ESEA Forum in Amsterdam: View All | Full Screen | Photos by Steve Jacobs
When NYSUT members are given the opportunity to speak to federal officials who are shaping national education policies, they address issues with clarity and passion. Congressman Paul Tonko and the deputy assistant secretary of education, Judy Wurtzel, held three forums to explain the current education debate in Washington and to gain insights from New York's educators.
An Albany forum was filled with elected officials, parents, community members and dozens of experienced and concerned educators. The meeting, held at historic Hackett Middle School, blocks from the state Capitol, was the third stop of the day for Tonko and Wertzel, who had met similar crowds in Amsterdam and Niskayuna.
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, city school Superintendent Ray Colucciello and Assistant Superintendent Tresa Diggs all spoke about the necessity of funding for districts with high levels of family poverty.
Congressman Tonko, who serves on the Education and Labor Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, encouraged audience comments, saying, "We need to have a community discussion about where education is headed, like how we build stronger partnerships between schools and their cities."
Jim Sano, a veteran Albany teacher, member of the Albany Public School Teachers Association (APSTA) and of the city's Common Council, told Tonko and Wurtzel that state schools have been underfunded by more than $7 billion the last decade and said that makes the work in high-needs schools even more challenging.
Bill Ritchie, a retired Albany teacher, questioned the funding mechanism being proposed by the Obama administration. "When I read your blueprint, I am concerned about your competitive grants. How can you assure equity if funding is not across the board," he asked.
Leo Levy, an active advocate in the Albany schools, expressed concerns that some corporate charter school operators actively promote anti-union philosophies. He also spoke about the effects of charter over-saturation in his city.
"We are very grateful to Congressman Tonko for arranging this opportunity to comment on the effects of Washington's decisions on our schools," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who attended two of the forums. "Our members and community activists sent a clear message that our schools need fair and full funding and other resources to support student achievement."
Other NYSUT leaders who attended the forums include APSTA President Cathy Corbo; Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers; Martin Messner, Schoharie CSTA president and Richard Peters, co-president of the Amsterdam TA.