In a show of solidarity, GNTA members walked the picket line with our striking Verizon union brothers and sisters in Jericho on May 24. These members of CWA Local 1104 and over 40,000 other Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Virginia have been on strike for over 40 days. The reasons: they say they cannot accept Verizon proposals that would allow additional outsourcing of call center workers to the Philippines and Mexico, greater use of nonunion contract installers, and the assignment of union employees to other cities for up to two months at a time.
Because the real Andrew Cuomo won't visit a successful public school (and Great Neck has invited him on numerous occasions), the best we could do is get "Flat Andy" to come and see what a great public school education looks like. Check out GNTA President Sheila Scimone's EdRuminations blog for all the action!
Dr. Sheri Lederman, a fourth grade teacher at E. M. Baker Elementary School and member of the Great Neck Teachers Association, is suing New York State for its flawed implementation of APPR. Follow the links below for more information and come back soon for updates.
CBS News: Long Island Teacher Sues State over Grade
Washington Post: High-Achieving Teacher Sues State over Evaluation Labeling Her 'Ineffective'
Diane Ravitch: Teacher Challenges NYS Evaluation Model
There was a time when I believed that the strength of teachers’ unions was so great that we could withstand every attack. Then along came Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who stripped the teachers’ unions in his state of their collective bargaining rights. And along came Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who ruled that tenure protections for California teachers are unconstitutional, because they deprive disadvantaged, mostly minority students of an education equal to that afforded schools with higher-income students.
While I would love to believe that these things couldn’t happen in New York, we’re seeing alarming evidence that they can. Two cases in point:
What is NYSUT doing about these assaults? Your VOTE-COPE money is used by NYSUT for political action: to identify and support candidates for state office who agree with NYSUT positions on these two issues (among others) as well as to support lobbying efforts by NYSUT, particularly in the legislature. As for the lawsuits, State Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo recently granted a motion by NYSUT to intervene in the defense of current teacher tenure rules. Many people feel that the suits will not be successful here in New York...but should they fail, the next step will surely be to seek legislation to weaken or abolish teacher tenure protection, which brings us back to lobbying.
What is GNTA doing? For many years, we’ve actively participated in lobbying: Vice President Jennifer Snyder has been our representative to Albany on the “Committee of 100." Political Action Chairs Michelle Sorise and Patti Crisafulli have organized a number of initiatives for GNTA members in the last couple of years; they also work to create partnerships with other locals as well as community members. Finally, as your President, I’ve met several times with our local legislators to discuss matters of concern to us as educators.
But NYSUT and GNTA are nothing without our members. Our strength is in direct proportion to your visibility when it comes to issues affecting teachers. And so, this year, we ask you to do at least one thing to make your voice heard politically. Details about our Do One Thing campaign can be found on gnteachers.net. The stakes for our profession—in fact, for public education—have never been higher, and we are all responsible for our future.
With Reclaiming the Promise as the main theme permeating all the activities at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the American Federation of Teachers held its 83rd national convention in July.
All the speakers proved creative in weaving the main theme into their presentations. From California
Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the dynamic Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President, North Carolina NAACP, Cynthia Nixon, Actor-Activist, newly elected NEA President Eskelsen Garcia to a host of others, the audience was inspired by the variations on Reclaiming the Promise. AFT President Randi Weingarten roused the 3,000 delegates and guests with her State of the Union address.
Her bold call to Reclaim the Promise of America included creating economic and educational opportunity for all. The unprecedented, unwarranted attacks on teachers, public schools and other public institutions, backed by big money and aided by ALEC, are starving public schools, hurting students and widening the gap among the wealthy, the middle class and the poor. Her response to the challenges is for the union, in solidarity, to: connect with the community; be solution-driven; engage, empower and elevate the professionals. She related that it is time to “fight back; fight forward; move forward.”
An important responsibility of the delegates was to debate 91 resolutions from AFT locals across the nation, first in committees, then in plenary sessions on the convention floor. The resolutions were divided into the following committees: Educational Issues, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Rights, International Relations, Labor and the Economy, Union Organizing and Collective Bargaining, Political Action/Legislation, Public Services, Retirement, Registered Nurses, Women’s Rights and School and College Support Staffs.
All seven retirement resolutions were adopted. One important issue had to do with ensuring the continuance of traditional Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Another resolution called for the adoption of a new consumer price index formula called CPI-E to determine cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to Social Security each year. The CPI-E more realistically tracks inflation for senior Americans. The longest debate on the convention floor dealt with The Role of Standards in Public Education. This resolution, submitted by the AFT Executive Council, affirms the importance of educational standards and the promise and potential of Common Core State Standards, but severely criticizes the way in which they were developed, implemented, evaluated and the excessive testing program. The resolution decries the lack of educational practitioner involvement in the entire process. It especially attacks the rush by profiteers and corporate interests to “cash in” at the expense of children. Further, it includes many specific sensible solutions to fix what is broken and to shift the present corporate model to one that is student centered. Finally, policymakers and administrators are held accountable for the proper implementation of Common Core State Standards.
