June 2012 Issue
May 21, 2012

'Fairness' resonates through resolutions

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: From left: Rowena Blackman-Stroud of UUP speaks passionately about how closing SUNY Downstate Medical Center will harm patients who live in an underprivileged area; Pete Stuhlmiller, president of the Kenmore TA, speaks in favor of the resolution against the broken testing system that has been imposed upon teachers and students across the state; and Elias Mestizo, Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, who teaches in a school with a large number of undocumented students, says once students realize they will not be able to attend college, they lose interest in school. Photos by El-Wise Noisette.

Tests must be accurate, fair and appropriate.

Union delegates delivered that common-sense directive, and dozens more, at their 40th annual policy-making convention.

Charging that the state's testing system harms children and hinders real learning, delegates said their union must:

  • oppose any accountability system that relies on a single test as a major part of educational decisions; 
  • urge the State Education Department to place greater emphasis on other measures; 
  • work cooperatively with teacher centers to provide high-quality professional development; 
  • form a coalition with advocacy groups and parents to urge the Regents and SED to ensure no single test score will be used to determine a student's performance; and
  • work nationally to urge Congress to amend ESEA to require states to use more authentic methods of assessing student performance. (See related story.)

Delegates referred four resolutions to the NYSUT Board, including a measure to study the impact of rigid and limited curricula and high-stakes testing. The issue of fairness resonated through 54 resolutions.

Reverse tax cap's impact

Delegates asked the union to get the tax cap law repealed or radically modified. The union will seek laws that provide for a simple majority vote to override and meaningful exemptions to the current tax cap. Delegates directed NYSUT's Small and Rural Locals Advisory Council to develop data and publicize the impact of the tax cap.

Funding concerns

From the youngest children to adult learners who need educational programs, the union will push for:

  • more federal and state funds for child care;
  • changing laws and regulations to make child care more afforable;
  • more funding for Career and Technical Education schools and to coordinate CTE programs with industry and higher ed partners, labor unions and other associations; and
  • more protections for gifted and talented students, and a committee to examine ways Employment Preparation Education monies could be used to meet their needs.

Union members — professionals in pre-K to post-grad — also directed the union to push SED to reinstate the Regents Competency Test safety net for students with disabilities and establish statewide consistency and a specific number of work hours in determining full-time status for establishing tenure for teaching assistants.

Social justice

Delegates passed a resolution directing NYSUT to join the New York Civil Liberties Union and other groups in opposing "stop-and-frisk" practices of the New York City Police Department. Another resolution urged the union to oppose the criminalization of non-violent drug offenses. Delegates shared strong concerns for those who are bullied, both students and school personnel, directing the union to advocate for laws to protect teachers and SRPs from bullying and harassment, and to create a statewide anti-bullying hotline. A Board resolution also passed calling on the Obama administration to begin the process of ratifying the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Higher ed concerns

Delegates directed NYSUT and its higher education affiliates to support the Regents proposal to reform New York college financial aid programs to allow aid for undocumented immigrant students who qualify for in-state tuition, and to fight the closure of SUNY Downstate Medical Center University Hospital. (See related story.)

In preparing the next generation of educators, NYSUT will push the Regents and SED to adjust the May 2014 implementation date for a new certification exams process; assert that professional development and resources are needed to implement new Common Core Learning Standards; pursue funding for additional training on teacher education; and work with NYSUT's School Leader Preparation Workgroup, SUNY and CUNY faculty to develop appropriate and fair data collection systems.

Health care, safety issues

The union will work with its national affiliates to expand the Health Reform Act to incorporate palliative care and support for patients facing life-threatening illness or injury.

On the home front, NYSUT will investigate establishing a benefit trust to provide quality and cost-effective medical coverage for all its members.

Delegates urged NYSUT to seek legislation that limits, reduces and discloses the amount of toxic chemicals in electronics and common products, as well as encourages innovation, global competitiveness and a green economy.

Delegates also directed NYSUT to:

  • encourage the development of effective health literacy curricula for health care professionals;
  • reduce and phase out the use and purchase of PVC building materials, office and school supplies;
  • educate the public about the dangers of toxic chemicals and PVC building materials;
  • seek laws to create solar renewable energy credits for New York; 
  • give schools and other institutions the ability to achieve energy savings via solar power, and to reduce energy costs through renewable energy; and
  • develop contract language to protect staffers, especially health care professionals, from punitive consequences from surveys.

Clarifying classroom roles

Delegates directed the union to seek laws that will define limitations and restrictions on the use of teaching assistants and to preserve that these valuable staffers work under the direct supervision of a certified teacher. They also directed the union to seek legislation that would automatically include part-time, certified state teaching assistants into state retirement systems upon hire, and work with the United Federation of Teachers to get laws mandating NYCTRS membership for all full-time New York City paraprofessionals.

Retiree concerns

Delegates directed the union to study the issue of inflation protection equity for retirees in the Optional Retirement Program, seek laws that provide employees a one-time opportunity to alter their retirement system option, and work with the state TRS to inform NYSUT retiree councils of newly retired educators. Several resolutions on using electronic communication to get information to, or about, retirees were referred to the NYSUT Board for study.

Voicing solidarity for retirees of other unions, delegates also lent their support to the jazz musicians of Local 802, who are trying to gain pension benefits.

On the national and state levels, delegates want their state union to:

  • continue its support of the Occupy Wall Street movement and residents of Wisconsin in their fight against union-busting lawmakers;
  • stop the practice of using Social Security numbers as Medicare identification numbers;
  • seek the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and support new federal laws to abolish the discriminatory effects of the legislation;
  • influence Congress to support the American Jobs Act; 
  • urge lawmakers to revise tax codes to hold corporations more accountable for paying their full and fair share of taxes;
  • seek laws or revisions to remove sales tax from student fundraising;
  • work with its national affiliates to call for the withdrawal of all armed forces in Afghanistan;
  • honor and recognize the contributions of U.S. Colored Troops;
  • put increased focus on the accomplishments of unions; and
  • expand its support of the American Labor Studies Center.

NYSUT also will investigate the needs of "non-traditional" locals and will help locals negotiate appropriate contract language to address the use of social media and to help members become aware of the potential liability issues social media can have on their professional and work lives. Visit www.nysut.org/RA for complete text on all RA resolutions.