February 2011 Issue
February 06, 2011

From the President's Desk: Advocacy, activism make it clear where we stand

Author: Dick Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." – Bob Dylan

NYSUT members, like many Americans, live through and see the magnitude of the fiscal crisis facing our nation and our state every day. We see it when jobs are threatened and programs are cut, and we see it in the mood of the children and patients in our care. While things are starting to turn around, we know that more is still needed.

Educators and health care professionals have been sharing the pain brought on by this recession. Schools in New York are trying to get by with nearly $2.3 billion less in state education aid than three years ago, and now Gov. Cuomo is proposing an additional $1.5 billion cut in education spending below last year's level. He is proposing a 10 percent cut to SUNY and CUNY and their community colleges, which would compound the impact of years of devastating cuts.

This is coupled with an ill-conceived and treacherous tax cap bill introduced by the governor and passed by the state Senate. Health care has endured similarly devastating cuts and is facing even more.

Likewise, you don't need a weatherman to interpret the cold wind of teacher bashing, anti-public-employee and anti-union sentiment. The biting chill is fed by fear mongers and ideologues who prey on the suffering of working families to advance their own agenda and that of the privileged wealthy who have profited throughout the recession. 

Not so coincidentally, many on the so-called "Committee to Save New York" — advocates for much of the governor's agenda — fall into that category.

Unfortunately, the governor's insistence on always linking educational performance to a meaningless and obscure statistical "34th" ranking doesn't help.

I know firsthand that the governor and his staff have been made aware that education in New York has been ranked at or near the top by many well-respected and independent resources. Education Week's Quality Counts 2011, a rigorous grading of state educational systems by one of the most respected education publications in the nation, ranked New York second overall among 50 states, ranked our state first in two key measures of progress in closing the achievement gap and gave New York an "A" in the area of standards, assessment and accountability (partly as a result of legislation and intensive work dealing with APPR supported and carried out by NYSUT).

How we respond and when we respond, of course, are the makings of strategy. Legislators will deliberate and listen to the public — even those in the public whose "special" interests (aren't all New Yorkers' interests special?) happen to align with those of advocacy groups, civic organizations, parent associations and, yes, their union! As you can see from this issue of NYSUT United , we have put together an action plan ensuring that policymakers in Albany and Washington hear the NYSUT message through 600,000 united voices.

Our message is clear. What must be on the table is real shared sacrifice — on both the spending side and revenue side. Public employees have been there and are willing to do more. Humiliating public workers and their unions or dismantling collective bargaining rights — bedrock protections for public employees, such as last in/first out and the maintenance of contract language during negotiations (Triborough) — are not the way to turn New York's economy around and are not part of the solution.

It's time for the blustering in Albany to stop. Everyone needs to come in from the cold winds, thaw out and work collaboratively toward the fair and equitable solutions we all need. On the table are the future of public education and the future of New York — you can't separate the two.