A special resolution called for the resignation of United States Secretary Arne Duncan due to his anti-teacher, anti-public school and anti-union policies. His views represent corporate America’s attempt to instill the corporate/factory model of education into the classroom. When asked to approve this resolution, the entire body stood up, cheering and chanting “yes!” While the resolution is symbolic, it sends a message to the Obama administration that its educational policies have been destructive to teachers, parents and especially students.
This convention was one of the best that I ever attended. The intelligence, articulation, passion, thought-provoking ideas and respect for opposing ideas displayed in all sessions were evidence of the high level of excellence exhibited by the delegates representing their locals from all parts of the country. The 2014 AFT Convention was both encouraging and motivating.
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION: ON POLITICAL ENDORSEMENTS!
Or at least a chunk of it!
In July I was honored to attend the AFT Convention in Los Angeles, which is held every other year, as one of three elected representatives from GNTA. This year’s convention, which lasted for five days, left little time for recreation but was often inspirational, sometimes contentious--never boring.
One of the main tasks of the convention is to determine the educational, political, and social justice goals and priorities for the AFT. A number of resolutions were debated, with the hottest topic by far being the Common Core Standards. There is consensus among teachers across the country that the standards are flawed in many respects, that the rollout has been atrocious, and that the coupling of the standards with testing has been harmful to education. However, there was significant disagreement over how to address those concerns, from those who believe the standards should be jettisoned completely to those who believe they should be revised and the peripheral issues of rollout should be addressed separately. Debate was prolonged, impassioned, and sometimes downright ridiculous as the rhetoric soared. In the end, the body passed a resolution calling for the AFT to
assist state and local affiliates to ensure that:
The convention also passed a lengthy resolution calling for “the development of ‘support-and-improve’ accountability models to replace the current, failed ‘test-and punish’ systems;” another to support age-appropriate assessment for young learners; and another to overhaul high-stakes testing. A resolution against standardized assessments for students receiving special education services was referred to the Executive Council for further study.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about the convention was witnessing the interplay among the largest locals (particularly the Chicago Teachers Union and New York’s United Federation of Teachers, which tend to be antagonists) as well as the state affiliates, particularly NYSUT. It’s obvious that both the UFT and NYSUT have tremendous influence on the way the AFT leans. In watching Twitter and blog reporting on the convention (often by people who weren’t in attendance), it is evident that there’s a great deal of lingering bitterness in the wake of the recent NYSUT elections as well as concern that the UFT may have undue influence on NYSUT’s leadership. This certainly bears watching.
In August, I attended the NYSUT Presidents’ Endorsement Conference in Albany to consider political races pertinent to our state. Despite the title, the process of determining NYSUT endorsements is multi-layered and sometimes unclear. Four groups weigh in with recommendations: NYSUT Legislative Staff, the Political Action Chairs from each region of the state, the NYSUT Board of Directors, and the local Presidents of NYSUT, myself included. Some decisions had already been made prior to our arrival: for example, it had already been determined that NYSUT would not make an endorsement in the governor’s race for either the Democratic primary in September or the general election in November. It’s not clear who ultimately made that decision, although it had been obvious at the Representative Assembly in May that an endorsement of Andrew Cuomo would have faced widespread opposition from the NYSUT locals, nor would there have been strong support for Republican Rob Astorino. There was a great deal of grumbling that NYSUT should have considered a primary endorsement of Zephyr Teachout and, if she loses the primary, of Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins. When the Long Island Presidents’ grumbles turned to loud calls for further discussion of this possibility, certain political considerations were explained to us, which most of us were able to accept, but many of us remained disturbed by the top-down, less than transparent nature of the decision-making in this case.
In terms of strategy, the other recommending groups wanted to endorse Democrats wherever possible, particularly in the state Senate, where it’s possible that a Democratic majority can be achieved this year. Among the local Presidents here on Long Island, however, there are many cases where we feel that Republican incumbents have been better for us than their Democratic challengers would be. For one thing, Democrats have traditionally appeared to favor the big five cities in terms of finances, whereas our Republican representatives have fought to return more state aid to Long Island districts. Many of us have built relationships with our Republican Senators and feel that we’ve made progress in helping them understand our issues. While we weren’t always successful in achieving endorsements for these incumbents, we were at least able to prevent alternative endorsements for candidates solely on the grounds of their being Democrats.
