Nanette Melkonian (left) and BOE member Sue Sturman talk with NY State Senator Craig Johnson, who made himself available for questions following the BOE's Town Hall meeting held Jan. 27.

Our State Senator Craig Johnson flew in from Albany Tuesday night, Jan. 27, to attend the Board of Education's Town Hall Meeting where members of the community discussed "Education in Difficult Times" with BOE members and district officials.

Senator Johnson has just been named to the Senate Health and Education Committee and informed the audience that Tuesday is "lobbying" day in Albany. He said that he had had 12 meetings that day with varying lobbyists including some for education who asked him "not to cut," "please restore," and "cut this, but don't cut that," in addition to speaking with NYSAT, the teachers' group. (These committee assignments follow Senator Johnson's appointment as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, a powerful committee that is responsible for oversight of state government operations.)

But with the current state of the state, its $15 billion deficit in addition to its $1.7 billion dollars, one from last year that has not been closed yet, he said these times will "require some real tough decisions."

However, he noted that he will do his best to ensure that Port schools, which are "nationally ranked schools, will continue to receive the education they deserve." But it will take "shared sacrifice."

What he plans to do is use this time of crisis to make favorable changes in education, he told the audience. Specifically, he hopes to rid local school districts of onerous, wasteful and expensive unfunded mandates.

He told the board that he and NYS Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel are preparing legislation that would help reduce transportation costs for school districts. Under the existing state law, districts have to offer a seat on a school bus for a designated radius determined by the district and voters. (To change the distance required by law, it must be voted upon taxpayers in their own school district.)

Johnson said that constituents complain that they frequently see "half empty buses."

His and Schimel's proposed legislation would give the power to determine the bus schedule back to the district. The senator pointed out that the district is better able to make the determinations based on historical analysis.

An unfunded mandate he was particularly critical of is the federal one's No Child Left Behind which went essentially unfunded but whose required amount of testing substantially costs the district money. Senator Johnson stated that there is also "no evidence that it improved education," adding that it creates a learning atmosphere which is "all about testing, not about education."

He and Assemblywoman Schimel are currently working up a list of unfunded mandates that he wants to see eliminated.

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