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Dec 10

NYSUT praises Regents’ state aid proposal

ALBANY, N.Y. Dec. 10, 2018 — New York State United Teachers today praised the Regents’ 2019-20 state aid proposal, saying the Board’s $2.1 billion “ask” of the Legislature and governor reflects the scope of the new state investment needed to help New York’s public education system continue to move forward.

“We welcome the Regents’ strong, ongoing support for a significant new investment in public education — one that would enable our school districts from Long Island to Buffalo to better meet students’ growing needs,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango noted the Regents’ state aid request is in sync with one released late last week by the Educational Conference Board. ECB, a coalition of statewide education organizations, called for a $2.2 billion increase, including $1.3 billion to Foundation Aid; $400 million for expense-based reimbursements such as transportation and special education; and $500 million to enable districts to build upon existing programs.

“We commend Chancellor Betty Rosa, the Board of Regents and Commissioner Elia for standing with the state education community in strongly supporting additional resources for students, especially those students — and those communities — that need help the most,” DiBrango said.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.


uganda delegation
Dec 07

Inspiring new teaching methods and practices, from Uganda to New York State

They have shivered. They have seen snow for the first time, and tried bowling. And they have been introduced to a washing machine and a dryer, which one of them nicknamed, in awe, “the sunshine machine.”

In three days, this foursome of teachers from Uganda will fly back to Africa after spending two weeks in the Capital Region working with area educators and learning how to effectively create a much-needed teacher university in their own country. The global visit was coordinated by the Capital Region Teacher’s Center and The Giving Circle, an area not-for-profit.

The Ugandan teachers have been learning about white boards, teacher training, math and movement, art, laptops, lesson plans, and vision statements. With the help of teachers and host families, Moses Wambi, Cecelia Kagya, Emanuel Humphrey Gusango and Stevenson Magoma have been exposed to far more than just the cold.

“At the airport we were freezing,” said Magoma, who, like the others, was presented with warm coats, hats and gloves upon arrival in the United States.

The Giving Circle has built schools and student housing in Uganda, among many other projects. Right now, a typical class there is 60-80 students with one teacher lecturing. The Giving Circle has a vision of creating a teaching university to inspire new teaching methods, better prepare and retain teachers.

Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, said 30 percent of Ugandan teachers failed the test for the grade they are teaching.

“We had a first conference last year. We asked them what the holes were. We’re looking for partnerships with American educators,” said Bertrand, who added three American teachers would be visiting Uganda in February.

“This will guide us in making constructs and to help organize a teachers’ college,” said Gusango. “We are seeing real-life situations and seeing people demonstrate.”

Bertrand said the program will begin with 10 very poor schools in Uganda, where poverty is “mind numbing.” The journey to start a teacher’s college, he said, began with a visit to the source of the Nile River, where those involved threw pebbles in the river to visualize the ripples they will be sending out.

Teacher Liz Daley, a Queensbury Faculty Association member, said the Ugandans’ visit is also benefiting New York school districts because it allows them to explore global models.

“We’re working with our teacher on developing the notion of global citizenship,” Daley said. “Our teachers need more global engagement.”

uganda delegation

The African foursome visited Queensbury High School, a State University of New York Plattsburgh campus in Glens Falls, Cambridge Central School, and elementary and middle schools in Guilderland. They also learned about integrating art and music at Shaker Road Elementary in Colonie and science at Shenendehowa.

From English Language Arts teacher Lauren Surber, a member of the Queensbury Faculty Association, they learned how to get students involved in studying O. Henry.

“How does the use of situational irony in literature help readers to discover themes?” asked Surber. The specific Lesson Essential Question was: How did O. Henry’s life experience play a role in his storytelling?

Students opened up their individually owned Chrome Books and began searching the teacher-compiled classroom notes with the intensity of Sherlock Holmes. They examined his past — his first job was a licensed pharmacist — his pen name, the authors whom he liked to read. The teacher had also downloaded TED talks in irony for them to watch.

“This is the kind of thing that is not very common,”’ said Wambi, as he observed. “We’re focused on language and structure…. The current system has gaps.”

“It was scary to do this at first,” admitted Surber, who was joined by fellow teacher and Queensbury FA member Michelle Trimarchi, in visiting each cluster of students.

Surber described this kind of learning as ‘flipping the classroom.’ When students are given a novel to read, they have activities to complete as they go, and they can move at their own pace. She feels it makes them more invested.

The Ugandan teachers took photos and watched how students unfolded answers from the information they searched through classroom notes on their web quest.

Kagya said being a teacher has given her independence, although it was not her first choice of a career because the pay in Uganda was minimal. She has earned different levels of expertise, and is now head teacher at a public school.

Gusango said good teachers often “run to the city” where there is more money to be earned and better conditions than dirt floors and tin roofs. A teacher’s university can help change that by instilling passion, national and international concepts, and academic and professional freedom.

