May 05, 2019

RA 2019: Delegates want to keep advocacy front and center

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: AT THE MIC. Laura Franz, president of host local Albany Public School Teachers Association and recipient of this year's Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

From student testing and school bus safety to farmworker rights, Representative Assembly delegates approved a wide variety of resolutions that will guide the union’s work in the coming year.

In convention action Saturday, RA delegates approved 30 resolutions and two special orders of business. Other proposals were withdrawn, defeated or referred to the Board of Directors.

After a passionate speech by NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, delegates unanimously approved a special order of business calling on the Board of Regents to demand that Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the State Education Department finally fix the state’s broken standardized testing system. (See related story: Delegates call on Regents to direct State Education commissioner to overhaul testing system.")

“Now is the time for the Board of Regents— those who have the authority to evaluate the commissioner — to direct her to make changes on behalf of our schools and our students,” said DiBrango. “And we will be watching, as we have been, to ensure that meaningful steps are taken in the next six months.”

In other educational issues, delegates urged NYSUT to fight for the repeal of the state’s receivership law, saying it is unfairly punishing districts serving the neediest students.

“It’s not being funded equitably — we’re only getting $25,000 a school... while independent monitors are being paid up to $250,000 to check off boxes,” said Syracuse TA President Megan Root. “It’s designed to shut us down and place schools in the hands of private operators and charter schools.”

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“Superintendents are abusing receivership to target and threaten union officials,” said Yonkers FT President Samantha Rosado Ciriello (pictured above).

Delegates also approved resolutions calling for expedited approval and disbursement of Smart Schools bond funds; expansion of certification and retention programs for Career and Technical Education teachers; and a school library media specialist in every school library. The convention agreed to urge NYSUT to work with national affiliates to oppose Betsy DeVos’ Title IX rollbacks.

There were several resolutions on school safety. A number of school-related professionals spoke in favor of a resolution urging NYSUT to work with legislators to make it easier to prosecute motorists who illegally pass a school bus.

“I really urge NYSUT to work on this ... to help our members protect our children,” said Cheryl Rockhill, a school and bus monitor and president of the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association. “You have no idea how often this happens.”

“I’ve been a bus driver for 33 years and people don’t get it,” said Deb Paulin, an SRP at-large director and president of the Alden Central Schools Employees Association. “As a mother and grandmother and one who loves the kids under my care, it makes me sick” when drivers illegally pass school buses. Paulin noted that when bus drivers are able to identify irresponsible motorists and report it, violators are too often able to plead it down to a parking ticket.

Paulin said it would be “the worst nightmare I could ever encounter” if a child on her bus were injured by a passing motorist. “It could be vehicular homicide,” she said.

Delegates also approved a resolution opposing any legislation that would mandate or permit the arming of public school teachers, and urging NYSUT to demand that any “active shooter drills” are conducted at times when students are not present.

Delegates directed NYSUT to seek legislation requiring individual crisis response planning for students with disabilities, plus state action on a bill that would set minimum and maximum temperatures allowed in classrooms.

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Roberta Elins (pictured above), president of the United College Employees at the Fashion Institute of Technology, spoke in favor of a resolution urging a NYSUT task force to examine the feasibility of creating a separate dues category specifically for adjunct faculty at NYSUT higher education locals. “Adjuncts cobble together a living by working at two or three institutions and they’re paying dues two or three times,” she said.

Delegates also approved a resolution on behalf of farmworkers, calling for NYSUT to lobby in support of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

After one delegate suggested the measure could lead to higher food prices, Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen said, “We should not be having cheap food on the backs of laborers.”

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UFT Paraprofessionals Chapter Leader Shelvy Young Abrams (pictured above) agreed, speaking from personal experience in support of the bill.

“I grew up on a tobacco farm. I know what it’s like to live in sub-standard housing and not have clean water to drink,” she said. “ I know what it’s like to work from sun up to sundown without any breaks.”

NYSUT Executive Vice President Emeritus Alan Lubin urged the audience to do more than pass the resolution. “Contact your legislators and tell them this is the year for the bill,” he said.

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