February 2013
January 28, 2013

Iannuzzi: Our work — our journey — is not complete

Author: Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United
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One can't help but get caught up in the enthusiasm and hopefulness that surrounds a presidential inauguration. No matter your political point-of-view, no matter how you voted in the last election, an inauguration inspires as it recognizes ceremoniously the smooth transition, through democratically held elections, from one term to the next or one president to the next.

And so it was on Jan. 21 when President Obama took the oath of office to begin his second term. As I sat in the sunlight on the National Mall, the president's eloquent address struck a familiar chord. He spoke of change, collaboration and continuing a journey forward — all themes NYSUT has raised in our own state and within our own professions.

More than once, the president reminded us that, "our journey is not complete."

We need not be reminded. That same week, Gov. Cuomo released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2013-14. The document laid bare the fiscal realities in New York state and the tremendous need that exists among our citizens. It reminded us that, as unionists and advocates, our work — our journey — is not complete.

For the educators among us, the proposed budget is a step in the right direction. It demonstrates the governor's willingness to begin putting public education in a more positive place, including several initiatives NYSUT has supported and espoused: full-day pre-K, community schools and more time in the classroom for our most at-risk students. It directs additional education aid to low-wealth, high-needs schools and it offers opportunities to increase the stature of the teaching profession.

Yet, education needs are still unmet in the governor's plan. While most school districts would see an aid increase, that increase would not make up for previous years of devastating cuts. And, unfortunately, some of the proposed school aid is tied to competitive grants, pitting district against district and worthy program against worthy program.

Teacher centers — so vital and successful to our members' professional development — are unfunded. These centers are critical to the integrity of the Common Core curriculum. Without their support, the State Education Department must roll back the "high-stakes" nature of this spring's exams, which remain unaligned with what goes on in classrooms across the state. To do otherwise is unfair to students and teachers, causing parents and communities to lose faith in our public schools.

The proposal also fails to provide adequate funding to the public university systems and to the state's community colleges, and makes significant cuts to the State University of New York's teaching hospitals that are so vital to many communities. The governor's proposed budget also fails to fully address the needs of our members in health care, public service and not-for-profits that serve our state's neediest residents.

Yet, as advocates for all workers, we must praise the willingness of the governor to take on unemployment benefits, workers compensation and the minimum wage. Each of these vital areas has been ignored for far too long, and Gov. Cuomo has put forward some strong proposals.

So, as we find much to applaud in the proposed budget, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students and their families are treated fairly; to ensure that the needs of all working New Yorkers are met; and to ensure that we speak for those we serve, especially the most vulnerable.

We will continue down this path side by side with our allies in labor and in the community. And we will continue to offer to work with the governor and all elected officials, both in Albany and Washington, D. C., to be on this journey together.

The days of going it alone are long over. President Obama made that clear last month when he said:

"Now, more than ever, we must do all these things together, as one nation and one people. … America's possibilities are limitless … we are made for this moment and we will seize it — as long as we seize it together."