“This,” he said, “will cause people to dream better.”


Dec 07

Why BOCES educators need strong unions

For BOCES teaching assistant Sandie Carner-Shafran, the back of her local union’s T-shirt says it all: “In Unity There is Strength.”

When BOCES local union leaders raised personal safety concerns and worries that too many students with disabilities were not getting the specialized services they needed, NYSUT arranged a meeting last year with State Education Department Assistant Commissioner Christopher Suriano so he could hear directly from the field.

“After that meeting, changes were made and we are no longer in chaos,” said Carner-Shafran, who works in an alternative learning classroom at Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. “Now they’ve moved our classroom from a busy intersection to a quiet area — and we only have two or three students at a time. I know there’s still a lot of work to do statewide on that issue, but for us personally, that meeting made a huge difference.”


Carner-Shafran, a member of the statewide union’s Board of Directors, said that’s just one example of the many issues that will be tackled this weekend when NYSUT’s BOCES Leadership Council gets together for their two-day meeting.

“The council is a great avenue for us to talk with each other, share common concerns and create a strong brotherhood and sisterhood,” Carner-Shafran said. “It’s given us the collective strength that we wouldn’t have alone.”

The meeting with SED’s assistant commissioner is one of many ways the statewide union supports BOCES educators in every corner of the state. At state budget time, NYSUT co-sponsors an annual lobby day for BOCES educators to make the case for more funding, expansion of Career and Technical Education programs and to make it easier for component school districts to use BOCES services.

At a time when BOCES are experiencing a critical shortage of special education staff, NYSUT is pushing for the Regents and State Education Department to change certification regulations and allow BOCES educators to teach outside their grade-level certification and content specialty. The BOCES union activists will also learn more about NYSUT’s “Take a Look at Teaching” initiative to encourage more people to consider entering the profession.

Other items on the leadership council’s agenda include a follow-up on health and safety issues; a presentation on new mental health curriculum requirements; and the union’s upcoming legislative agenda.

Dec 07

NYSUT partnership with Fair Trade coffee company Dean's Beans to benefit Disaster Relief efforts

ALBANY, N.Y. Dec. 7, 2018 — Members of New York State United Teachers looking to support efforts to create a more just economy in developing nations while boosting their statewide union’s disaster relief efforts can now do both at once — thanks to a new partnership with Fair Trade coffee distributor Dean’s Beans.

Under the agreement, the union’s more than 600,000 members and others can purchase special NYSUT-branded coffee — with $2 from each bag of coffee being rebated by Massachusetts-based Dean’s Beans to NYSUT’s Disaster Relief Fund.

“Our members who need a jolt of caffeine after fighting for an increased investment in public education and to reform the state’s broken testing and evaluation system can now feel extra good about their work,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Some of their dollars will go toward supporting Fair Trade in developing nations while also helping fellow Americans — and union members — reeling from natural disasters.”

Dean's Beans

Pallotta said NYSUT’s Disaster Relief Fund has distributed more than $2.5 million in grants since its creation in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. NYSUT members have contributed — through dress down days, bake sales and other small fund-raisers — to support their colleagues and neighbors after Superstorm Sandy; flooding in the Southern Tier; the hurricanes that devastated Texas, Florida, Houston, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; as well as the earthquake that struck Haiti.

“NYSUT members are deeply committed to their communities and the cause of social justice, here and abroad,” Pallotta said. “When disasters strike, our members open their hearts and wallets to assist educators, families and schools.”

The project is being spearheaded by NYSUT’s Civil and Human Rights Committee, which works tirelessly on Fair Trade and other social justice issues. Members and others interested in supporting this project can learn more — and order coffee — at

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Educational Conference Board (ECB)
Dec 06

Educational Conference Board calls for $2.2 billion state aid increase for 2019-20

For immediate release – December 6, 2018
Contact: ECB Chair John Yagielski, (518) 810-8382,

Organizations cite double-digit increases in student need factors, importance of putting Foundation Aid back on track

Pointing to significant growth in student needs over the last decade, New York’s major statewide education organizations released a report today calling for a $2.2 billion state aid increase for 2019-20.

If enacted, the funding recommended by the Educational Conference Board (ECB) would enable schools to continue current programs and services for students and respond to an increase in student needs, which has occurred in all areas of the state and all types of school districts.

The paper points out that between 2006-07 and 2016-17, the total number of New York students receiving free and reduced price lunch increased by 15 percent; English language learners by 18 percent; and students with disabilities by 14 percent.

Meanwhile, the state is currently about $4 billion behind what is due to schools under the Foundation Aid formula enacted in 2007. The funding levels recommended by ECB would put the state on track to fully fund the formula within three years.

