April 10, 2017

Testing, teacher eval, the plight of adjuncts and defeat of constitutional convention top resolutions

Source: NYSUT Communications
union strong

Delegates to NYSUT's policymaking convention in New York City directed the statewide union to stand strong against inappropriate student testing; unfair teacher evaluations and the exploitation of adjunct faculty, among other priorities. Delegates also committed to defeat the state's proposed Constitutional Convention on the ballot this fall.

In all, more than 2,100 Representative Assembly delegates approved 35 resolutions and referred five measures to the NYSUT Board of Directors.

Delegates approved resolutions calling for student test scores to no longer be a mandatory part of teacher evaluations; condemning computer-based testing for grades 3-5; and opposing teacher participation in generating test questions for the state's ELA and math assessments in grades 3-8.

Delegates urged NYSUT to work diligently to get rid of the state's Annual Professional Performance Review system entirely, and return control to local school districts and teacher unions to develop sound evaluative tools. They called for NYSUT to fight so all ratings based on the current flawed system to be expunged, and to challenge any punitive measures taken against a teacher whose final rating was based on mandatory standardized test scores. Another resolution asked NYSUT to consider forming a task force to recommend a more consistent timeline for administering state assessments.

As states wrestle with implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, delegates approved resolutions directing NYSUT to work with state policymakers to leverage relief from punitive federal testing and accountability mandates. Delegates also voiced support for ESSA professional development funding to be used to expand Teacher Center programs. Delegates called for NYSUT to work with all national, state and local organizations to prevent U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from attempting to defund public schools.

Other educational issue resolutions called for more resources to help English language learners succeed; mandating labor history as part of the state's K-12 curriculum; support for "consent" education in middle and high schools; and a meaningful new teacher induction program. Delegates also want NYSUT to form a task force to make recommendations on establishing a consistent school calendar.

Several members spoke passionately about the importance of recess in elementary school, calling for at least 30 minutes a day, not counting physical education classes, for all elementary students. "Children need a lot of unstructured playtime and socialization," said Arielle Chiger of New Paltz TA. "This is the best early intervention we can offer."

Oceanside Federation of Teachers Marla Kilfoyle also spoke in favor of the resolution, noting the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 60 minutes a day of vigorous physical activity.

Higher Education

Delegates made it loud and clear that a resolution seeking pay equity for contingent academic labor in higher education must be a top priority.

"I'm called an adjunct, but I work full-time with part-time pay," said PSC's Susan DiRaimo. "I'm not contingent either — teaching four courses every semester for many, many years."

She said adjuncts now make up 60 to 70 percent of CUNY's instructional force, with many earning $25,000 to $30,000 a year and qualifying for public assistance. "Adjuncts deserve a living wage. It's really a moral question," DiRaimo said. "Equal pay for equal work."

PSC's Mike Fabricant said adjuncts are working at multiple colleges and teaching as many as nine courses in a semester "in order to survive." He said the continued exploitation and impoverishment of the growing percentage of instructional staff is "a wound within public education" that must be taken care of. "It's fair, human and just," he said.

A Westchester CC FT member noted that the reliance on low-paid, time and resource challenged contingent faculty also directly hurts full-time faculty whose administrative workloads have increased dramatically since full-time faculty are an increasingly smaller percentage of all faculty.

In a separate resolution approved for adjuncts, Kevin Peterman of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College spoke in favor of creating a NYSUT task force to address the dues structure that requires adjunct faculty to pay multiple dues at each college or school they work for.

"With 25 percent of adjuncts receiving public assistance, we need to do everything we can to help them, said Peterman, whose union has more than 1,450 adjunct members. "Many of our members are also working at Stony Brook, Farmingdale and other places and paying dues to each of them, plus AFT."

A number of delegates spoke passionately in favor of a resolution calling for all public colleges and schools to be declared sanctuary institutions, responding to President Trump's actions to detain and deport undocumented residents and revoke protections for DACAs, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

"The level of anxiety for students, faculty and staff is remarkable," said Dominic Wetzel of Kingsborough Community College, where about 70 percent of the students are immigrants. "Our students have mobilized, collecting 1,500 signatures to the college president to declare us a sanctuary campus," the PSC member said. "This is an historic opportunity for NYSUT members to show our students that we are there for them ... and so they can feel safe to pursue their education."

The sanctuary resolution calls for NYSUT to support locals in demanding that their campuses and schools oppose surveillance of students, faculty and staff; and refuse to allow immigration officials into their buildings or supply information without warrants.

Another higher ed resolution urged NYSUT's opposition to any attempt to deny public funding to CUNY based on constitutionally protected speech or actions of its students, faculty and staff. "Public funds should not be tied to political positions," said PSC President Barbara Bowen, noting an executive order by Gov. Cuomo directed divestment of state funds in institutions that criticized the government of Israel and supported boycotts and sanctions. "That is a ban on free speech ... A blacklist," she said.

Jackie DiSalvo of PSC likened the issue to McCarthyism, where college faculty members were purged for speaking out or voicing criticism.

