Horror stories about leaky roofs, overcrowded classrooms and old wiring turned a public hearing Wednesday evening on school facilities into a virtual pep rally for the $2.4 billion school bond issue that will go to the voters Tuesday.
School administrators and board members, state lawmakers and parents -- most of them from Buffalo -- said repeatedly that the run-down condition of schools has reached crisis proportions.
"The time for talking is over," said Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, at the state Education Department hearing in Grover Cleveland High School. "The time for doing something about it is here."
Like more than two dozen other speakers, Eve urged approval of the bond issue, which would be used to improve technology, repair buildings and expand schools.
"Do we really really want to wait until some child is hurt or killed by a collapsing roof?" asked Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo. "I say that we don't."
Sharon A. Lanza, principal of Buffalo's Lafayette High School, showed state Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills, who presided at the hearing, a 60-year-old microscope that is still used in science classes.
Lafayette, a stately looking building on the West Side that has been designated a National Historic Landmark, has no hot water in its rest rooms, no gas or running water in science labs and leaky roofs that recently led to the closing of the central staircase.
Because of a severe shortage of computers, a student could spend four years at Lafayette without receiving technology instruction, Ms. Lanza added. "If we're going to meet the new state standards (for student achievement), we're going to have to do more than make our schools pretty," she said.
Officials at School 77, also on the West Side, sometimes lock all classroom doors because of trouble on nearby streets. But since the school has no public address system, administrators have to rush from one classroom to the next to spread the word, said Evelyn Pizarro, the principal.
"It isn't that the system is old and broken down," she said. "It never existed."
At Native American Magnet School 19, also on the West Side, staff members used buckets to haul water from the auditorium during graduation ceremonies in 1995, said Sixto Indalecio, interim principal. The West Delavan avenue facility, built in 1899, is in "shameful condition," he said.
Stanley Fernandez, whose two children attend Buffalo elementary schools, said the state's youth detention facilities are in better condition than the schools. If safety inspectors visited the schools, he said, "they would be shut down and fined."
Opponents of the bond act view it as an open invitation to waste, favoritism and political largess for New York City. They note that no provisions have been made on where or how the money will be spent, and no guidelines have been set on eligibility. In addition, opponents argue, the state cannot afford to take on more debt.
However, no one spoke in opposition Wednesday evening.
"We seem to be preaching to the choir," Hoyt said.
Mayor Masiello said that if the money is distributed by traditional aid formulas, Buffalo would receive about $70 million.