Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Responses from Governor Cuomo and NY Legislators Re: 4201 Schools

This is the letter I had received from Governor Cuomo a few days ago as you can see how his message was generic. I have not responded to Governor Cuomo yet since my time and energy are more invested in contacting the legislators as it currently lies in their hands to vote by April 1, 2011.  

As seen below,  I will share you some of the e-mail messages from the legislators that I have received recently and I am happy to tell you that most of the responses are favorable to protecting the funding for 4201 schools.

Sean Gerlis, a Deaf father of 7-month year old Deaf baby who is already a student at Fanwood School for the Deaf and a board member of National Association of Deaf Region 1, received the same letter from the Governor and he granted me his permission to post his response here. 

Here is the letter from Governor Cuomo: 
(you may click on the letter to see it in enlarged print)

And here is the letter from Sean Gerlis:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo (via mail)
Governor of New York State
NY State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

March 8, 2011
RE: Follow up on the OPPOSITION of the Proposed Budget Elimination of 4201 Schools for the Deaf 

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Last Friday I received a letter from your office. That I had received a response to my letter initially pleased me. However, as I read the letter, I was disappointed because your response DID NOT address my concerns at all.  It appears the letter was simply a template attempting to justify the budget cuts in PUBLIC EDUCATION, a template that supplied a generic response about schools for the Deaf, Blind, and Severely Physically Disabled. I have no idea why you thought my concerns were related to public education, a fully separate issue from what I wanted to discuss. Rather, I have been treated as an insignificant voter with insignificant concerns that you perceive as being easily dismissed.

My initial letter included an explanation of why the budget cuts to 4201 Schools for the Deaf should be reconsidered. As mentioned in that letter:

1.       There is a proposed 7% cut to public education funding.
2.       Yet schools for Deaf, Blind, and Severely Physically Disabled are facing an 85% budget cut.
3.       The 85% proposed cut goes against the New York constitution: "Neither the credit nor the money of the State shall be given or loaned to or in aid of any association, corporation or private undertaking. This section shall not, however, prevent the legislature from making such provision for the education and support of the blind, the deaf and dumb, and juvenile delinquents, as to it may seem proper.” (NYS Constitution, Act VII)
4.       The proposed funding cuts will not save the state money. Rather, more money will be requested when the budget is ratified. By taking cost-efficient centralized resources provided by 4201 schools for the Deaf, a floodgate of litigation, services, and requests from school districts and parents will be opened.

It may be a good idea to address each citizen’s concerns directly rather than sending form letters that have incorrect, irrelevant information plastered all over them. 

All eyes across America are on New York’s legislative session, and I join millions of Americans in strongly objecting to your proposed elimination of funding for the 4201 Schools for the Deaf.  Once again, please reconsider your proposed cuts that affect the 4201 schools for the Deaf, and take the cuts off the table. Do the right thing.


Sean Gerlis
National Association of Deaf Region 1 Board Member
Resident of West Nyack, Town of Clarkstown, Rockland County, New York
Deaf Parent of a Deaf child
  CC:  President Barack Obama, United States of America
  Reorganizing for America
  The entire New York Legislature
  New York Democratic Committee
  Governor Tim Kaine, National Democratic Committee
  National Senate Democrat Committee
  President Bobbie Beth Scoggins, National Association of the Deaf
  President Ron Stern, Conf of Educators Association of State Schools for the Deaf
  Mr. Claude Stout, TDI, Inc.
  California Stakeholders
  Senator Barbara Boxer
  Senator Dianne Feinstein
  The entire Deaf Community of New York

What a splendid letter Sean had written! He nailed it to the head that there is no equal treatment by the Governor's proposed budget for the 4201 schools. Indeed, the 85% cut is not a fair deal as compared to public schools who only received 7% cut.  Don't forget that in 2009-2010, the 4201 schools already suffered a 12.5% reduction (7.7 million) mid-year cut to their funding while public school district were not assessed a mid-year reduction. (source:
Naturally, I was disappointed when receiving such letter from the Governor since he did not take the time to address the 4201 schools individually. He generalized his message that was focused on public school issues which was a completely different territory.