Two weeks after the NYSUT conference, Michael Norberto (JFK), Sandi Cooper (SMS), and I attended the New York AFL-CIO COPE Convention to consider that body’s endorsements. For the first time, NYSUT asked for a large showing of delegates in order to have a significant voice in the decision-making. There had been a great deal of speculation that the AFL-CIO would endorse Cuomo for Governor; however, discussions prior to the convention among the leadership of the various affiliates must have made it clear that such an endorsement would not be supported by the public service unions such as NYSUT and AFSCME, and the possibility was not even raised. For AFL-CIO endorsements, several groups make recommendations, but the final decision is made by the convention delegates. This resulted in lengthy debate as alternatives to the recommendations were frequently explored.
I was honored to represent GNTA at all three of these meetings and will distribute a list of NYSUT and AFL-CIO endorsements for all races pertinent to our members within the next month.
On Wednesday, May 21, GNTA joined parents, children, and fellow educators at the State Democratic Convention in Melville to send the message that we'll remember in November. It's part of our ongoing fight to reclaim public education, reclaim local control, reclaim New York State, and let Cuomo know that enough is enough!
The following is the first in a series of articles intended to keep our members informed about New York State's education laws, Great Neck Board of Education and UPTC meetings, and GNTA's political action initiatives.
By Luci Legotti
Once again Long Island teachers’ voices were heard as we came together in solidarity to protect what we have worked hard to establish and advocate for what is right for students on Long Island. Jeff Bernstein, Michelle Sorice, and Luci Legotti attended a public forum sponsored by Long Islanders for Educational Reform (LIFER) on May 8th.The event was organized in support of the passage of a proposed “Taxpayer and Mandate Relief Bill” (A8603), which would, among other things, eliminate Triborough protections.
Steve Levy, former Suffolk County Executive, moderated the discussion. He introduced a very one-sided panel of invited guests to an audience of approximately 400 (about 75% unionists). E.J. McMahon, Empire Center for Public Policy Inc., began with a very academic overview of the establishment of the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment, which led into a summary and justification of their proposed bill. Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, sponsor of the bill, asserted that the passage of this bill would make it easier for employers to change union contracts as a way to provide governmental fiscal relief in New York State. The panel spoke to reports, which were disputed once the floor was open for comments. The majority of the audience spoke against the proposed bill, questioning and dispelling the assertions presented by the panel and exposing the misrepresentations in the reports. NYSUT representative Matt Jacobs was invited from the audience to join the panel; he spoke eloquently, provided facts to dispute misinformation presented by the panel, and responded to audience members who spoke in support of the bill. As the night went on, the panel often could not respond with valid reasons as to how this bill would quantitatively improve New York State’s fiscal situation.
It is clear that the goal of the bill is to erode collective bargaining and workers’ rights. The meeting was very well attended by teachers and other union members who continually encouraged Assemblyman Fitzpatrick to steer his efforts away from this bill and towards reducing unfunded state mandates. In addition, he was challenged to find ways to get more of Long Island’s taxpayer money returned to the Island as a way of reducing taxes in Nassau and Suffolk County. What started out as a very one-sided forum in support of a bill proposing the elimination of workers’ rights shifted as speaker after speaker educated the panel by offering viable solutions to improve New York State’s fiscal situation that do not impinge on collective bargaining rights. This outcome speaks to the strength of union solidarity and the need for teachers to continue to make their voices heard.
For further reading: Why We Defend Triborough - NYSUT
About 3000 teachers, parents, and administrators "greeted" Governor Cuomo at a fundraising dinner in Holbrook, Long Island on April 28. The Gov. had tried to quash the rally by offering a meeting with its organizer, Tony Felicio, Connetquot Teacher Association President. Felicio refused and Cuomo had to walk past thousands of chanting protestors fed up with his anti-public education policies.
Attending from GNTA: Jeff Bernstein, Michelle Sorise, Luci Legotti, Jodi Rauch, Sheila Scimone, Bill Toto, and Andrew Desiano with his whole family!
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Many GNTA members wore blue on Monday, 12/9 in solidarity with NYSUT's and AFT's Day of Action to reclaim the promise of public education. It was a day to speak out for
Here are some pictures from E.M. Baker, Village School, Parkville, and North Middle!
On November 21, our Delegate Assembly voted unanimously to join the New York State Allies for Public Education in calling for the resignation of John King, New York State's Commissioner of Education. It has become increasingly clear that Dr. King remains deaf to the strong and legitimate concerns of parents, teachers, students and administrators regarding testing, APPR, and privacy issues in New York State.
In a massive show of solidarity, hundreds of Long Island educators and community members came out on September 26 to support the Carle Place Teachers Association in their fight for a fair contract and against a proposed two-tiered salary schedule that would severely curtail what teachers earn in the future. GNTA was there, along with AFT President Randi Weingarten and NYSUT President Dick Ianuzzi who both spoke out against this assault on public education.