.”

In his decision DeGrasse ordered the city and state to come to an agreement on how to repair the educational funding problems by Sept. 15 and to appear in court in June to discuss the progress of the reforms. But the state recently received a one-month extension.

At the rally, Nagassar Ramgarib of Queens Village joined the protest because he said Pataki showed disregard for the children of New York city by appealing the court’s decision.

Pataki told “us if we want equal funding take him to court,” he said. Now Pataki is fighting the ruling because he did not agree with the court, Ramgarib said.

In the meantime, Ramgarib said his children and all of the students in the public educational system are suffering.

Many of the protesters expressed similar sentiments when talking about the need for funding. They claimed they wanted their fair share of dollars, which would help the city hire more teachers and allow the Board of Ed to hold onto the qualified teachers who flee to the suburbs after a few years of training in the city system.

“I am here because we want to give our children a chance,” said Laura Sanders, 33rd Assemble District leader from St. Albans. “We are fighting for more funding to educate our children and we are not going to stop until that happens.”

Robert Jackson, the lead plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court case, said equal funding is important for New York City children to help them develop a sound educational base. He called for Pataki to drop the appeal and sit down with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to put together a committee to determine the actual cost of educating New York’s children.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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