Also, the Governor's proposal is senseless that it doesn't really save money on the long run knowing how the school districts will have to choke up the money to cover interpreters, Teacher of the Deaf (probably itinerant), speech therapists, audiologist, etc. for every Deaf student especially in rural areas that are located mostly in upstate New York.  The schools districts are already broke so there is no way they can afford these expenses let alone to send the students to 4201 schools. We also have to emphasize that it is not good for these students to experience isolation in mainstream programs that they get to be separated from their Deaf peers. See my previous vlog (subtitled) that addressed these concerns.

On Wednesday, March 2nd, it was a Legislative Advocacy Day when I was part of the 4201 team of students, parents and teachers who met with nearly 80 members of the New York State Assembly and Senate. It was our goal to convince them that proposed changes in New York's 2011-12 budget will dramatically hurt Deaf, blind and severely physically disabled students who currently attend New York's 4201 schools. In my team, we visited Assemblymen Mark Johns and Christopher Friend and they signed a letter committing that they will protect the 4201 schools. I am proud of the students who did an excellent job explaining to them why it is crucial to support 4201 schools. We also visited assistants to Pat Gallivan and Thomas O'Mara that they got to listen to us and they will convey our messages to the senators so I hope they will be passionate enough to advocate for 4201 schools.  (update: Pat Gallivan confirmed his support for 4201 schools, see letter below).

After e-mailing to all legislators, I got several responses from them as you can see here:

A personal response from Senator Jim Alesi:
Thank you for contacting me. I would like you to know that I have already circulated a letter to my fellow senators. We are steadfastly opposed to the governor's proposal!  If you know Dr. Mowl from RSD, he will assure you that I am one of his strongest advocates. I will see to it that you get a copy of my letter opposing the governor's proposal AND I will hopefully see you on Thursday.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Then I got another response from his staff:

Dear Ms. DiGi,
First, let me introduce myself, my name is Jill Joannette, I am a senior staff member for Senator Alesi, in his Albany office.  I apologize for any delay in responding to your email.  Please know that Senator Aleis is also very concerned about the proposed merger of the 4201 schools.  Senator Alesi has circulated a sign-on letter to his colleagues and has sent it to Governor Cuomo as well as Senate Majority Leader Skelos to ask for the states appropriation for 4201 schools to be reinstated.  For your information I have attached a copy of this letter.
I have spoke with Heather Evans at Hinman Straub, which is the lobbying firm helping to coordinate tomorrows rally.  There will be an opportunity to speak at the event being held in the "Well" of the Legislative Office Building (LOB).  I would recommend contacting Ms. Evans for additional information as well as to register if you would like to address the group.  Unfortunately, there will not be an opportunity to address the Senate or Assembly on the chamber floors, however, Senators as well as Assemblymembers will be in attendance at the event being held at the "Well" .  I have also put this event on Senator Alesi's calendar and he hopes to attend, should he be out of budget negotiations.
Senator Alesi would like to welcome you to either come to our office in room 512 LOB tomorrow for a meeting, or he would be glad to meet with you around 11 AM "Off The Floor", meaning outside of the senate chamber.  Please advise me as to which would work best for your schedule.
Should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me, I would be more than glad to assist.  We look forward to your visit tomorrow.
Jill Joannette

Here is the copy of the letter:


It has been confirmed that I am on the Senator's calendar and they will be meeting me and my children tomorrow at 11:00 AM. 

In addition, I am certainly pleased about getting responses from NY legislators such as Assembly Members Michelle Schimel, Teresa Sayward, Joseph Morelle and Mark Johns and Senators Joe Robach, Pat Gallivan and Joseph Addabbo.  (see below)

From Michelle Schimel:

(she also responded to Sheri Farhina and Marla Hatrak who are from California!)

I will be circulating a sign on letter to Governor Cuomo with my Assembly
colleagues urging him to protect New York State's 4201 schools for the
blind, deaf, and severely disabled.

The current Executive Budget Proposal eliminates most direct
State support of these schools while shifting the financial support to
local school districts. This will amount to a loss of $98 million in
direct state aid for these 4201 schools. This is unacceptable.

