May 2016 Issue
April 22, 2016

Local unions in action

Source: NYSUT United

Binghamton Teachers Association

When the Binghamton City school board voted unanimously in late March to oust the superintendent, the post on the Binghamton TA's Facebook page was perfect: an image showing the powerful ability of many little fish to take on a big fish.

That's exactly what happened after the unions representing teachers and administrators worked together to question the actions of a toxic superintendent and voice concerns about the deteriorating climate within the district.

Aside from packing board meetings with a "sea of blue" T-shirts, TA members spoke out at board meetings on growing discipline problems, low morale and ineffective communication. The administrators union filed grievances and improper practice charges with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

In early March, the Binghamton TA and the Binghamton Administrative and Supervisory Association submitted a joint letter notifying the school board that members of each union cast resounding votes of "no confidence" in the superintendent and called for her resignation or dismissal.

The vote by the BTA, led by Linda Oryhon, came after an internal union survey found frustration with the superintendent's "continuing leadership failures." The survey was telling: 96 percent of the 496 teachers who participated in the survey said they believed the district was being led in a worse direction than three years ago; 75 percent feared retaliation if they spoke up.

The joint advocacy, along with support from the community, worked. On March 23, it took less than three minutes for the board to dismiss the superintendent. Oryhon said the TA is eager to move forward in a positive direction. The TA is now focused on helping to elect pro-education members to the school board.

Norwood Norfolk Teachers Association

When the Norwood Norfolk TA talks about putting a project on ice, they are not talking about postponing it. Just the opposite. This generous, 96-member small and rural North Country local donated money this year so that students were able to skate at the local ice arena during their February break. Students got free ice time and skate rentals.

"We have a huge amount of students involved in figure skating, and hockey is very big," said local President Michelle Brockway. "We have a really high poverty rate, and at least with this (project), the kids can go and learn how to skate."

To support student activities in this St. Lawrence County district, the TA donated $500 toward a new soccer scoreboard the district purchased.

Each year, the TA also supports the Angel Tree program, which in 2015 provided 135 children from 54 families with ham and turkey baskets, clothing, toys and hand-knit mittens and hats.

The TA helps meet students' ongoing food needs through sponsoring its own Snack Pack program, said Brockway. "We have students who probably wouldn't have a good meal on weekends or vacation," she said. With TA funds, still-active retirees buy juice boxes, applesauce, granola bars and other healthy snacks, and the teachers load up backpacks with the goods. Each Friday, the teachers put the backpacks in the lockers of 130 students in need.

Smithtown Teachers Association

For the third consecutive year, the Smithtown TA, led by President Laura Spencer, brought together educators and administrators for a community fundraising effort — and a good time.

The 2016 STA Volleyball Fundraiser netted $1,000 for the local's scholarship fund. One graduating senior from each of the district's two high schools will receive an award.

Nearly a dozen teams from across the district competed. STA members Danielle Anderson and Deron Brown organized and managed the event.