March 05, 2013

NYSUT activists: 'We are relentless'

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: Students, parents, educators and community leaders gather for the Parade for Public Education at the Capitol in Albany. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

"I've taught kindergarten now for 12 years, and we're chopping our babies off at the knees," Liz Mahoney of the Moriah Central Teachers Association told Sen. Betty Little.

When the Republican North Country lawmaker responded about the other financial needs the state faces, Mahoney shook her head in agreement, "And these are requirements for college and career readiness. We have got to get more funding."

Mahoney was one of nearly 500 NYSUT activists from across the state who came to Albany to advocate for more state aid to schools from pre-K through college. Alphabetically, members came from the Afton Teachers Association in the state's Southern Tier to the Yonkers Federation of Teachers north of New York City. Geographically, they traveled to Albany from the shores of Lake Erie and from Long Island Sound and everywhere in between.

"Will you fund our schools?" became the question in meeting after meeting and it was echoed during a noontime Parade for Public Education around the state Capitol.

The executive budget's education proposal increases spending for pre-K through 12 by $889 million. But that's almost $500 million less than what lawmakers provided back in fiscal year 2009-10.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi thanked the fired-up students, teachers and support staff for coming to Albany to lobby and to march in the parade. He noted the grassroots lobbying is to benefit students, whose futures have a dark shadow cast upon them.

"Our job is to get that shadow out of the way," Iannuzzi said, vowing that NYSUT would work to make sure "that your education is the sunshine not the shadow."

Besides demanding more school aid, NYSUT activists pressed legislators about the need to increase funding for the state's higher education system. The proposed executive budget would once again hold flat aid to the State and City university systems, as well as to community colleges.

"What kind of college programs will there be for students with these kinds of cuts?" Selina Durio of the North Babylon Teachers Organization asked Assemblyman Andrew Raia.

The proposed spending plan would also significantly reduce state funding to SUNY hospitals. Doing so would not only prohibit the ability of these institutions to train the next generation of workers, but also could result in thousands of layoffs, further hurting the state's economy.

Activists will call for a full restoration of $128 million - the amount provided in 2010-11 - to the SUNY hospital system. The NYSUT members will also specifically request that the state Legislature provide the funding needed to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn a public institution. The hospital is in danger of being closed or privatized, which could result in the loss of several hundred jobs and threaten access to vital health services throughout the struggling central Brooklyn community.

Tell your lawmakers "don't steal the future," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said to the crowd. "This [proposed] budget is a crime."

The state system of 128 teacher centers that provide professional learning, workshops on new practices and standards and resources received accolades from a number of members in many meetings. Groups also asked lawmakers to consider amending the irresponsible tax cap law to exempt school safety measures, costs from natural disasters and to replace the 60 percent supermajority requirement needed to exceed the cap with a simple majority.

Numerous lawmakers told NYSUT activists that a budget will be passed within weeks. Tony McCann, a Capital District retiree and member of NYSUT's Board of Directors, promised Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy that the union would keep up the pressure.

"We are relentless," McCann said.

"That's one adjective," the Democrat from the Capital Region said. "I know you are not bashful either, especially when it comes to fighting for kids."