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Parents, students help school districts in tough financial times

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Parents, students help school districts in tough financial times
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Educators are relying on community members more than ever for help with their budgets. Parents and students have rallied in Albany and they've helped prioritize programs in their school districts. Our Katie Gibas reports.

NEW YORK STATE -- The last three years have been the toughest school districts have ever seen. And educators are relying on community members more than ever for help with their budgets. Parents and students have rallied in Albany and they've helped prioritize programs in their school districts. As our Katie Gibas reports, district officials say without the community's help, their budgets would have been even tougher.

Amid tough financial times, state aid to school districts has dwindled, while unfunded mandates continue to rise.

"They've really cut our hands off and said, 'You've still got to get the job done.' It's an impossible task this year," said Suzanne Slack, the Syracuse City School District CFO.

Rick Timbs, the Statewide School Finance Consortium Director added, "They're losing the education of their children as we speak."

Because of the tough cuts districts have proposed, more people than ever are coming to meetings to voice their opinions.

"That's because we're at the cliff and we're in big trouble. And things are going to change and not necessarily everyone's going to be happy," said Timbs.

To address the impossible task, districts called on the help of the community more than ever to make sure parents and students are the ones prioritizing programs to help shape school budgets.

"In our community forums this year, people have really looked at the bigger picture, and we've been very grateful for the very positive dialogue that's been there and the understanding the community has shown," said Kraig Pritts, the Tully Superintendent.

In some districts, the public has even taken it upon themselves to provide for students what budget won't allow for.

"There have been community members who have raised money to support extra-curricular activities. There have been community members who in the past have supported field trips when they've been scaled back," said Pritts.

But the community's help doesn't stop in their home district. Thousands from across the state have rallied in Albany over the last several months to urge for additional state aid and a change in the funding structure.

"We're very fortunate in getting an additional $3 million (in state aid) because of their efforts because my voice, or the superintendent's voice only goes so far. Every year, we cry broke and it's never enough , no matter what they give us. But when they see the face of the parents and the taxpayers and the children, I do think that makes a big difference," said Slack.

But educators said more change needs to happen in Albany, including mandate relief and changing the funding structure to help low wealth, high need districts.

Community members will once again have a say in the budget when they vote May 15th.

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