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St. Lawrence Central administrators support student budget protest

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BRASHER FALLS - When St. Lawrence Central School students begin their peaceful demonstration against budget cuts today, they have the support of the district’s administrators, who say it’s a way to get the message to Albany that the school district is in financial hurt.

“This is their way of exercising their democratic right. Administratively we support it,” Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. said.

He said students had come to school administrators to advise them they were planning to protest budget cuts during the school day and also during this evening’s budget hearing, which begins at 6 p.m. The peaceful “Strike for Our Future” demonstration is scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. and again from 5:30 to 6 p.m.

“They came to us and said, ‘We’re doing thi,s and we’re doing it off campus.’ We said, ‘If you do it, we’d like to have you do it here and be safe and provide supervision.’ I felt strongly that I’d rather keep them on campus and safe and provide some supervision. They were fine with that,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

“We’ve made it clear that we expect kids to be in class during their class time. We’re expecting that all the kids will attend all of their classes. By the same token, we’re providing them an opportunity to organize and to protest and to share their feelings, and I think it’s just so inherent to our democratic process. We have some of our staff that will provide supervision out front and help answer any questions,” he said.

Freshman Cheyenne Krise said that they plan to protest cuts in the district’s $21.4 million budget for 2014-15. The spending plan, which was recently approved by the district’s board of education with board member Jonathan Burnett casting the lone no vote, calls 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.

The cuts were concerns to several teachers, students, graduates and community members who filled the middle school/high school library during the last board of education meeting. They implored the board to look at other alternatives to the cuts, including the use of more fund balance, something Mr. Burnett said he supported.

Facing an approximate $1.2 million gap, they are using $450,000 in fund balance, which represents approximately 25 percent of the total fund balance. However, still facing a $750,000 gap, district officials proposed the position reductions to balance the budget.

“The fact that the spending plan is passed is really not relevant to the fact that kids are upset about the types of cuts that need to be made. They’ve taken the time to be educated on the process. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

The students selected today for their protest because of the budget hearing, Ms. Krise said. They plan to picket during the school day, take a break and return for the budget hearing.

“The impetus for this whole thing was from the students. We’ve worked with them, supplying them information. The kids are frustrated. We support the fact that they’re frustrated. They don’t understand why the legislators continue to put Brasher Falls in this situation,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

He said what frustrates students is the fact that other schools in New York don’t appear to be as impacted as St. Lawrence Central. He said students want to express their concerns about cuts to programming and staffing because of $3.5 million in state aid that has been withheld from the district over the past five years, and that’s a message they want to reach state legislators and assembly members in the hopes that the school will receive equitable funding compared to other districts.

They also hope to encourage elected officials to give bullet aid in the short term to help the district’s fiscal situation, he said.

“When they look at other schools in the state and see that many schools are largely unaffected by the recent New York state budget, it frustrates them. They want to make sure their legislators know that,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

“If you talk with the kids that I’ve talked with, there’s just a general feeling of concern not only for what they lose for next year, but for the future of the district. They talked about their little brothers and sisters and cousins and neighbors. It’s gotten to a point where they feel like they need to do something. When they approached administration, we tried to give them a vehicle to do it,” he said.

In allowing the demonstration, district officials established some guidelines for the day. Among them, students must report to homeroom to be counted present for the day and are expected to be in classes. If they want to participate, however, they can come out during appropriate times such as study halls and lunch. Students who participate all day will not be disciplined, as long as rules are followed.

Students who choose to miss classes to participate in the demonstration will be marked “absent unexcused” from the classes they miss, and all missed class work must be made up.

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