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Cairo-Durham Central School District


Right at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains, situated on top of a hill with gorgeous views, is Cairo-Durham Central Schools. A smaller, rural district of just over 1,000 students, the students who call themselves Mustangs take pride in their hard work, school campus and hands-on electives. But those could be at risk with proposed funding cuts in the executive budget.

Cairo-Durham is facing a cut of nearly $900,000, or 7.7 percent, of its Foundation Aid. That would equal nearly 2.5 percent of last year’s budget in a district where over 60 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

“For some kids, these electives are the reason they come to school,” said Allison Manoli, president of the Cairo-Durham Teachers Association. “The arts and music, the engineering program, the interventions to make sure kids are comfortable and so they know they are capable.”

In an art classroom, students studied landscape and perspective. Some are preparing to take Advanced Placement Art next year. Nearby is a woodworking class, a high-demand elective that students wait years to get into. Students proudly showed off projects they were working on, including chairs made from cardboard that were being tested to see which could hold the most weight. “Students need something to look forward to, something to excel at if they don’t really excel at other subjects,” said art teacher Jessica Little.

“For some kids, these electives are the reason they come to school. The arts and music, the engineering program, the interventions to make sure kids are comfortable and so they know they are capable.”

~ Allison Manoli (right), president of the Cairo-Durham Teachers Association

In an engineering classroom, students concentrated on making circuits and planning projects. The class, part of the Project Lead the Way engineering courses, is on a three-year rotation, which gives students an opportunity to take as many courses as possible with limited resources.

At a jazz band rehearsal, 18 students practiced for upcoming concerts. The music program at Cairo-Durham is robust, with 60 students in concert band and 70 in chorus. The band will be marching once again in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, as well as playing in St. Patrick’s Day parades locally.

In another classroom, students spoke about how the Students Taking Academic Responsibility, or STAR, program has changed their lives. The program is an intervention program for students who lack connections to school and has extra supports for students built in. STAR students are placed in a small class in ninth grade with the same core teachers through their junior year.

“In middle school I was not on track at all,” said Abigail, one of the students in the program. In the STAR program, “the teachers really drive you to do your best, to be the best version of you. Without the program, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.” With STAR’s help, Abigail says she will be graduating a year early and heading to SUNY Delhi to study architecture.

“The overall theme is how much of an impact these programs have on the lives on these kids,” said NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross, who was touring the district. “The prospect of facing these cuts is really disheartening.”

Coupled with the loss in Foundation Aid, the district is facing a $1.3 million budget deficit. The district would have to go well beyond the state mandated tax cap to cover that difference, leading to the prospect of cutting programs and staff. Teachers and administrators at the district say cutting staff would mean cutting offerings, which means opportunities for future students will be lost.

NYSUT is fighting back against this executive budget proposal with our allies in the state Legislature. You can tell your local representative to oppose these cuts by going here:

Words | Ben Amey
Images | Ben Amey