Thank you for writing,
Michelle Schimel

From Teresa Sayward:
Ms. DiGiovanni,

I have no idea how this budget is going to shake out! The Governor isn't
saying much just that we will have more details after his Commissions
reports which are just coming out and he issues his 30 day amendments. I
appreciate the overall importance of these schools for the individuals,
their families and their communities.  The debate will be strenuous.
You can be sure I will work with the Governor!

Teresa R. Sayward
Assemblywoman, 113th District

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding 4201 Schools and the 2011-12 New York State Budget.  I have heard from several constituents concerned with this issue.
I certainly can understand your concerns with this suggestion and the negative impact it could have on the education of our deaf children.  As the father of a child who is hearing impaired, I agree with you on the importance of this issue.   As budget negotiations continue, my Senate majority colleagues and I will closely review the Governor’s recommendation and counter with our own suggestions.  Please know that I will keep these concerns in mind.
Again, thank you for writing.  I appreciate your input on this important issue. 
Joe Robach
Dear Ms. DiGiovanni,

Thank you for your recent correspondence. I understand and appreciate your concerns with respect to funding 4201 schools and the 2011-2012 New York State Budget.

As you are aware, the state is facing a $10 billion deficit and the Assembly is closely reviewing all budget items, as we prepare to make our recommendations to the Governor.

I am fully aware of important services 4201 schools provide and will keep your comments in mind as budget deliberations continue.
From your letter, it appears you will be in Albany tomorrow. I trust your organization has made the proper plans to meet with specific legislators in advance. In the Assembly session, we will be addressing specific legislation that is coming to the floor as procedure dictates.

Should you have any other questions, please contact my District Office at (585) 467-0410, or via email. Again, thank you for contacting me, and please don’t hesitate to do so again if I may be of assistance on this or any other issue.

Warmest personal regards,

Joseph D. Morelle
Member of Assembly
Also Sean shared a letter he got from Senator Addabbo:

Thank you for your e-mail and expressing your view on this budgetary
matter.  The budget picture will become more clear as we negotiate
throughout the coming days.  I will strongly consider your position and
please contact me for future updates or if I can be of any other assistance
to you in the community.

(Update: Added March 13th)

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee introduced Sean Gerlis inside Assembly Chambers on March 10th at 10am to talk about this issue. She is a supporter in opposing this budget proposal toward to 4201 schools. (looking forward to your vlog Sean!)
 Also Karen Mayes shared a letter she got from Mark Johns: (this was also sent to a RSD student)

Dear Ms. Mayes:

        Thank you for contacting me regarding Governor Cuomo’s proposed funding reductions for 4201 schools.

        4201 schools provide a vital service to the hearing impaired and our communities, and I am proud that Western New York is home to such a treasured institution like St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.

        I have several reservations regarding Governor Cuomo’s proposal. Shifting $84 million dollars from the state to local school districts may help to balance the books, but it does nothing to help working families balance theirs, nor does it, more importantly, ensure the delivery of necessary services.

        While this issue doesn’t directly fall under my jurisdiction as Chair of the Social Services Committee, many issues affecting individuals with disabilities do. I am committed to providing the necessary care and services to those who depend on them while responsibly respecting tax dollars. As the budget process continues, I will fight to preserve necessary and available funding for the hearing impaired and 4201 schools. Toward that end, I have met with members of the Senate Education Committee and will continue to work with them in an effort to ensure that 4201 schools are properly funded.  

        As your Senator, please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as this issue is addressed in the New York State Senate.  I will continue to work in the Senate to bring the views and concerns of our Western New York community to Albany.

        Thank you for bringing your concerns regarding this particular issue to my attention.  If you have any further questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

With best wishes and kind regards,
Patrick M. Gallivan
                                                                Senator – 59th District

Update: I just got an email from Patrick Gallivan with the same letter and the "pledge" form.

If anyone of you received such letter from NY legislators, please feel free to post it here so that we all can see who responded and what is their take on this.

Tomorrow, we will go to the school at 4:30 a.m. as we will be served breakfast then depart the campus at 5:30 a.m. to go to Albany. 

Here is my brief vlog to share you the motto of 4201 schools available in English and ASL: