Local presidents discussed opt-out and other hot button issues, and heard behind-the-scenes details of recent union victories during a wide-ranging conversation with NYSUT's officers at the pre-RA Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference.
Stuart Napear, Freeport Teachers Associations, noted the strength of the test refusal movement on Long Island and told the officers his members were looking to the statewide union for more support.
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee summarized NYSUT's position, established by delegates at the 2015 RA. "Every parent has the right to opt out their child, and we support that," Magee said. "We support every member who, as a parent, chooses to opt out their own children. I have said that as a parent, I would opt my child out if he were eligible for the grades 3-8 tests. At the same time, the resolution adopted last year speaks to locals' autonomy on opt-out. NYSUT supports our locals in their varying stances on opt out."
NYSUT provided opt-out materials to locals and facilitated locals wanting to make their own opt-out robo-calls.
Jolene DiBrango, Pittsford TA, affirmed NYSUT's policy, saying: "That has helped me navigate the waters in my own community" where opinions on opt-out are mixed. "Without that local autonomy, locals such as mine would be in a really tough spot."
Martin Daly, New Rochelle FUSE, also praised the policy: "We've used opt-out to mobilize members. You empowered us to make our own robo-calls, and we are grateful."
NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who has strongly conveyed NYSUT's criticism of state's tests to SED, added: "As parents are opting out of tests, we are saying there is another reality to student assessment and it does not have to be standardized tests." She said NYSUT is pressing for authentic student assessments such as portfolios to replace "fill in the bubble" tests.
Greg McCrea, Westhill EA, asked union leaders to discuss their success in ensuring farm workers are included in the Fight for $15, which also benefits thousands of NYSUT members who are School-Related Professionals.
"This was part of a very big fight that included lobbying and grassroots coalition building," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "It was a social justice issue for us to make sure farm workers were included."
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale said NYSUT worked closely with 25 SRP members to prepare them to share their personal stories "and in the process, they became activists."
Annie McClintock, Harborfields Teaching Assistants and the 2015 SRP of the Year, said most SRPs either make minimum wage or "a little above." She thanked leaders for supporting the Fight for $15. "We are all advocates together," she said.
Pecorale noted that while this was great progress, "it is not yet a living wage," so the fight continues.
NYSUT officers outlined the union's educational outreach to members and the public on the pitfalls of a state Constitutional Convention, in response to a question from Jason Cooney, Greece TA. Pallotta said the threats to basic rights posed by a convention have had a galvanizing effect on support for VOTE-COPE.
DiBrango, a TRS Board member, also said local presidents can invite TRS reps to present on the issue.
Florence McCue, at-large retiree director, urged local leaders to make sure their retirees are informed on ways to stay active in councils or retiree chapters.
Joseph Najuch, Newfane TA, spoke of his ongoing fight for a contract and the need for up-to-date member data.
NYSUT Secretary-treasurer Martin Messner announced that NYSUT is partnering with AFT on a cost effective "21st century" system that will ensure locals have easily accessible, current data for their own members.
Local leaders praised NYSUT's First Book program and progress on the state budget and with the Board of Regents.
Fortino described new Chancellor Betty Rosa as an educator "who cares deeply about our young children and bringing school communities together." Over the past two years, seven new Regents have been elected to the BOD, "creating opportunities for us to have real professional dialogue," Fortino said.
Looking forward, Magee said NYSUT will seize the opportunity created by the recently achieved four-year ban on the use of state test scores in evaluations. "This is the time to press the task forces recommendations," she said. "This is a huge opportunity to change the conversation from testing to assessments. This is an opportunity to get it right."
Pallotta said NYSUT also places high priority on higher education, where it is essential to "change the whole narrative." He identified the undemocratic tax cap as a significant burden on local communities. And "receivership is a debacle of an idea," Pallotta said. "We want a total repeal of receivership."
Pecorale urged local leaders to continue the momentum for change in their communities and in conversations with the Regents. And he asked them to save the date — May 4 — for a day of action in partnership with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.