With a deadline approaching for lawmakers to agree on a final New York State budget, legislators are making the rounds in their districts this week to advocate for their priorities. In Saratoga Springs, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner spent a day visiting with students and teachers.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat who represents Saratoga and Washington Counties, visited with students of all ages for an entire day Thursday. After the last bell at Caroline Street Elementary in Saratoga Springs, Woerner shared her observations with reporters.
Woerner said she met with seniors who talked about their future college and career plans, and the importance of arts and business classes in their time at school. In an age of higher educational standards and tighter budgets, Woerner said she was impressed by the district’s ability to hold on to programs like elementary school chorus.
“And while it’s clear to me that the school district has done a terrific job of mainting high quality standards and ensuring that the educational experience that our children have is really at the top level, these investments are critical to maintain that as we go forward,” said Woerner.
Woerner used her visit to outline the importance of restoring Gap Elimination Adjustment funding for school districts, an item being pushed for by her upstate colleagues from both parties.
At the height of the economic recession in 2008 and 2009, across-the-board cuts in school aid were made to fill a state budget hole. Over time, much of the funding has been restored, but not all. But lawmakers that represent suburban and rural schools, like Woerner, have claimed the cuts have disproportionally hurt upstate districts.
The Saratoga Springs School District is still owed $1.4 million in state aid from the GEA. The district is not alone in having to cut teaching and support staff.
“In many schools they’ve lost teachers, they’ve lost social workers, they’re not investing in technology. These are these the things they’re doing without because these monies were taken away,” said Woerner.
The Assembly and Senate have included a full restoration of GEA funds in their budget plans. Though lawmakers have been pushing for years, Woerner says she’s confident districts will see a full restoration when the budget is signed, expected to be around March 31st.
Woerner also visited classrooms that have implemented Common Core learning standards. The standards have been controversial in New York, especially when linked to new standardized testing, Woerner said she was intrigued by how classrooms use visual aids and posters to assist students, and how lessons are shared in separate subjects, such as a unit on the Roaring ‘20s in history class being carried over to public speaking projects in English class.
Superintendent of schools Michael Piccirillo said the rollout of Common Core is still presenting challenges.
“I think it could have been more thoughtfully. We have figured out, but we’re trying to continue to figure out how to make it work best,” said Piccirillo.
Piccirillo said the district has had to make adjustments on the fly, such as creating summer programs and bringing in literacy and math coaches for students. Of course, additional support costs money.
Woerner’s visit came just days after New York got a new Board of Regents chancellor. Dr. Betty Rosa replaces former chair Merryl Tisch. While Woerner said she has not met Rosa, she says she is comforted by the enthusiasm for Rosa shown by Regent Beverly Ouderkirk, whom Woerner introduced to schoolteachers in her district last spring.
“If Beverly is on board with her, I am too. Because I trust Beverly’s instincts on this," said Woerner.