NYSUT retirees expect to combine decades of activism with a look to the future following the "One Voice United" rally. Their next task: Get the message out that an over-reliance on high-stakes testing and a reduction in funding for public schools are harming the next generation.
"Something has to be done to change what's happening and make people realize that retirees have a stake in what's going on," said Simonne Harkavay, 83, who taught in New York City and West Islip and is now a member of the West Islip Retired Teachers Association and Retiree Council 21. She has attended every statewide NYSUT rally since she joined the union.
"Retirees may not be in the trenches, but I have great-grandchildren in the public schools," Harkavay said.
The theme of working for students and grandchildren resonates among retirees, as they make plans on the best ways to spread the word that public education needs support.
"I feel strongly that our educators are the hope of the future," said Carol Rubin, 91, a retiree of the North Shore Federation of Teachers who started her career in 1969 and, like Harkavay, has attended every statewide NYSUT rally.
The retirees say their post-rally activism will be characterized by solidarity and by strength in numbers, two qualities NYSUT retirees have always exhibited in abundance. They do not show up at lawmakers' offices or rallies or phone banks solo; they show up en masse - always.
As NYSUT co-founder, president emeritus and retiree Tom Hobart said at the rally: "All of us are stronger than one of us."
"Our retirees, and their institutional memory, provide a valuable perspective on the current crisis of underfunding and overtesting in public education," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, whose office oversees retiree concerns for the union.
It wasn't always this way, Donahue said, and many retirees will carry that reminder into the next budget season to make a compelling point to lawmakers.
"I care about public education, and I think there are forces out there that would like to see public education denigrated," said Joan Perrini, ED 52 director on the NYSUT Board and president of RC 21. She taught in West Islip for 38 years. "New York has had one of the best education systems in the country, and we would like to keep it that way."
Sheila Goldberg, 80, president of RC 17 in Nassau County, intends to take the rally spirit into the upcoming legislative session, fueled, as she put it, by "my anger at the impending destruction of public school education.
"I hope to see the Legislature respond to what people need and want, which is a quality education that receives appropriate funding."