March 22, 2011

Hundreds call on lawmakers to reject cuts to education, health care

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

Throngs of teachers, unionists, activists and public employees, some beating drums and others blowing sharp whistles, fired up the Capitol on Tuesday, protesting  cuts to public education and health care.

For anyone who might have wondered what all the noise was about, speaker after speaker came to the microphone and shouted out specifics:

$1.5 billion.

That's the amount of money the state proposes to snatch public education, while it provides tax breaks to the wealthiest residents of the state, said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

"You must be the voice of New York!" Iannuzzi charged the crowd, many of whom were in Albany for NYSUT's Committee of 100 Lobby Day. "You must be the voice of democracy that speaks truth to power!"

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chair of Assembly Education Committee, told the activists they may have to come back a few more times.

"Lobby like your lives depend on it, because they do," she said. Nolan praised the work of teachers, and celebrated how teachers get to be "in front of the best reason for the hope of our future" every day.

"But you need to send a message that it's a privilege to teach, but you need proper resources," she said. "We have a fiscal crises but this a bottom-line issue."

She implored NYSUT members to tell lawmakers about the exhaustion and frustration of trying to work with kids without the resources they need.

$5 billion.

That's the amount being taken out of the pockets of working men and women, and being given to the millionaires under New York's proposed tax breaks, said Terry Melvin, secretary-treasurer of the New York state AFL-CIO.

"We don't need a budget borne on the backs of working men and women," he said.

$1 billion.

That's the amount that will have been cut from SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges over the past three years if the proposed budget cuts go through.

The total is "a dirty little secret," said Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk County Community College and a NYSUT board member.

"We keep doing more with less," said Schuler Mauk. "And you know what our reward is? More less!"

She told the crowd they must implore legislators to "Keep your promise!" to support education.

$95 million.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress representing CUNY academic and professional staff, said New York state has the largest income and equality gap since 1928. CUNY is targeted – again-for another $95 million cut to its four-year colleges and $17.5 million to its community colleges.

"Tax the rich, not the poor; stop the war on teachers!" she got the crowd chanting.

"Education is a right; we've got to fight, fight, fight!" chanted Phil Smith, president of the United University Professions representing SUNY faculty and staff.

Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education, put it in perspective:

"Everyone here who's a millionaire raise your hand!" he said. (The crowd laughed.) "Because if you are, New York will send you a check for $21,000," he said. That's how the surcharge on millionaires will play out if it is allowed to expire.

Meanwhile, he said, expenditure per pupil costs are $18,153 in Potsdam; $12,365 in General Brown; $15,365 in Binghamton, and $19,433 in sections of Long Island.

All less than the tax break.

Ron Deutsch, director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, reminded the crowd that "It was not you people" who wrecked the economy with trading derivatives and credit defaults "that got us into this mess." He said a record 800,000 New Yorkers are already on unemployment and there are record foreclosures.

Assemblyman Tom Abinati, D-Tarrytown said a state budget that "values millionaires more than kids and sick people," needs to be rejected. "Education is all about tomorrow…and our budget should be about tomorrow. Our budget should be about strengthening, not weakening, educational resources," he said.

"Every New Yorker should be willing to do what it takes to make this state great," said Ken Brynien, president of PEF. "We're willing to sacrifice – not BE sacrificed."

CSEA's Kathy Garrison, Capital Region president, said their members work side by side with teachers, and are worried knowing that New York school districts are being forced to lengthen bus rides, close schools, and keep schools not as clean because of steady, yearly budget cuts. New York, she said, wants to "take away money from the disabled and kick the elderly out of nursing homes!"

The crowd booed.

At the end of the rally, a group of cheering students, hoisting signs, came to the podium. There were 39 of them from Northville, along with six teachers – all arts and music teachers who are teetering on the edge of employment.

Sue Sedon, 20-year art teacher, knows about those pink slips held by the Easton.

"We've all been told we'll be receiving one."

Students and teachers met with Senator Hugh Farley, R-Schenectady, and Marc Butler, R-Johnstown, from their district. And back home, they're busy writing letters, something all NYSUT members are urged to do.

"I'm on letter No. 5," said Kristy Matthews, who teachers per-K-6 general music. MUSIC MATTERS were stamped on her cheeks.