March 06, 2018

Committee of 100: ‘The time is now to fix it!’

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
committee of 100
Caption: Yonkers Teachers Association activists meet with Assemblymember Shelley Mayer. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

John Kuryla told Assemblyman Al Stirpe, D–Cicero, he knew how to solve the state’s problems with annual professional performance reviews, also known as APPR.

“Let’s just get rid of it,” said the president of the North Syracuse Education Association. “There’s no research that supports what we’ve done on evaluations here in New York State, none.”

Since the mandate that tied federal education aid to standardized, test-based evaluations has been lifted, New York’s APPR law is anachronistic, said Nadia Resnikoff, president of the Middle Country Teachers Association on Long Island.

“Federal aid is not dependent on APPR, and we hope to have that happen in the state, as well,” she said in a meeting with Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D–Setauket.

“The time is now to fix it,” added Shelly Chizzonite, of East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers.

NYSUT is advocating repeal and replacement of the ill-conceived, punitive APPR law this year. The solutions: local control, collective bargaining, no state mandates and no required connection to standardized tests.

“We have to ditch the concept that one size fits all,” said Seth Cohen, Troy TA, to Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D–Saratoga Springs. “What would work for us in Troy, an urban setting, is not going to work in Schuylerville (in rural Saratoga County).”

APPR was only one of many issues raised by nearly 700 volunteer activists from NYSUT local unions who stormed the Capitol today in the annual migration known as the Committee of 100.

The unionists urged lawmakers to further increase the state’s investment in public schools, colleges and hospitals.

They shared real-world stories with their hometown lawmakers to illustrate why a $1.5 billion general school aid increase — roughly double the proposed $769 million — is needed just to maintain current programs and services for students.

The lack of state aid and the tax cap that limits local revenue add up, even in relatively wealthy suburban districts, to budgets that cut programs and services to students, activists said.

They asked for relief either by eliminating the 60 percent supermajority required to approve a budget that exceeds a tax cap, or for more exemptions for necessary expenses beyond local control.

One of those expenses that everyone faces this year is the increased need for security and social work to prevent or, horrifically, deal with school violence. Each district’s needs are different, said Robert Verbeck of the Shoreham Wading River TA. Under the cap, districts might have to choose between hiring two security guards and hiring — or cutting — two reading teachers.

Everyone agrees that security is an expanding issue but: “Are we trading security for education?” he asked.

The grassroots advocates also urged lawmakers to boost funding for SUNY and CUNY campuses to ensure they can hire faculty and expand programs to meet rapidly increasing enrollment.

NYSUT is also pressing the Legislature to restore $78.6 million in subsidies for SUNY hospitals, which provide much-needed patient care to many of the poorest New Yorkers while training the next generation of health care workers.

Cutting the subsidies, as in the governor’s budget proposal, “is really the defunding of the university hospitals,” said United University Professions’ Rowena Blackman Stroud of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

The NYSUT activists urged lawmakers to approve a greater investment in community schools, in Special Act, 4201, 4410 and 853 special schools and in Teacher Centers, which, once again, are cut from the governor’s budget plan. Traditionally, the Legislature finds a way to restore that cut.

“That’s a resource that really can help in the classrooms,” said NYSUT Board member Loretta Donlon, a retired teacher. “If you want to save a lot of time in negotiations over restoring this, come up with $40 million to keep Teacher Centers moving forward.”