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Catholic school parents demand state $$

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Hundreds of parents joined elected officials at Cardinal Spellman High School on Thursday, January 14 to pressure New York State to reimburse Bronx Catholic schools for mandated attendance and health services.

New York Archdiocese Catholic school superintendent Timothy McNiff, Senator Jeff Klein, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson, a representative for Assemblyman Carl Heastie and more than 800 Bronx Catholic school parents urged Governor Paterson to make good on $243 million dollars in reimbursements. The rally also focused on legislation sponsored by Klein and Benedetto that would mandate $6 million in annual reimbursements for religious and independent schools’ contributions to the MTA payroll tax.

Parents expressed outrage when informed that Catholic school employees are subject to the tax, while public school employees are exempt.

“Last year I joined Cardinal Edward Egan and we had a very successful rally. We were able to convince the state to repay Catholic schools $30 million,” Klein said. “I have two bills pending this year. The first would require that New York State pay 100 percent for mandated services. The second would exempt Catholic schools from the MTA payroll tax.”

Catholic school parents have won some victories. When Paterson proposed an $11 million cut from the state’s mandated services and attendance policy reimbursement program, he was blocked by the legislature.

“We are enormously grateful to the senate and assembly members from the Bronx for protecting Catholic schools from additional cuts,” said James Cultrara of the New York State Catholic Conference.

Since 1974, the state has reimbursed religious and independent schools for mandated services. But the state has fallen behind on the payments in the last three years. Parents are worried that the lack of reimbursements will affect schools, force them to cut back on services or raise tuition.

“Religious and independent schools are dedicated to providing a quality education for a great number of New York City students,” Klein said. “Parents already pay a costly amount for their children to attend these schools and they shouldn’t be forced to shell out even more money for the MTA payroll tax. Public schools receive reimbursements for this tax and I believe religious and independent schools should be entitled to the same.”

Assemblyman Benedetto expressed his support as well.

“The reason we’re here is that we believe in what you’re fighting for,” Benedetto said. “You’ve got to hold back your votes, because that’s what your elected officials will understand.”

Gibson highlighted a parent’s right to send his or her children to the school of his or her choice.

“It’s about choice,” Gibson said during the rally. “You should not be penalized for that choice. Working together, we will do all that we can to make sure [that] parents of independent and Catholic school students get what they deserve.”

Parents at the rally asked questions. Some need to absorb increased tuition payments or enroll their children in public school.

“This lack of payment by the state is very unfair to us,” said Ben Amaefule, father of a student at St. Martin of Tours School. “Catholic schools are a bedrock of morality. Public schools are always taken care of first. I’m considering taking my kids out of school and sending them back to my country [of origin] to be educated.”

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at 718 742-3393 or procchio@cnglocal.com

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