Revisionist History, George Pataki Style: The Truth About the Governor’s Commitment to Education in Suffolk County

Recently, when community leaders, school officials and parents from across Suffolk County gathered to protest the governor’s devastating education cuts, Governor Pataki’s spokesman tried to give the governor credit for "historic investments in our public schools" ("Education Slashes Cut Deep in Islip," Suffolk Life Newspapers, 4/9/03). Clearly, the governor has come down with a severe case of revisionist history syndrome.

The truth is, throughout his tenure, the governor has attempted to slash general education funding, vital and effective pre-K programs, teacher training, after-school initiatives, special-education programs, reduced class-size programs and school facility initiatives. And while his education commitment for the state as a whole has been lacking, he’s all but turned his back on Suffolk County’s school children. His cuts have fallen hardest on communities like Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore.

Year after year, the governor has presented budget proposals to the state Legislature that fail to provide the resources necessary to help our state’s students achieve higher academic standards. Since the governor took office in 1995, had it not been for the Legislature’s success in fighting off his damaging budgets, schools in this state would have lost $2.4 billion – over $118 million would have been lost here in Suffolk County alone.

The governor’s so-called "historic investments" are actually a testament to the Assembly Majority’s commitment to public education, and the efforts of our previous Assemblymembers. We’re the ones who, each and every year, have opposed the governor’s school aid cuts and successfully fought for the increases he claims as his own.

After eight years of undermining Suffolk schools, this year the governor’s mounting an all-out assault. His budget slashes statewide education funding by $1.4 billion, resulting in a devastating cut of over $150 million for Suffolk schools. At a time when we’re raising standards for our children, the governor is lowering the boom on them.

Without adequate state aid, our schools will be forced to cut essential programs – like pre-K, after-school and reduced class-size initiatives – and lay off teachers. And property taxes will have to go up nearly 20 percent statewide just to maintain current services. These are wrong choices and we cannot let the governor balance the budget on the backs of our children and property tax payers.

Joining with our community leaders, we tried to give the governor a message about the impact of his cuts on Suffolk schools, but he refused to listen or meet with us or even offer a representative to meet with us. His office rebuffed our efforts to deliver 2,000 postcards from concerned parents and community members.

As a member of the Assembly’s Education Committee, I am committed to helping craft a budget that provides Suffolk County children with the education they need to reach their full potential. The governor’s assault on education must be stopped. We must ensure that schools have the resources they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.