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Student Report

Even though students are often the ones most directly affected by the school funding decisions made by state and district leaders, their voices are rarely a part of those conversations.

But, as the state's economic pains threaten to diminish the local district budget in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a high school class there is speaking out.

At the urging of district officials, about 35 students at Poughkeepsie High School coordinated a schoolwide survey to find out what their peers wanted to see in their school.

The students, who are part of semester- long "Participation in Government" classes, first sent a questionnaire to the school's 1,000 students. They took the most relevant responses and wrote a survey with 57 questions, then analyzed the results of the 600 returns.

From that survey, they found that most students wanted their district leaders to provide more college counseling, more flexibility in class schedules and course offerings, and cleaner, renovated facilities—particularly restrooms.

Next, a handful of students made presentations to the superintendent, the district business manager, principals, local teachers' union leaders, and the school board. They've also included some no-cost ideas, such as getting groups of students to "adopt" hallways to keep clean.

Teacher Rick Keller-Coffey said he often uses the school budget as a teaching tool in the state-mandated class, so his students can relate to something close to home. And given that New York state budget cuts could affect Poughkeepsie schools, students were more interested in ways to get involved and find cost-efficient ways to further their learning, he said.

The issue resonated especially loudly: Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, is proposing to cut $1.2 billion in K-12 spending, which would total $13.4 billion for fiscal 2004. ("New York District Rebels Against Tardy State Legislature," April 23, 2003.) "Knowing how crazy budgets are, especially this year, they came up with some very good ideas," Mr. Keller-Coffey said.

Some of the students weren't sold on the idea at first, he added, but once district leaders and the local news media started to give them notice, they became more enthusiastic.

The students received many compliments and praise from district and school officials, Mr. Keller-Coffey reported. Now, he said, those leaders are sorting through some of the ideas as they prepare next year's budget.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 22, Issue 33, Page 25

Published in Print: April 30, 2003, as State Journal

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