September/October 2013
September 18, 2013

News in Brief

Source: NYSUT United

Union ready to argue tax cap challenge

Oral arguments in NYSUT's challenge to the state's tax cap law are scheduled for Oct. 24 in State Supreme Court in Albany.

NYSUT's position is that the cap prevents poorer districts from raising the resources needed to provide the sound, basic education that is mandated by the state Constitution. That's because the law, which went into effect in 2012, restricts how school districts and local municipalities can increase their tax levies.

NYSUT also argues the 60 percent threshold required to override the tax cap contradicts legal cases setting a one-person, one-vote standard of representation. All school districts, except New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers, need the supermajority "yes" vote to exceed the cap.

The state has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court will hear both sides of the argument, and a ruling is expected in late fall or early 2014.

In the two years the tax cap law has been in effect, school boards overwhelmingly have developed budgets that stay within the cap, noting they can't risk having budgets voted down twice, resulting in a zero percent increase.

Watch for updates at www.nysut.org.

NEA: We take responsibility for student success

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel urged educators to take the lead in fighting for the future of America's public education system so all students have the opportunity to succeed.

"Let's use our power to make public education stronger ... to make our nation a better place," Van Roekel said in the keynote address to the NEA Representative Assembly in July in Atlanta. More than 9,000 delegates attended, including NYSUT officers and the New York delegation.

"It will take courage for us to raise our hands and show the nation that NEA, the largest labor union in the country, is committed to change; that we take responsibility for student success; and that we will empower our members to make those changes." To read Van Roekel's full speech, visit www.nea.org.

Buffalo charter school educators join NYSUT

Education professionals at the Aloma D. Johnson Fruit Belt Community Charter School in Buffalo have organized and affiliated with NYSUT.

The new unit, consisting of 41 members and formally named the Aloma D. Johnson Education Association, has been granted voluntary recognition by the school's board.

Job titles represented by the unit include teachers, teaching assistants, social workers, reading specialists and nurses.

The union is preparing to begin work on its first contract. Negotiations are expected to begin this month.

Many of the unit's members have been at the school since it was established in 2008. A catalyst for organizing was their desire for job security and stability, NYSUT staffers in western New York said.

AFT: Reclaim the promise of public education

AFT President Randi Weingarten called on members to work together to reclaim the promise of public education at the AFT TEACH Conference in July in Washington, D.C. NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi led the New York delegation.

"We believe in public education because it is the means by which we help all children dream their dreams and achieve them," Weingarten said. "And I mean all children — those who have abundant advantages, and those for whom every day is a struggle; those who worry about getting into a good college, and those who worry about their parents getting deported."

The AFT released poll data that shows parents overwhelmingly believe that public schools are the single most important institution. To read Weingarten's full speech, and for more on the parent poll, visit www.aft.org.

Lawsuit on fair funding for schools presses forward

The right to a sound, basic education in New York state, regardless of where a student lives, will be argued in court again this fall.

"The 2003 Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling was clear that the state has a constitutional duty to provide a sound, basic education to all schoolchildren," NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said.

Instead, the state has repeatedly reneged on its funding commitments, pushing more of education costs onto the backs of local taxpayers by short-changing districts on state aid and adopting an irresponsible property tax cap that limits local investments.

"It is unconscionable that 10 years have gone by and lawmakers have not provided an equal educational opportunity for every child," Iannuzzi said, discussing the union's continuing support for the lawsuit brought by parents from eight school districts demanding the state change how schools are funded.

NYSUT filed an amicus brief and has provided attorney assistance in the lawsuit, Maisto v. State of New York. The case involves the effects of inadequate funding in the Jamestown, Niagara Falls, Utica, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Newburgh, Mount Vernon and Port Jervis school districts. The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13 in Albany County Supreme Court.

The basics of the case:

New York state agreed in April 2007 to address the court's decision in the CFE case by investing $7 billion in additional state aid in low-wealth school districts. However, that plan was halted amid the mortgage and banking crisis of 2008. Funding inequities continued unabated and, in fact, worsened because the state property tax cap adopted in 2010 further exacerbates inequities across districts.

State aid to public schools is virtually flat compared to 2007-08 and, despite recent increases, aid is still projected to be about $300 million less in 2013-14 than in 2008-09.

NYSUT, UUP: 'We won't walk out on Brooklyn'

As health care choices for Brooklyn residents edge closer to the brink, NYSUT and United University Professions, a higher education affiliate that represents hundreds of medical staff at SUNY Downstate, vow to keep up the pressure on state lawmakers to restore full funding for SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Both Interfaith Medical Center, a primary provider of acute psychiatric care, and SUNY's Long Island College Hospital — vital options for a community where one in five residents live below the poverty line — face uncertain futures, even closure.

"We are not going to walk out on the people of Brooklyn or leave this hospital stranded," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "We are committed to fighting to ensure that SUNY Downstate remains a full-service hospital."

NYSUT and UUP say any plan to privatize the medical center would jeopardize many of the specialized medical services the hospital now provides.

Supporters ask why the state is effectively starving Downstate of funds, even as the 360-bed hospital is routinely filled to capacity and as psychiatric and clinical care options for Brooklyn's 2.5 million residents become endangered. Interfaith, which has 120 beds, handles 67,000 psychiatric outpatient visits a year. LICH, with 300 beds, delivers 2,500 babies and handles 55,000 emergency visits annually.

To support SUNY Downstate, visit www.mac.nysut.org.

Astor staff settle first pact

The 52-member Astor Staff Association in Dutchess County has ratified its first collective bargaining agreement. As part of the new pact, the union secured binding arbitration. Members are employed at the Astor Learning Center, which is an 853 School serving special needs students.

Child trafficking focus of project to safeguard children

The American Federation of Teachers and the Jamaican Teachers' Association are embarking on a joint project to raise awareness among students about the dangers of trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

The project will provide educators with resources to identify children who might be at risk, and will harness community resources to protect children.

Nearly 5.5 million children worldwide are involved in trafficking, according to The International Labor Organization. A recent study found that from 2006-10, 4,870 children in Jamaica were reported missing — 70 percent of them girls. Nearly 60 percent did not return home. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that as many as 300,000 U.S. children are at risk of being trafficked.

"With the materials that we develop for educators and other school staff, we can help empower students to try to avoid dangerous situations and we can help connect children in need to available services in their community," said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

A video entitled "Modern Slavery & Sex Trafficking" by students at Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn put a spotlight on the issue of child trafficking when it was shown at NYSUT's Representative Assembly last April. The video won the grand prize in the Speak Truth to Power student video contest. To watch the video, visit http://rfkcenter.org/sttp-video-2013-4.