“Every member’s voice matters,” declared NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, setting the tone for a wide-ranging dialogue among NYSUT officers and local leaders at the popular “cracker barrel” session held during a pre-RA conference for local and retiree council presidents.
Leaders shared concerns ranging from the late state budget to the looming threat of a state constitutional convention. A recurring theme was appreciation for NYSUT initiatives and the officers’ work, with tributes for Magee and Vice President Catalina Fortino, who are both stepping down at the end of this year’s RA.
NYSUT Board member Barbara Hafner, West Hempstead EA, started the conversation with thanks for NYSUT’s “truly appreciated” opt-out information. Hafner also asked about the status of state budget negotiations, noting that her own district was among those that “don’t have a budget we can present to the community because the state hasn’t done its job.”
Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who directs NYSUT’s legislative and political action arm, said state budget negotiations had stalled over disagreements about education funding. NYSUT, he said, continues to mount a mighty pushback on state Senate Republicans who are trying to divert funds from public schools to charter operators.
“Are you on the MAC?” he asked the crowd. Almost every hand went up, affirming leaders’ participation in the Member Action Center that serves as a hub for political action. On just one day, he said, “we were sending something like 20,000 faxes and making hundreds of calls to the senate” to call for a state budget that supports public schools that serves` all students. “These are really good numbers,” he said, assuring union leaders that the campaign will continue to ramp up.
Left to right: Magee, Pallotta, Fortino, Pecorale and Messner.
Several speakers expressed concern about the pitfalls inherent in a state constitutional convention.
Magee stressed the need for member engagement at the local level using resources at www.nysut.org/concon and www.nonewyorkconvention.org. A “con con” could undo basic rights, such as collective bargaining and the guarantee that once a public service pension is granted, it cannot be diminished or impaired.
“Educate your members on the cost of a constitutional convention,” she said, citing projections that costs could total in the hundreds of millions.
Praising the union’s First Book giveaways to children, its “Why in Five” messaging materials and the recent conference on women’s priorities, NYSUT Board member Eric Talbot, Cuba-Rushford TA, affirmed NYSUT’s social justice agenda and asked what’s next.
“We’re beginning to engage in those thoughtful conversations needed to ensure civil rights gains are not pushed back,” said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale, who directs NYSUT’s social justice campaigns. “We never thought we’d need to be engaging on these issues again, but that’s the case.” For NYSUT, he added, “At the heart of social justice is educational justice.”
Joe Alati, co-president of BOCES United Professionals, said these organizations have unique needs in providing cooperative educational services.
Fortino referenced the progress NYSUT made this year in establishing its BOCES Council and praised participants for their activism in raising concern about safety and professional learning with the State Education Department.
“Carry on!” she said. “You are courageous."
NYSUT Board member Kevin Ahern, Syracuse TA, called the state’s receivership policies for schools the latest in a never-ending string of turnaround schemes that only destabilize school communities. The state’s poorly constructed policy “puts you in a place of constantly negotiating,” he said.
Syracuse has made major gains, he noted, but the burdens of receivership continue to have an impact on the state’s most vulnerable students.
“We have pushed back on this ridiculous law,” Pallotta said. “Receivership is not the answer. Community schools are the answer.”
Fortino said the upcoming reauthorization of federal funds through the Every Student Succeeds Act offers potential leverage to do away with receivership in favor of the supports high-needs schools deserve.
Roberta Elins, United College Employees at the Fashion Institute of Technology, presented a plaque to Fortino on behalf of NYSUT’s Higher Education Policy Council, expressing appreciation for her work and “intuitive understanding” of higher ed issues.
Kathy Taylor, Ulster BOCES TO and a NYSUT board member, offered a tribute to Magee, recognizing her leadership in launching NYSUT’s conference on women’s priorities and thanking her for establishing the agenda that is significant to NYSUT members statewide.
NYSUT Secretary-treasurer Martin Messner detailed the union’s readiness in the event of an adverse Supreme Court decision that undercuts unions’ financial stability. NYSUT is preparing for any eventuality, he said.