May 22, 2012

At the Capitol, grassroots lobbyists make the case for teacher privacy

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT Communications

When asked why teacher evaluations should be kept from the media, Glenn Cotler, Greenburgh 11 Federation of Teachers, did not hesitate.

"Because we know one of the teachers who was shamed in New York City because her students did not do well on tests," Cotler told Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer. "The newspapers reported her failing grade but they did not report that kids in the class were absent for 40 days or more."

Patricia Van Duser of the Newburgh Teachers Association followed up with the Yonkers Democrat. "You can only teach the student in front of you. Attendance matters."

Mayer, and a number of other lawmakers visited by NYSUT grassroots lobbyists, agreed, saying a law is needed to shield the evaluations of teachers, as well as their students, from exploitation by the public and news media.

Phil Cleary of the North Syracuse Education Association, and others from central New York districts told lawmakers how they felt by a show of hands. On each hand was written "Student info is private" followed by A 9814 for the Assembly bill backed by the union.

Preventing public exposure of teachers' evaluations is essential to the purpose of New York's teacher/principal evaluation law - improving teacher quality in order to enhance student learning, activists said.

Teachers and support staff from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate met with their lawmakers Tuesday at what is known as the Committee of 100.

Besides protecting student and teacher privacy, advocates also explained the damage being caused by the new property tax cap which, in its first year, has already contributed to larger class sizes; elimination of Advanced Placement courses and other programs; as well as layoffs of some 4,000 teachers and school staff.

Scott Surdi of the Deer Park Teachers Association told Assemblyman Andrew Raia, R-East Northport, he feared the financial problem would soon become a social problem.

"What are the kids going to do after school now that districts can not offer clubs, activities and most sports after school?" Surdi asked, noting all the research notes after-school programs keep students out of trouble.

Activists also noted that when the cost of living increases at a higher rate than 2 percent, it's impossible to keep up with average costs and provide a quality education.

NYSUT activists asked lawmakers to amend the tax cap to allow voters to override the cap with a simple majority, and to protect students - and school programs - from being penalized by excluding from the tax cap rising costs outside the control of school districts, such as higher gasoline costs, health insurance and heating oil prices.

While voters adopted 96 percent of school budgets, 19 of the 24 budget defeats occurred in districts that sought more for students than the cap provided. Most - like New Paltz with 59.3 percent, Comsewogue on Long Island with 58.75 percent and Elmira with almost 55 percent - won majority support from voters.

"Where else is this fair?" Robin Brennan of the North Rockland TA asked Republican Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt of Greenwood Lake. Rabbitt agreed that an unfair double standard exists.

On BOCES issues, Martin Sommer of the Southern Westchester BOCES thanked Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan for sponsoring a bill to allow the agencies to contract with out-of-state school districts to purchase services.

"We already have cuts as districts struggle with the tax cap," Sommer said. "We have a long history of providing cost-effective BOCES services to students from neighboring states."

Retirees and in-service NYSUT members also pushed for a higher minimum wage; opposition to a parent-trigger bill; as well as a two-year moratorium on school closings in New York City.

On higher education issues, NYSUT activists joined members of the Professional Staff Congress and the United University Professions seeking a law to open up records to the Research Foundations of the City and State universities. Also, members pushed for keeping the Downstate Medical Center as a fully functional hospital.

"We've got to keep Downstate Medical Center open," Ed Quinn told Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton. "Thousands of people will lose access to health care, which will cost us much more in the long run."

About 100 NYSUT activists joined a mid-day rally of nurses pushing for safer working conditions. Specifically the groups want laws passed to increase staffing levels at acute-care facilities, enhance the safety of patient handling and ensure New York's largest urban school districts have at least one nurse in every school building.