May 11, 2010

Union activists: Layoffs will hurt students

Source: NYSUT News Wire

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Hundreds of determined NYSUT members and local leaders hit the state Capitol in a massive effort to break the legislative budget logjam.

Grassroots activists with the union's Committee of 100 brought with them the concerns of the more than 15,000 educators facing layoffs at the end of this school year, as well as the concerns of hundreds of thousands more worried about when the many questions facing public schools, colleges and hospitals will get settled.

"These are real layoffs we're talking about," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "We need to hold lawmakers accountable. We cannot afford to lose an entire generation of students."

In meeting after meeting, educators impressed upon lawmakers the impact devastating layoffs could have on students.

"Class size makes a huge difference for students who are struggling and those who are advanced," said Mary Wade of the United Federation of Teachers. "I'm old enough to remember the '70s. It took us 20 years to recover from that."

Members quizzed legislators about broken budget deadlines, unfair furloughs, inequitable taxation and revenue shortfalls, and the need for fiscal accountability for public monies used in the state's public charter schools.

Retired Syracuse educator Loretta Donlon summarized the entire union push when she told Senator David Valesky, D-Oneida, "I hope you share this message with your colleagues. Cutting education hurts our future economic development. The long-range de-funding of education will be a long-term problem for New York."

The statewide union gave lawmakers revenue suggestions of more than $10 billion.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, made her feelings on the revenue issue clear. "We are 25th out of 50 states in the nation in income tax," she said. "These are extraordinary times. If we raised taxes one point on millionaires, it would bring in $1 billion a year in revenues."

Educators urged lawmakers to also consider raising the unemployment insurance allowances and removing language that keeps part-time higher education employees from claiming benefits.

Finally, NYSUT's grassroots activists also made it clear that union members are carefully monitoring legislators' actions - and the days of easy endorsements for incumbents are over. As Phil Cleary from North Syracuse Education Association told one Senator, "We consider you a friend of public education. We'll look at your record through this summer."