ALBANY, N.Y. January 23, 2012 - New York State United Teachers today said it shares the commitment of the governor and Legislature to improve the efficiency and performance of public schools. However, the union said three consecutive years of decreasing education budgets - including last year's $1.3 billion cut - and the looming tax cap are making that job difficult, forcing districts to increase class sizes; chop course offerings; and eliminate 20,000 teacher and staff positions.
NYSUT credited the governor and Legislature for taking decisive action to close the state's budget deficit and to begin restoring fairness to the state's tax code. The state's largest union, however, said other portions of the 2012-13 budget - including $250 million for competitive grants and tying districts' state aid increases to completion of teacher and principal evaluation plans - are problematic.
"They create a level of uncertainty that, when combined with the tax cap, make it very difficult for districts to plan their own budgets and provide the programs and courses our students need," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, in testimony before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees today, said the budget's proposal to strip out $250 million for competitive grants would leave only a 2.9 percent average overall increase, with many districts getting less. Because the performance grants would be released in the 2012-13 school year, it's unlikely that districts could plan for and use the funding during the 2012-13 school year.
"Simply put, an over-reliance on competitive grants undermines the state's ability to meets its moral and constitutional obligations to provide a sound, basic education to every child," Pallotta said. "Without significant additional aid, and a reasonable adjustment to the tax cap for costs beyond the control of districts, many schools will continue to lack funding for current programs. That hurts students, and our efforts to end the achievement gap."
Pallotta also criticized a new Tier 6 proposal, which he called a "funding scheme that would force new employees to shoulder more financial burden in lean times, with the hopes of recouping that lost income in good times."
"Those are our students, the next generation of teachers, nurses and first responders, and we don't want to see their retirement security destroyed," Pallotta said.
He said the governor's pension plan comes only two years after NYSUT and other unions agreed to save the state and localities $35 billion over the next generation through creation of a Tier 5.
Pallotta said that, while the governor promoted Tier 6 as "only for new hires, the unborn," it would actually undermine the retirement security of current retirees and those in other tiers by diverting dollars into 401-k plans, thus jeopardizing the long-term stability of the pension fund.
Pallotta also urged the joint fiscal committees to restore funding for teacher centers, which provide essential professional development and were a key part of New York's Race to the Top application. He also noted that New York libraries are currently funded at $79 million – or at 1994 levels.
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.