“The premise of Foundation Aid is that school districts will have the resources to meet student needs and provide them with a quality education,” said ECB Chair John Yagielski. “The changes in the last decade underscore the importance of a Foundation Aid formula that is funded and functioning in our state. Schools are charged with preparing students for a rapidly changing world and, with this paper, we have identified the state support that it will take to invest in their success.”

recb report 2019-20
Click to download complete report (PDF)

There are three components to ECB’s state aid recommendations for 2019-20:

  • A $1.31 billion increase in Foundation Aid, which is a third of what is due to schools. This would put the state on course to fully fund the formula in three years;
  • A $400 million increase in expense-based reimbursements to continue essential programs and services such as student transportation and special education;
  • A total of $500 million for five priority areas, including strengthening school safety, supporting struggling schools and English language learners and investing in college and career pathways.

ECB also outlined some longer-term recommendations to preserve and enhance the Foundation Aid formula, including updating the more than 15-year-old study that was the basis for the per pupil foundation amount.

ECB also recommends adjustments to the tax cap that would provide school districts and taxpayers with more stability, including providing for an allowable tax levy growth factor of at least 2 percent.

In the paper, ECB emphasized the importance of providing each district with a sufficient increase in state aid to keep pace with rising costs and escalating student needs, especially given that the tax cap limits the revenue that can be raised locally to support education.

“Absent the necessary resources, school leaders will increasingly have diminished ability to meet demonstrated needs while also continuing proven programs,” the paper states. “Enacting the recommendations in this paper would bridge the gap between current levels of funding and the programs and services that New York’s students need to be prepared for the future.”


The New York State Educational Conference Board is comprised the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; the New York State Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; New York State School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers; and the School Administrators Association of New York State.

ECP Report

Dec 05

Lifesavers make headlines and heartlines

Oneida teacher Shannon Weaver pulled into the parking lot for her last Saturday morning class in a graduate course, spotting a car on the grass and a colleague standing nearby. She jumped out of her car, and saw her course instructor, Fred Haag, out cold in the driver’s seat of his car.

“Fred was laying back in his seat, his eyes closed. He was not responding,” she said.

After quickly assessing the situation she opened the car door, lowered the seat back and began chest compressions.

A volleyball coach certified in CPR and defibrillator use, Weaver had practiced on a mannequin, but never on an actual person. She pushed on his lifeless chest, while her Oneida Teacher Association colleague Kathy Zangrilli ran into the NYSUT East Syracuse regional office for an AED. Teacher Cristi Spinelli relayed information from the 911 operator she was on the phone with.

Weaver worked.

Chest compressions, rescue breath. Chest compressions, rescue breath.

“It was instinctual,” Weaver said. “You recall everything you learned but you don’t realize you’re recalling it as you’re doing it. It was a very stressful moment ... Emotions were high.”

Finally, she heard Haag’s breath.

“He gasped for air as he came back. I could feel his pulse again.”

The AED wasn’t needed, and the ambulance arrived within minutes.

“The EMTs said if I hadn’t started compressions, he would’ve died,” Weaver said.

Once Haag started breathing, the 911 operator gave instructions to stop CPR, but he had Spinelli tell them each time Haag took a breath.

“I’ve never called 911 for a medical emergency before and it was very hard to stay calm, but I tried my best,” said Spinelli, a third grade teacher and member of the Fayetteville-Manlius TA.

Haag, a retiree from the North Syracuse Education Association, recalls feeling unwell and sweaty when he woke up that morning. He decided he would go into class to drop off paperwork and instructions, then come home and rest. Haag has taught for NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust for decades.

Early to class, Beth Robinson,  a family and consumer science teacher with the Fayetteville-Manlius Teachers Association, noticed that Haag looked gray and said he’d had some pain across his chest and back.

“We couldn’t convince him to go to Urgent Care or the emergency room,” Robinson said. But she insisted on following him home. The trip was brief. “We weren’t on the main highway yet and he pulled his car off the road.” Robinson has since vowed that if she’s ever again in a similar situation she will not let the person drive.

Haag only recalls that he was driving and “things began to ... swirl around in my head, and I said ‘I can’t be driving like this.’” He pulled over.

When he woke up at the hospital, several of his students were there and had contacted his daughter, Elizabeth. She looked at him and said “Welcome back, Dad,” and pointing to Weaver, said “Here’s the lady who saved your life.”

L-R: Weaver, Haag, Spinelli and Robinson. Photo by Mark Warner.

Weaver and the crew of hero teachers gathered at St. Joseph’s Hospital that October morning to await the outcome of Haag’s surgery. He had one artery that was 100 percent blocked, and another that was partially blocked. Doctors put stents in.

Robinson said that when doctors wheeled him out of surgery, Haag looked around at his students and said ‘I hope everybody picked up their homework.”

Robinson helped set up a meal train on a website and teachers signed up to bring Haag three weeks worth of healthy meals. She has taken many classes with Haag, a very popular regional instructor. This graduate course was “Making Thinking Visible,” which included discussions on the laws of attraction -- drawing people to you that you need. Weaver now finds that surreal.

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