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St. Lawrence Central School students demonstrate for more state aid

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BRASHER FALLS - St. Lawrence Central junior Breanna Ziser held a piece of her artwork as she joined other students Tuesday for a peaceful demonstration against budget cuts to the school, including the loss of an art teacher.

It was a sad time, she said, as future students wouldn’t have the same art opportunities she has had because of the cuts being made in the 2014-15 spending plan.

“I fee like other students, like my younger brother, should be able to have the same opportunities. They’re taking away opportunities for other kids,” Ms. Ziser said.

With an approximately $1.2 million gap facing them, district officials are using $450,000 from fund balance. That reduced the gap to $750,000, but to get the $21.4 million budget balanced they are calling for the elimination of several positions, including one math teacher, one physical education teacher, one business teacher, a half-time language teacher, one teacher assistant, one school counselor, one art teacher, one teacher aide, one cook, 5 percent of an athletic director and a half-time music teacher.

Tuesday’s demonstration was organized by freshman Cheyenne Krise, who said she was overwhelmed by the support she received. Students spent the day in front of the school’s main entrance, holding signs that included messages like “Strike for our future,” “St. Lawrence Central is our home,” We are the future. Fund our school,” “Give the $3.5 million that is owed to our school,” “Don’t mess with the education of the next generation,” “We may be small, but we still matter” and “You’re taking the fun out of learning.”

“I didn’t expect this many people,” she said as fellow students gathered in a group, held their signs high and shouted in unison, “Save our school!”

Word about the demonstration was spread in the school and via social networking sites like Facebook. Ms. Krise said she had set up a Facebook page to keep students informed about the plans.

It was another step in students taking an active role in trying to reaching out to elected officials in Albany. In the last couple of months, a student-produced video was shared widely on the Internet and students tweeted their budget concerns to elected officials on Twitter.

Tuesday was no different.

“We’ve been calling legislators all day long,” in addition to making their feelings known in front of the school, Ms. Krise said.

Some of the program cuts will be particularly hurtful to students, some of them said.

“I’m in art. I like music,” freshman Samantha Ryan said.

Sophomore Emily Tuper said she wants other students to have the same opportunities she’s had during her time at St. Lawrence Central School.

“I’ve been in this school since kindergarten. All my friends are here. We’ve all stuck together. We won’t be able to continue with art and music,” Ms. Tuper said. “My education is really important to me. I want to have other kids have the same experience.”

Her message, she said, is, “We need our funds. We need the money. We need to be able to give kids the opportunity.”

“I’m scared we’ll have to go to a different school to graduate,” Ms. Krise said.

Several students spoke of the $3.5 million that they say is owed to St. Lawrence Central School. Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. says the district is owed $3.5 million in state aid that has been withheld over the past five years.

“Give us a check. Give us all the money we need - $3.5 million is a lot of money,” freshman Alyssa Montgomery said, suggesting that other districts downstate had fared much better than hers. “I just don’t like inequity.”

To help out in the short term, she and other students said the district should receive bullet aid, additional funding provided by elected officials.

Ms. Montgomery, like some other students, took part in a phone-calling effort with elected officials.

“One of the representatives said we had his support,” Ms. Montgomery said.

Tuesday’s demonstration began at 8 a.m. and took a break at 2:25 p.m. before resuming again from 5:30 to 6 p.m., just prior to the district’s budget hearing.

While students were expected to be in classes, participating in the demonstration during appropriate times such as study halls and lunch, some opted to spend the entire day outside with their signs. Those students will be marked “absent unexcused” from the classes they missed, and all missed class work must be made up.”

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