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Council comes to boro to pitch education tax

Rather than cut $358 million from city schools, the City Council is pushing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to raise taxes to provide desks, books, programs, and activities for students, the Council’s Education Committee told a public hearing Tuesday.

About 250 Queens parents, teachers, students, and community members attended the hearing held by the Education Committee at Thomas Edison Vocational and Technical High School in Jamaica. The hearing was designed to get feedback on Bloomberg’s proposed budget, which includes a 7 percent, or $358 million, cut in education funds.

While the hearing covered education issues ranging from teachers’ contracts to overcrowding to special education to arts programs, there was no discussion of a Daily News report that Schools Chancellor Harold Levy’s contract would not be renewed and that Bloomberg was considering two replacement candidates. Both Levy and Bloomberg flatly denied the report.

The Education Committee did take the opportunity to talk about the Council’s response to Bloomberg’s budget, titled “Education First.” The Council’s budget restores $344 million to schools partly through money from a progressive increase to the city’s personal income tax, which would cost a person earning under $40,000 about $7 a year, while a person earning $100,000 would pay $142 a year.

The Council’s response also calls for reduced funding to the Board of Education’s central administration to allow more money to go to the classrooms, and demands greater state aid for city schools.

“We have proposed this plan because there’s been an absence of a plan,” said Eva Moskowitz (D-Manhattan), the Education Committee chairwoman. “It’s unacceptable not to have a plan.”

The Council’s plan was well received by the audience, many of whom said they would be willing to undergo the tax hike for education.

“Raise my taxes,” said Eleanor McNamee, who said she was there on behalf of Queens high schools. “I’ll gladly pay more taxes. If it goes to the children, I’ll pay it.”

Although budget cuts to education have been an ongoing problem for as long as most people can remember, Borough President Helen Marshall likened this year’s cuts to giving in to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“We cannot allow budget cuts to decimate our schools,” she said. “If we do that, we’re congratulating the terrorists.”

Parents and educators told the board they are fed up with being short-changed on basic and extracurricular issues.

“It’s no secret what it takes to teach a child,” said Terri Thomson, Queens’ representative to the Board of Education. “It takes the involvement of parents, small classes, and well-trained teachers, and yes, it takes money. We’re not talking about enhancements, we’re talking about basic needs.”

One of those needs is desks, Thomson said. Queens high schools are operating with a 13,000-seat shortage and by 2010 the shortage is expected to grow to 20,000 seats, she said.

Michelle Dudley, PTA president at PS 177, a special education school in Flushing, urged the Council to remember the special needs students.

“If that costs a little more money, too bad. That is their civil right,” said Dudley, whose son is autistic.

More than anything, the audience wanted to know what they could do. Carmela Munoz and Gina Peluso from the PTA at PS 193 in Whitestone came with about 800 letters written to Bloomberg from students, teachers and parents.

“I know lots of students willing to do something about it,” said Jennyfer Machuca, a junior at Bayside High School.

Moskowitz asked the audience to fill out preprinted postcards addressed to Bloomberg which endorsed the Council’s budget response. Council members will also be handing out fliers Monday.

“We’ll be campaigning, not to be elected but to campaign for ‘Education First,’” Moskowitz said. “It works. That’s how we all got elected.”

The Daily News reported that Mayor Bloomberg would not renew Levy’s contract, which expires in June, but both Bloomberg and Levy denied the rumors. Levy left Citigroup in January 2000 to become the first business executive to head the city’s school system, the largest in the nation.

Despite criticism of Levy’s actions, some said that it is the system that’s the problem.

“The position is doomed for failure the way it’s set up,” said City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village). “It’s not about one man, it’s not about one woman. The system is broken.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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