As Newburgh, Mount Vernon and Yonkers educators expressed deep concerns at a union meeting on school receivership, NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino had a simple message: The statewide union is here to provide support — and will keep pushing for changes in the ill-conceived law.
“We will not give up this fight,” Fortino said. “And you are not alone in this.”
Fortino met with Hudson Valley members at a regional meeting in Tarrytown Tuesday night. This was the third of several regional informational sessions on the state’s new receivership process, following one held in Rochester and another in the capital region. In May, NYSUT brought together local union leaders from schools facing receivership to form a statewide network and share information.
Under a law enacted as part of the state budget, struggling schools have a one- or two-year turnaround period or risk takeover from a state-approved outside receiver.
The State Education Department in July identified 144 “struggling” schools in 17 districts. Of those 144 schools, 20 were deemed “persistently struggling” and must show demonstrable improvement within one year. A new list of schools will be produced by SED in February 2016 based on Spring 2015 test results.
Beginning this school year, superintendents in districts with struggling schools became internal “school receivers” with considerable autonomy.
As school team leaders reported out on what’s happening in their individual schools and districts, it was obvious there are a great deal of misinformation and a variety of approaches to moving forward. “This is a safe place for you,” Fortino said. “We want to know your unique experiences.”
One reported their building teams were “basically in the dark” on the new process, while others worked closely with district officials, community representatives and parents on intervention plans that had to be submitted to SED.
Fortino asked each table to come up with two key questions they needed answered, but participants had trouble narrowing their long lists down to only two.
Most of the questions pertained to transfer rights, reassignments, terminations and what protections staff might have. Others asked about receivership collective bargaining possibilities — and what the real timeframes will be, since it’s unlikely that SED will have test data in time to make decisions by the end of the school year.
Others questioned the data SED used for goal-setting targets, saying subgroup numbers did not match school records. Fortino said her staff would carefully review the data as soon as SED makes it public.
Several talked about parent engagement efforts, attendance problems and unrealistic expectations for English language learners and students with disabilities. “It’s overwhelming,” said one teacher. “We don’t even have an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in certain grades.”
As several union leaders testified last week before an Assembly Education Committee hearing on receivership, many of these schools are already having trouble retaining and recruiting experienced staff. Some schools still have openings — and it’s mid-October, teachers said.
Both Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Pat Puleo and Newburgh TA President Stacey Moran underscored the need for members to “get political.”
They urged participants to contact local lawmakers about providing additional funding and a more realistic timeline for turnaround efforts. Puleo urged members to sign up for NYSUT’s Member Action Center to receive alerts and send advocacy letters to lawmakers.
Jackie Paredes, from NYSUT’s legislative department, said the union is pressing for more aid for wraparound services provided through the community school model. “We need to make legislators understand that removing teachers is not a good idea,” she said. “What these kids need most is stability.”
“It’s so important for you to bring your reality to legislators, board meetings, the Regents, everywhere,” Fortino said. “You are working with our most vulnerable children in high need schools with parents who are struggling. You need to share that reality.”