No staticky sound system, no shrimp, no shiraz — and definitely no hand shakes. But there were two big “s” words on everyone’s mind at NYSUT’s virtual 2021 Legislative Reception Thursday: supplement and supplant.
The executive budget proposal that kick started this year’s budget debate earlier this month relies on the currently unknown amount of federal COVID-19 relief funding that will be available — also unknown: whether the federal money will boost or simply replace state funding.
“The use of significant federal funds to supplant, rather than supplement, state funding for education would set public schools up for long-term harm,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Instead, to generate the revenues needed to fund public services like education in the years to come, the state must enact new taxes on the ultrawealthy.”
With nearly 300 participants logged in, it was a night to celebrate political alliances, labor leadership and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of NYSUT members who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic under conditions that were unimaginable a year ago.
“There’s no better way to confront a challenge than to ask a teacher to do it,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who leads a historic Democratic supermajority. She spoke about the need of “additional revenue and sustained revenue” to support public education and health care.
“Our senate conference is really focused to get this right,” she said, “not just for now but for the future.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he follows a motto of five words: “Supply has to equal demand.”
Pledging his Democratic conference support, he said, “The Assembly majority prides itself as one of the biggest allies and champions of public education. … You will always have a friend and an ally in this house.”
Highlighting the evening were several reports by rank-and-file members at the vanguard of the war against COVID-19.
Anne Goldman, leader of the UFT Federation of Nurses and chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council spoke of the frustration of New York nurses who have been unable to do what they always do — make patients and families feel better.
“Our goal is always to support, surround and embrace,” she said, “but that didn’t happen. … The worst was our reality. Our struggle was amazing and continues to be.”
Jennifer Guthman, school psychologist and CSE chair from Westbury, said the message is the same as always, but even more challenging now. “Schools are attempting and required to do more than ever before, with a whole lot less. (It’s) more than just education; kids rely on us to provide mental health support and protection.”
Children are not emotionally equipped to manage the stress level they have experienced in the pandemic, said Emily Conrad, a middle school health teacher and member of the White Plains TA. “Schools are so much more than a place to educate students. They are a safe place, a second home,” she said.
Doriy Jackson, of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, said she lost 117 colleagues to job cuts last year. Now, “COVID has exacerbated the layoffs and we have lost even more.”
Kristin Collarusso Martin, community schools director in the impoverished North Country district of Massena, spoke of the lack of internet, food insecurity, drugs and mental health issues that can’t be solved without additional resources.
Science teacher Joanne Fredette said tiny Schenevus Central School is the largest employer, despite losing more staff and programs every year, “and the heart” of the small town in Otsego County.
“With years of flat and decreasing aid from the state, the path to make our students college ready has become impossible to navigate,” she said. To the lawmakers hearing her story, she added, “These are your children, these are New York State children, and they deserve better.”
Next week, NYSUT will host another online meeting specifically to address issues related to public higher education.