Jason Carter of the Wayne Teachers Association shared the plight of NYSUT members who need legislative relief from the annual professional performance review requirements for this pandemic year.
Tenure is tied to state testing, which again this year has been compromised by COVID-19 restrictions. Last year, the governor issued an executive order to suspend APPR for 2020, allowing districts to grant earned tenure.
This year, Carter explained, in a virtual meeting with Assemblyman Josh Jensen, R-Rochester, it’s up to the Legislature.
“Technically, many teachers and teaching assistants who are eligible won’t get tenure unless we get those bills,” he said. “It’s very important.”
Jensen, who supported the move, quickly jumped in with an update: “The Assembly just passed it — unanimously.”
A dozen people on the Zoom call laughed as Carter threw up his hands and exclaimed, “I just asked you for it, and 30 seconds later you delivered!”
The Senate approved the bill earlier, so now it can go to the governor’s desk, where a signature would enact the measure.
OK, we all know it doesn’t always work that way, but the value of this week’s In-District Committee of 100 advocacy by NYSUT political activists cannot be understated.
“Progress on legislative issues cannot be separated from the efforts of NYSUT members who share real-life experiences to educate lawmakers about the impact of their decisions,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “In person or virtual, it's the same thing, and it’s so important.”
Another hot topic for NYSUT volunteer lobbyists this week was the need to limit the expansion of charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded through local districts.
“They have a history of fraud and mismanagement, and they are opaque, with no transparency,” said Candace Rubin of the Rochester TA. It’s more of an issue in the cities, she said, “but the issues seem to represent principles that Republicans would support.”
It’s not only a big city issue, said Saranac TA’s Michele Bushey in a Zoom meeting with North Country state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Glens Falls.
“It’s a possibility that could exist in our region,” Bushey said. “We have public schools in this region that are excellent, but we don’t have the funds to support charter schools, especially without the transparency piece in place.”
Among other issues, advocates urged lawmakers to move legislation to provide flexibility for higher education institutions when determining admission standards for graduate level teacher programs. This could provide more exemptions for the minimum Graduate Record Exam admission test scores and the required grade-point average of 3.0, which limit the pool of potential educators in the pipeline.
“This restricts who can be allowed into teacher programs, at a time when we are already facing a teacher shortage,” said Ellen Mancuso, Monroe CC Faculty Association.
“It would be especially helpful for people who are coming back to pursue education after several years in a career,” said Kim Hartshorn of the United University Professions chapter at SUNY Plattsburgh.
NYSUT also supports bills to require additional health and mental health professionals in the school setting. One bill would ensure that more mental health professionals and school counselors are available in schools, and another would ensure that all public school district and BOCES have a registered professional nurse in every school building.
“Right now, districts need only one nurse per district,” said Marne Brady of BOCES United Professionals, “and we’re advocating for one nurse per building.” Especially when dealing with students who have ever more complicated medical issues, travel time between buildings in an emergency can lead to terrible outcomes.
Union advocates urged legislative action to support labor rights for School-Related Professionals, including seniority rights for people in civil service jobs when filling vacancies and a bill to preserve employees’ due process rights and a fair process to appoint independent hearing officers for disciplinary actions.
They also asked lawmakers to pass a bill to provide a local-option early retirement incentive for educational employees outside New York City. An NYC-specific incentive was included in the enacted state budget.
The legislative session is expected to continue for 10 more days over the next three weeks.