March 26, 2015

Calling Out Cuomo: Reports from the Capitol

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
activists in the well
Caption: Activists fill the Well at the Capitol. Photo by Dana Fournier.

7:00 p.m. - Enough hot air, it's time for respect

How do you feel about what the governor is doing to your school?

Well, teachers who've had enough of Andrew Cuomo's hot air are writing on balloons and delivering them to his office in the last event of today's rally.

Already, the crowds have chanted, hoisted signs and marched to the Legislative Office Building where they hand delivered postcards to the legislators from their area.

"Trust teachers not corporations," read one balloon.

"I want to teach, not test," read another.

"We love our schools and our children!" was the message written on a pink balloon.

As the balloons were held aloft in the "War Room" outside the governor's office, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said the group will show Cuomo "no rest!"

Pallotta said he wrote just one word on his balloon: "Respect!"

The balloons were released and bounced throughout the room, their pastel colors contrasting with the ornate, earth-tone murals of historical battles that adorn the space.

6:00 p.m. - Why we came

Teachers and parents came from Long Island, Cohoes, Saranac Lake, Gouverneur, Albany and Lancaster — which is just outside Buffalo. Some used a day of spring vacation and others used a personal day or rushed to the Capitol after teaching all day.

"I'm here because I care about the destruction of education in New York state and the stress my kids' teachers are under," said Simon Levy, a Guilderland teacher who attended with three of his children: Sean, Ashlin and Bryn. "Teachers are not their students' test scores."

"I came today because you work all year to build up (students') confidence and then you give them the test and they look like they're drowning," said Lancaster Special Ed teacher Krystel Murtha. "Kids are given tests three or four years above where they are and not given their IEP conditions. It's like child abuse."

"The premise of public education, pre-K through college, is mass quality," said University at Albany professor Barry Trachtenberg. "If you continue to undermine public education, you get a smaller and smaller number of citizens who have access, and you undermine quality and further stratify class inequities."

5:00 p.m. - 'Can you hear us?'

"Hey Cuomo?" 
(clap clap clap)
"Can you hear us?" 

The chant is echoing and bouncing off the stonework of the Million Dollar Staircase of the Capitol. The multi-leveled stairway is full and the crowd is spread further out into the nearby lobby areas for today's rally to protect public education. Demonstrators are piling into the Capitol to show support for legislators who are bucking the governor's attacks on funding, local control and teacher evaluations. 

This is what democracy looks like, indeed.

While Cuomo has been whistling his way to work on the downdraft of his big money hedge fund supporters, educators and parents have been getting louder and louder. 

"Fee, fi, fo, fum…
Look out Cuomo here we come!" 

School staff, teachers, parents and college educators are standing side-by-side with signs while media from public and network TV shine their bright lights interviewing people.

4:20 p.m. - Trekking from Gouverneur with a message for the governor

Kindergarten teacher Pam Mahay from Gouverneur drove four hours one way, along with two colleagues, to come support her legislators and let them know just how many people are on the side of public education. 

"We don't believe the governor's personal agenda should be tied to our funding," she said. 

"We're here to put additional pressure on our Assembly members and senators," said Jerrilyn Patton, a social studies teacher in Gouverneur, noting they are "being bullied" by Cuomo. "Our students have a constitutional right to a sound, basic education. This is a civil rights issue at this point." 

Kim McEvoy from Rondout Valley, a senior account clerk and NYSUT School-Related Professional, has seen colleagues lose jobs, watched an elementary school get closed and mourned the loss of foreign language at the elementary level. Her son, she said, uses a second language in his job every day. 

"It allowed him to become competitive in a global economy."

4:00 p.m. - Signs of our time

Here's a look at just some of the messages on signs at today's rally at the state Capitol to protect public education:

"My grandchildren need their schools to be fairly funded."

"Big business has no business in our schools!"

"NY schools are not failing!"

"NY teachers are not failing!"

"Gov. Cuomo is failing our schools!"

"Cuomo is ineffective!"

"Reject the status-Cuomo!"

"Legislators: Stand Strong"

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