Unfortunately, a student's right to a sound, basic education was dealt a blow when lawmakers approved a flawed tax cap to take effect in 2012-13.
NYSUT has long supported tax relief, but fought the cap because of its devastating impact on public education, especially in the neediest districts.
The cap makes it virtually impossible for districts to accommodate local needs or changes in enrollment, or establish economies based on multi-year contracts.
The undemocratic new law requires a 60 percent supermajority vote to exceed a 2 percent levy increase and establishes an automatic zero if a budget fails to pass.
The property tax cap will significantly impact community colleges and is expected to lead to the elimination of needed programs and even more overcrowded classrooms at the schools facing enrollment surges.
Staving off bids to curb pensions
In an otherwise gloomy legislative session, NYSUT was able to beat back attempts to curtail pensions, and succeeded in mustering support in the Assembly and Senate for a plan that allows school districts to plan better for increased pension costs.
The pension-smoothing bill would allow school districts outside New York City the option to issue 15-year bonds to cover a portion of their rising teacher pension costs over the next several years.
At presstime, Cuomo's proposal for a new tier that leaves future state, local and school employees with even less for their retirement has been put off for now.
The union continues to provide the facts that the New York State Teachers' Retirement System is fully funded; and NYSTRS paid out more than $4 billion in benefits in 2009 to retirees living and spending money in New York state.
The proposal would not affect the state Employees Retirement System and the Optional Retirement Program for higher education employees. NYSUT remains vigilant against attempts to balance budgets on the working class. It notes that Cuomo's proposal produced no short-term savings for school districts and taxpayers.
Fighting for higher ed
Higher ed activists have been fighting for close to four years to beat back damaging proposals within proposed UB 2020 legislation and the Public Higher Education Empowerment And Innovation Act.
These proposals sought to provide huge tuition increases, including uncapped differential tuition for SUNY and CUNY, as well as the granting of unfettered management flexibility to SUNY. This flexibility included disastrous provisions in the areas of public/private partnerships, transferring of state property, university contracts and the procurement of services which, if enacted, would serve to privatize the state university system.
Lawmakers ruled out these proposals and instead approved a NY-SUNY 2020 plan that provides a five-year rational tuition plan for the state and city university systems that keeps both systems affordable, accessible, and which does not authorize differential tuition. The plan also provides a maintenance of effort provision to help address state funding for both SUNY and CUNY and authorizes $80 million in bonds ($20 million for each SUNY University Center) as seed money for NY-SUNY 2020 economic development projects.
The plan also requires SUNY and CUNY to conduct a study of the Tuition Assistance Program and requires SUNY to annually report on how increased tuition has helped to retain and grow full-time faculty and to report on university research.
Safety remains union's key priority
NYSUT's health care professionals will keep up the pressure on lawmakers who refused to stop mandatory overtime for nurses in home care settings, set standards for safe patient handling and set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.
Those are among the health care issues pushed by NYSUT and a wide variety of quality care groups at an annual advocacy effort in late May that activists will continue to keep on the front burner. Lawmakers also failed to protect students in New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Syracuse schools by refusing to require districts to employ at least one school nurse per school building.
Activists vowed to continue to push for legislation.
In a current climate of continual attacks on public employees and services, NYSUT leaders are working with local leaders to craft strategies and action plans on how to restore fairness and equity for working families in New York.
There is no doubt the budget cuts enacted earlier this year, along with the devastating property tax cap approved in late June, will impact our communities for years to come.
As NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi notes in his column (see page 3), lawmakers chose policies that hurt the middle class and widen an already obscene gap in wealth between rich and poor and widen the learning/achievement gap for students.
Plans will be sharpened during statewide and regional conferences in the coming months. The union will document the pain and sacrifice across the state, forced by lawmakers who chose to cut education rather than extend the millionaires' tax.
Watch nysut.org for updates.