Recently, I visited one of New York's great school districts (Half Hallow Hills) and a great school (Signal Hill). I wasn't there as an elementary school teacher of 34 years, a local union president (eight years) or as NYSUT president. I was there as a grandparent attending his oldest grandson's graduation from kindergarten.
I experienced what every parent or grandparent should experience: a well-organized school; dedicated teachers and support professionals assisting and nurturing students; examples of student art work, science projects and writing adorning the halls; a visible mission statement; signs of a supportive parent group and surrounding community; and evidence of successful classrooms where the work of educating is accomplished.
All this contrasted with my work in Albany, where lately the work of educating is being thwarted by those who govern.
This year, the elected leadership in Albany has failed education. A devastating budget that included a $1.3 billion loss in aid to education was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Cuomo. The governor's property tax cap plan, approved by the Legislature, undermines local control and is destined to dismantle needed programs. Meanwhile, his Tier 6 pension bill is an insult to public employees who only last year agreed to a substantially reduced pension system that will save billions of dollars. All this is compounded by the governor's misguided support for Regents' regulations that ignore the best of educational research and threaten further Race to the Top funding.
Not to be upstaged, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos quickly supported all that was aimed at derailing education, and Speaker Silver's Assembly eventually acquiesced. Adding insult to injury, attacks on basic civil service and collective bargaining concepts such as seniority and due process were aimed at teachers in hearings held by Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan.
Some would argue the state's economy demands it. But tax revenue is rebounding. Coupled with a commitment to stop unfair tax breaks for the wealthiest New Yorkers, that concern would have been answered.
Some argue that the public supports these gimmicks, but polls also show that the public supports maintaining high-quality public education and public services, and that the more the public learns about the impact of these political ploys, the less they like them.
What should be expected of Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos - as well as the leaders of the minority parties in each chamber?
The answer comes from President John F. Kennedy's book "Profiles In Courage." President Kennedy cautioned against the narrow view that elected officials are sent into government to be "a seismograph to record public opinion." Rather, he challenged elected officials to have the "political courage" to "lead, inform, correct and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion, if we are to exercise fully that judgment for which we were elected."
The policies being put forth in Albany are wrong. They hurt the middle class and widen an already obscene gap in wealth between rich and poor. And the policies being pursued by Gov. Cuomo and the leaders of both parties in the Legislature, as well as the Board of Regents, will widen instead of close the achievement gap. These will deny New York's poorest children - more often than not, from rural communities and communities of color - an opportunity for a quality public education and access to affordable higher education.
My grandson and most kindergartners learn very early the value of sharing, fairness and being a good leader. Albany must understand that the time to lead New York into the sound, progressive future it deserves is now. Time is running out for elected officials and for New York's most vulnerable and most precious assets - our children and grandchildren.
Richard C. Iannuzzi