May 2014
May 06, 2014

Hundreds picket to say: 'Public education is not for sale!'

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Undaunted by the cold and rain, parents, children and educators picket to defend public education in Lake Placid.
Caption: Undaunted by the cold and rain, parents, children and educators picket to defend public education in Lake Placid. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

It was a tight, loud group of hundreds, some traveling seven hours to picket in the 39-degree cold and a lashing rain to share their anger over the ongoing assaults to public education.

"The true education reformers are teachers," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. The size and determination of the crowd, she said, show "how teachers feel. It shows our anger and frustration."

NYSUT organized the Picket in the Pines to "put the public back in public education." NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, Vice President Paul Pecorale, Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who traveled from Washington, D.C., were on the picket line, too.

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"We're cold, wet and uncomfortable ... but one thing they don't understand about us — we will never stop," said Messner.

Five hundred people — parents, students and educators — came by bus and car to rally in front of the luxurious Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid in the Adirondacks where the three-day Camp Philos for big-money buccaneers was taking place.

The elite attendees — mostly Wall Street hedge fund managers who make up Education Reform Now and its political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform — were using the time to philosophize about how to further "reform" and profit from education.

The "reform" groups push over-testing (by for-profit companies) and privatizing public schools.

"We're like eagles. They're like vultures," shouted Pallotta. "We will be relentless."

United University Professions President Fred Kowal, representing faculty and staff at the State University of New York campuses, was warmed by the show of solidarity in support of public education at the rain-drenched event. "These profiteers are not going to take it away from us!" he said.

Also invited to Camp Philos were filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, and Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, who is married to education reform matriarch Michelle Rhee.
"It's our civic responsibility to be here," said Pecorale. "It is social justice issue number one: saving our public schools."

The ironies were abundant.

The Camp Philos bigwigs were delivered in limousines with darkened windows to the entrance of the lodge.

The pickets walked along the highway, or arrived in yellow Lake Placid school district buses, wearing plastic rain ponchos over their sage green Picket in the Pines T-shirts and holding umbrellas aloft. They carried signs that read: Public education is not for sale! Honk for public schools. Testing makes me sad. Education is a public good, not a profit motive!

"We will move this issue throughout the state and then we will move it with Randi throughout the nation. I look forward to leading the charge," said Magee, who marked her first month on the job as NYSUT president by leading the NYSUT-organized statewide protest.

"When did education become a profit-making deal? It makes me mad, so I came," said retired foreign language teacher Maxine Borom of Niskayuna. Why is education being turned over to non-educators, she wondered. After all, she said, if you hold a conference on swimming pools you'd invite people who know about swimming pools, wouldn't you?

Lauri Naccarato, president of the Kingston Teachers Association, said she came "to protest big business buying public education." NYSUT retiree Gail Richmond, who took on extra work to pay to attend Camp Philos, received two letters of confirmation, and was then told the conference was "overbooked."

Others, too, ponied up the $1,000 to attend Camp Philos, but their applications were rejected.

Sabrina Stevens, an advocate from Integrity in Education who spoke to NYSUT members before the rally, said it well: "When they can't control the outcome they will shut down the process."

The people at Camp Philos, she said, are about money and real estate. They are seeking to profit from student data collection, vouchers, merit pay and getting rid of collective bargaining.

Sharon Wells, a retired teacher with the Endicott TA and a former school board member, rode a bus for five hours to get to the rally from Binghamton.

"I am a child advocate. I feel very strongly education should be for all children and not just a few. The [SUNY] motto is 'Let each become all he is capable of being.' Let's follow it!" she said.

Student James McDonnell came from SUNY Plattsburgh because his major is education and he wants "to be politically active in what happens with public education."

Pat Puleo, president of Yonkers Federation of Teachers, traveled six hours each way on a NYSUT bus to picket.

"We're willing to trade our family time — our Sunday — so the powers that be can hear us shout about ... the democracy of free education in America!" Puleo said.

Justin Finnegan, a K-12 speech pathologist from New Paltz, sharing his large umbrella with his wife, Cheryl, a Kingston teacher, said they came more as parents "to fight for public education."

From the tiny village of Long Lake in Hamilton County, teacher Noelle Short said she is discouraged and frustrated about where public education is headed. "I work with bright, creative and talented students and teachers and we all deserve a voice," she said.

After hours in the rain, hundreds of brightly decorated posters dripped colors onto the soaking wet grass high on a hill overlooking the village of Lake Placid. The rallying faithful headed home knowing they had left their mark.

WHY I WENT TO PICKET

"Not too long ago, I had very little interest in the union and what the union did. I paid my dues and figured that someone else would do whatever it was that had to be done. I was definitely an observer, a witness, a minimal participant.

"Well, a lot has changed in not a lot of time."

To read more from Saranac Lake Teachers Association member Jason Smith, who is pictured on the cover, go to blogs.nysut.org.

More photos from the Picket in the Pines can be seen in our photo galleries at www.nysut.org.