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Education Advocates, Parents Protest Proposed Budget Cuts

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Union leaders and education advocates testified Monday at the first of the State Senate Finance Committee's regional public hearings, saying the governor's proposed budget cuts would devastate city educational institutions.

The panel met at the U.S. Customs House in Lower Manhattan.

In an effort to close the state's $3 billion mid-year budget gap, Governor David Paterson has proposed a $5 billion cost-cutting plan over the next two years.

It calls for cuts of $1.3 billion to local assistance – including transportation, social services, and healthcare. There would be a $480 million cut to educational aid, including $223 million for city schools.

"New York State does not care for its education, that's the message our students get every day when they walked in a building that has no heat at Bronx Community College since July," said Barbara Bowen of the professional staff congress at the City University of New York. "There are buildings at New York City Tech with no heat. What message do you think they are getting about the state of New York?"

"What is missing from the plan is a plan," said Allan Lubin of the New York State Teacher's Union. "There are announcements of cuts and then there are new announcements of cuts. And then there are new announcements of further deficit. We could wait until the next Wall Street filing and see where it is really is, because nobody knows, no one has been able to answer the question when I've asked it. What is it going to look like in two months from now, three years from now?"

Officials were not the only ones frustrated by the proposed cuts. At noon, parents stood up and interrupted the meeting, breaking pencils and chanting, "Keep your promises, no more cuts."

"We're deeply concerned. We feel traumatized," said Brooklyn State Senator Carl Kruger, who defended his fellow lawmakers and said the plan was the brainchild of the governor, not of the legislative body. "And yet at the same time, we have a responsibility."

Representatives from health care, housing, and other social services also testified before the panel.

The governor is planning to bring lawmakers back to Albany next month for a special session to address the budget gap. Technically called an extraordinary session, it's set for November 10.

Other unfinished legislation from the last session in June will also be on the agenda, including gay marriage.

Paterson has asked lawmakers to convene a joint session on November 9 so that he can address the state Legislature.

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