Reform and dissent: Locals’ issues with Cuomo’s agenda

Jolyn Safron. (Photo: Alen Fetahi)

Jolyn Safron. (Photo: Alen Fetahi)

Late last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration broke with the longstanding tradition of providing school districts across New York State with “runs,” the projected aid increases, based on the governor’s education funding proposal, which district officials use to help shape their own budgets. Administration officials confirmed the school runs were being withheld because the governor’s education reform agenda hasn’t been met favorably by the state legislature. Some parents in the Kingston City School District aren’t too happy with the governor either.

Kingston Action for Education (KAFE) is a parents’ advocacy in education group founded in March 2014 by Jolyn Safron, Maria Maritsas and Tory Lowe. KAFE has been leading the charge in opposing the controversial Common Core curriculum which are still working their way into the public school system. Last November, the Ulster County Legislature voted 23-0 on a resolution supporting the discontinuation of Common Core implementation until the standards can be evaluated and improved at the state level. Safron lauded the decision at the time, and local lawmakers joined others across the state in questioning Common Core and other elements of the governor’s educational plan.

Among the governor’s proposed education reforms are stricter teacher evaluations, an extended period of time to earn tenure, the expansion of charter schools and an increase in state oversight of struggling schools and districts. Presently, 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on the results of standardized testing; Cuomo’s plan would double that.

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At a meeting of Kingston’s Board of Education last week, KAFE’s co-founders read a prepared statement opposing the governor’s education package.

“His proposal has made it abundantly clear that he supports an increased emphasis on high-stakes testing and that he supports a reduction in local control of our schools,” said the KAFE statement. “He does not support a fair and appropriate education for our students but instead is holding school aid hostage to force the legislature to implement his education proposals.”

Already opposed to the increase in standardized tests KCSD students are asked to take, KAFE expressed concern that relying more heavily on the results for teacher evaluations “will undoubtedly intensify the ‘teaching to the test’ atmosphere in the classroom.”

“KAFE opposes standardized high-stakes testing that is currently pushed by the federal and state governments because this testing is not being used to further instruction for children, to help children, or to support the educational needs of children,” read the statement.

Kingston Superintendent Paul Padalino called the governor’s office withholding state aid runs “a little childish” last month, and he encouraged an ongoing dialogue about education reform as the way forward.

“There are some parts of what [Governor Cuomo] is talking about that are absolutely dead on, but there are different ways of doing it,” Padalino said. “Let’s get a statewide professional review rubric, a statewide system that’s a real look at what testing should be counted on for teachers, and a reasonable amount of testing for our students. Let’s talk about that. Let’s have a productive conversation instead of this going to the extremes and creating hurdles that no one can jump over. If the governor’s goal is to improve education, these extremes aren’t going to be the way to do it.”

For KAFE, that dialogue is something that’s been sorely lacking, especially from the governor’s office.

“Parents and educators have been trying to convey the many concerns that we have concerning the state of education for the last two years and Governor Cuomo has not been listening,” said Safron. “And it’s become blatantly obvious with this education agenda that he’s doing what I feel is exactly the opposite of the things that need to be done. It feels like a slap in the face.”

Maritsas agreed, adding that the voices are only going to grow louder the more they’re ignored.

There are 6 comments

  1. Christine Z

    Cuomo, and branches of government in Albany, including NYSED, the Board of Regents and the New York State legislature have been repeatedly dismissive of parental concerns over education reforms in New York State. Governor Cuomo only listens to those select few who can fill his campaign coffers and ignores the very valid concerns of the people of New York State. Cuomo showed his true colors when he vetoed his own bill that would ease just a little of the pressure placed on our children by these misguided policies. And, he left this bill languishing on his desk until after his election. This is not the correct way to lead, this is the behavior of a despot.

  2. Bianca Tanis

    Thank you for such in depth coverage of such an important issue. High stakes testing diminishes critical learning time, narrows the curriculum and costs our schools millions of dollars in unfunded test related mandates.

  3. Rosemary Martin

    Parents need to refuse these tests for their children, and we still need to stop common core. To many good teachers are leaving because of testing, and the common core. We see the harm being done to our children, as do the teachers. Cuomo is not an educator, or a parent who has children subjected to common core and testing. He needs to listen to parents and teachers. We will not stop fighting the take over of our schools. Join a stop common core group and let your voice be heard.

  4. Michael Panessa

    Dead on. In essence stripping schools of money, staffing, flipping the entire structure of our schools systems upside down with untested , evidence lacking reforms and then hammering away at teachers, parents and children because test scores aren’t better. It’s nothing short of insanity. Even if viewed in a business light which I’m loathe to do, no successful business would ever embark on all of these highly disruptive practices simultaneously as it would be to invite disaster. It has not only invited disaster it has asked it to stay. The train needs to stop before the damage is irreparable.

  5. Diana Kuster

    I thank the Kingston Times and the KAFE Kingston Action For Education for writing an article that really causes parents to rethink our role in the reformation of education in Kingston, Ulster County and New York State. I even appreciate Dr. Paul Padalino for starting to speak up for children and teachers. I hope in the future he shows increased respect and collaboration with the parents who are trying desperately to advocate for our children and all public school children.

    There is a forum tomorrow night at 6:30 pm Monday February 23, 2015 at Miller Middle School. We need as many adults as possible to speak up for education and here is our opportunity to come together as a county. I applaud the professionalism of this article and ask you to continue the discussion if not weekly but monthly. In May we need one vote for every child. In the meantime please write, call, e-mail or visit our assemblyman, senator and congressman who can help slow down or halt this terrible implementation of common core and reform. But especially ask our governor to release the financial data. We the taxpayers do not need the burden of lack of state funding. They have a surplus and have been borrowing from the children for over 5 years. Please help to get the system back on track. Thank you.

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