Buffalo, NY – It is something just about every taxpayer has an opinion on- pensions for public employees.
As his second term gets underway, Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking aim the teacher pension system, saying lawmakers are more concerned with keeping the system in place rather than finding ways to fix failing schools.
In 2013, more than 147,000 teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors and administrators drew a pension in New York. The total bill was more than $6 billion.
Statewide, the average pension for school retirees was $41,752 in the 2012-13 school year.
Cuomo's comments on pensions are tied to his push for better results in the classroom, but not everyone agrees with his policies.
Public education supporters protested outside Governor Cuomo's inaugural address Thursday. Among other things, they want smaller class sizes and an increase in state funding for public schools.
"I would like to invite him into the school systems across the state, especially in WNY, to see the work that is going on, the dedication of the teachers, and how committed they are," said Janet Utz with New York State United Teachers.
Utz, who taught in Cheektowaga for 35 years, was among the dozens of protesters out on Thursday.
Meanwhile inside, as the Governor called for fixing failing schools, he slammed lawmakers for putting a priority on pension protection.
"We've sent thousands of children to schools we knew were failing from an educational point of view. Albany has been too concerned with protecting the pension rights of teachers and not concerned enough with the future of students," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The Governor's comments come days after the state's top education officials backed a plan which would make it easier to remove ineffective educators from the classroom. Teachers and principals who receive two consecutive "ineffective" ratings on their annual evaluations would be removed.
This is also the same week Cuomo vetoed one of his own bills that would have temporarily removed Common Core-based student test scores from the evaluation scores of teachers who rated poorly. Cuomo says that since less than one-percent of all teachers were rated "ineffective" in the latest round of evaluation scores, the legislation was no longer necessary.
Chris Cerrone is a Springville School Board Member and Co-Founder of Western New Yorkers for Public Education. He was also one of Thursday's protesters.
"We lost $14 million, and we've cut to the bone. Class sizes are huge now. We've cut all our programs. We have nothing left to cut," Cerrone says of his district.
Cerrone feels as though Cuomo unfairly attacked educators in his speech.
"I think it's a political game. It's a lot of campaign rhetoric, and I think it's wrong to be trying to blame teachers when really teachers, their number one focus, people get into education not to become wealthy, or get a pension, it's, their focus is students, and that's why people are involved in education," says Cerrone.
Cerrone does not think the Governor is listening to what the protesters have to say, and he would like to see all of the stakeholders play a role in education reform. To him that includes teachers and parents.