Boro teachers speak out on education budget cuts

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Queens parents were not the only ones on the steps of City Hall last week.

A number of teachers from Queens also made the trip Friday afternoon to take part in the final day of protests organized by the nonprofit group Alliance for Quality Education. The group held five days of rallies to protest education budget cuts and call for more funding for public schools.

In some ways city teachers are victimized twice by budget cuts. Working without a contract for more than 18 months, the teachers often bear the brunt of reduced funding — dealing head-on with a lack of basic resources like paper and textbooks.

Laura O’Neil, a veteran elementary school teacher from School District 24 in Glendale, sat outside City Hall Friday with several of her colleagues.

“When they cut the budget, the kids suffer,” she said. “You cut it now, 20 years from now you’re going to pay.”

Another School District 24 teacher, Eileen Walsh from Ridgewood, said compared to the amenities found in many Long Island schools just over the Queens border, Queens students have a rough time.

Walsh said fellow teachers, who make about 20 percent more than their city counterparts, have told her about classrooms with computers for every student.

“How can my kids compete with that?” she said.

Gina Camisa and Peter Caccioppoli, a young couple who work in School District 24, have only been teaching for about three years.

Together, the pair comprise a rare breed in the city: Camisa is a math teacher while Caccioppoli teaches science, two subjects in which qualified teachers are in short supply.

Camisa and Caccioppoli, who both work at IS 5 in Elmhurst, had a lot to say after the 1 1/2 hour protest.

“It was nice to see them fighting for things like overcrowding,” said Camisa, who said her school has a number of “traveling teachers,” who travel throughout a school pushing materials on a cart because there is no classroom space.

Caccioppoli, who went to school in Bayside’s School District 26, said when he began teaching he was shocked by the scarcity of resources.

“There’s such a lack of supplies,” he said. “I teach [science] in what used to be an office. I don’t have a sink, I don’t have an outlet.

“There’s no extra stuff,” he said. “And not having a contract makes it even more frustrating.”

Camisa said “it’s sad for the kids most of all.”

Growing up in the Long Island public school system, she said playing sports and having extracurricular activities was a given. In a city where funding is scarce and schools like those in Queens which face intense overcrowding have little space for extras, after-school activities are not always a reality.

“There’s a lot of missed opportunities for the kids and it’s sad,” she said. “I try not to get frustrated, but I can’t even see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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