By Pauline Liu
SAUGERTIES — The two hot-button issues of school property taxes and education became the focus of Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk's community forum in Saugerties on Sunday.
At one point, members of the audience of about 30 people at the Frank Greco Senior Center grew so passionate about the topics that some interrupted the senator's question-and-answer session to shout out their own remarks.
"I'm retiring at the end of this month, and there's no way that I'm going to be able to afford to stay here because of the school taxes," Paul Jameson, a local firefighter, told the crowd.
Jameson and a few others continued to chime in about how funding for schools needs to be "taken off the backs of homeowners."
Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, agreed. "You've got to fund it in such a way that it doesn't over-burden property owners," she said.
As for the interruptions from the audience, she said that she understood.
"People want to get stuff off of their chests. I'm here to listen to what they have to say — and we were actually in agreement," said Tkaczyk, who expects the state Legislature to pass an on-time budget by April 1 for the fourth consecutive year.
With the final week of budget negotiations about to begin, Tkaczyk said she came to give constituents an update on how the budget process was going.
She said she believes the discussion also turned to education because most voters know of her background as a former Duanesburg School Board president.
"Part of it has to do with me, because I ran on this issue — that I was upset with the direction that our schools are headed in, and I made it my top priority," Tkaczyk said.
Others, like former college professor Charles Lantz of Saugerties, said he enjoyed hearing from Tkaczyk and was glad to hear that she's fighting for more state aid for schools.
Karynn Zahedi, principal at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, thanked Tkaczyk for her recent no-confidence vote at the Board of Regents elections. Tkaczyk joined Senate Republicans and breakaway Democrats in voting against all candidates for four Regents seats.
"You voted against it (the election process), which I'm very pleased about," said Zahedi.
"I'm so inspired. You're taking a very righteous stand on this," Zahedi added as she led the audience in a round of applause for Tkaczyk as the forum came to an end.