"It is a tense time," said PSC's Steve Leberstein. "I don't want to see us retreat to an earlier time. There's no place more important to uphold these failures of free speech than higher education institutions."

Legislative/Political Action

Delegates affirmed that a top priority is to urge members to vote "no" on Nov. 7 on whether to hold a state constitutional convention. The resolution directs NYSUT to work with labor organizations and other like-minded groups and individuals to defeat the referendum, including an educational campaign about the convention's costs and threats.

Other resolutions call for urging Congress to eliminate the cap on Social Security wages; seeking the same fiduciary protections for 403b plans as those for 401k plans; encouraging locals to increase the involvement of their retirees in local initiatives; encouraging local presidents to inform retirees on contract negotiations; and directing NYSUT to use legislative and legal means to protect retiree benefits.

Tim Southerton, a teacher-member on the NYS Teachers' Retirement System Board, spoke in favor of a resolution seeking pension tier equity, saying the union needs to work on behalf of Tier 5 and Tier 6 members for improvements.

Another resolution reaffirms NYSUT's core values of preserving public education, demanding respect and dignity for all individuals in school communities; and protecting the right for workers to unionize and be treated fairly.

Health Care and Workplace Safety

Delegates called on NYSUT to develop educational materials to raise awareness on the Zika virus and the hazards of wireless radiation emissions.

RC 15's Alma Cormican spoke in favor of a resolution calling for support for recovery from addiction, noting that insurance companies are cutting back on coverage. "Many are limiting coverage to just two weeks of inpatient treatment, while recoveries are more effective with longer term treatment." The approved resolution calls for educational efforts and urging local leaders to investigate their health insurance programs in an effort to provide medical help for members seeking treatment.

With skyrocketing prescription drug costs, delegates approved a resolution seeking legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

United Federation of Teachers' Anne Goldman noted widespread price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies.

In a related issue, delegates are seeking legislation preventing insurance companies from overruling physicians' recommendations for patient care.

Delegates also urged NYSUT, AFT and NEA to lobby for federal legislation for paid family leave to care for new children and sick relatives.

Other resolutions call for a NYSUT standing committee on "Women's Issues," and requiring NYSUT's Legal Department to share legal rulings and administrative decisions with Labor Relations Specialists for communication to local leaders.

Five resolutions were referred to NYSUT's Board of Directors for further review: They called for representation on SED disciplinary hearing panels; a major education initiative to reverse the shift to "The New Economy"; NYSUT to lobby for legislation that would allow schools to collect their taxes without town government involvement; allowing school boards to create wards for school board elections; and a comprehensive assessment of the state's Violence and Disruptive Incident Reporting System.

Special orders

Delegates approved two Special Order of Business resolutions. One, presented just hours after the Senate confirmed Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, called for NYSUT to conduct a mass public campaign in support of a fair decision on union dues and fees. PSC President Barbara Bowen urged local unions to conduct internal campaigns to increase union membership and enlist current members to make a public pledge to remain dues-paying union members even in the event of a negative Supreme Court decision.

A second Special Order called for NYSUT to encourage members to avoid unnecessary travel to North Carolina, Kentucky and South Dakota to protest the states' recent discriminatory actions against the LGBTQ community.

  • NYSUT Stands in Unity Against Discrimination [click to view]

    2017 Special Order of Business

    Special Order of Business “NYSUT stands in Unity Against Discrimination in North Carolina, Kentucky and South Dakota”

    Submitted by—United Federation of Teachers

    Whereas, the North Carolina Governor and Legislature passed a half-repeal of the anti-trans bill HB2, leaving the most programmatic parts of the law in place;

    Whereas, the Kentucky Governor has signed a law to permit anti-LGBT discrimination in schools. The Law, SB17, will allow student groups at colleges, universities, and high schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students;

    Whereas, the South Dakota governor signed an anti-LGBT law allowing taxpayer funded adoption agencies to deny services and child placement to LGBT families out of religious objections;

    Whereas, these laws purposely discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender individuals;

    Whereas, NYSUT, AFT and NEA stand unequivocally for the equality of all, now therefore, be it:

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT urge all of its members to avoid unnecessary travel to North Carolina, South Dakota and Kentucky except for the purpose of participating in actions to fight for civil rights in these states; and be it further

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT restrict all unnecessary travel by NYSUT Officers and employees to North Carolina, South Dakota and Kentucky except for the purpose of participating in actions to fight for civil rights in these states; and be it further

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT create an informational campaign on the Member Action Center to include steps members can take in opposition of the aforementioned laws; and be it further

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT call on the AFT and NEA to stand with them in calling on the Legislatures of North Carolina, South Dakota and Kentucky and to repeal these aforementioned laws; and be it further

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT do the same for any other States that pass laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender individuals; after this RA and before the next; and it be further

    RESOLVED, that NYSUT urge all of its members to avoid unnecessary travel to any state that passes similar discriminatory laws except for the purpose of participating in actions to fight for civil rights in these states.