In his "Speech on Reconstruction," delivered just before that fateful night at Ford's Theater, President Abraham Lincoln reminded a still-healing nation that restoring normal relations between the Union North and Confederate South required some flexibility. He clearly understood how compromise helps serve the common good.
Yet, in a clear reference to the end of slavery, Lincoln closed his speech with these words: "Important principles may be, and must be, inflexible."
Lincoln's strategy is still relevant. Compromise is essential, but never on core principles.
This issue of NYSUT United reports on a just-concluded agreement on teacher/principal evaluations. It was a tough negotiation; one that was covered extensively in the mainstream media, sometimes accurately although more often than not inaccurately. But, while NYSUT negotiators were often challenged, we were never uncertain. We had our principles to guide us at every turn.
We knew that anything to which we agreed had to be fair to teachers and good for students. While we embrace accountability and understand that test scores have a role in the process, they must have a clearly limited role.
We knew that any agreement had to preserve local control through collective bargaining and had to preserve the voice of teachers and the communities they serve.
We knew that the end result had to advance educational excellence so New York's public schools could continue to be among the nation's best.
We stood firm on each of these important principles, as well as all the other principles adopted by the 2010 NYSUT Representative Assembly. In the end, it is our principles and values that define who we are.
The principles and values that define NYSUT continue to show us the way on the difficult issues that challenge our union. They always have and always will.
They show us the way as we advocate in Albany for a state budget that doesn't pit district against district; a budget that addresses the conditions that impact students from low-income households; a budget that understands the unique circumstances facing children with special needs, English language learners, children of color and those from small, rural settings; and a budget that protects the quality and accessibility of higher education.
Our principles show us the way as we try to ward off a serious threat to retirement security. The proposed Tier 6 pension "reform" not only puts future public servants at a disadvantage, it undermines the security of present-day pensioners. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has shown great leadership and courage on this issue, and we are proud to work with him.
And our principles show us the way as we stand with our sisters and brothers at University Hospital at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn as they fight efforts to privatize — or, as NYSUT Board Member Stephen Rechner calls it, to "profitize" — that important health care facility. Downstate epitomizes who we are as an organization. As an institution, it provides a world-class education to medical students by leading the way in cutting-edge research, and it offers high-quality medicine to some of New York's most vulnerable citizens.
NYSUT's decisions, choices and strategies are framed within the context of what's good for our members and the communities we serve.
It is fitting that some of the important decisions we are making as an organization come at a time of year when we honor great decision-makers. Women's History Month, Black History Month and President's Day all give us an opportunity to look at how leadership can advance and shape a society, and how principles matter.
As we have experienced and will continue to experience in the coming months, the legislative and budgetary road can be rocky. Arriving at conditions that create the opportunity for our members and our communities to flourish — to expand access to the American Dream — at times can and will be contentious.
It must be understood by our enemies and our friends that compromise must be viewed as a vehicle to strengthen basic principles, not abandon them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."