Tag Archives: NYSUT

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here

New York State Reduces Grades 3-8 Testing from Three to Two Days, and, We Learn: Test Creation is Complicated, and the Results – Relatively Meaningless.

In the summer of 2015 I was at a fundraiser for a local candidate on Long Island and talked with a number of leaders of local teacher unions. They had endorsed Zephyr Teachout who was running against Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent governor, in the democratic primary. I mentioned that if Cuomo won, there would be consequences.

Cuomo won, and in the “big ugly,” the rolling together of non-budgetary items into the budget Cuomo added a number of anti-teacher/teacher union policies. He expended probation from three to four years and also added a number of pro-charter school laws.

Payback can be a bitch. Politics is all about winning and losing.

NYSUT, the New York State United Teachers, the state-wide teacher union began a series of anti-Cuomo TV ads and joined up with the opt-out parents. The governor’s favorability ratings nose dived.

Let us not forget the first teacher who was terminated was Socrates, accused “corruption of the youth of the city-state,” and, since there was no union, the punishment, the 3020a of the era, was quite harsh.

“...consistent with common legal practice, the jurors voted and agreed to a sentence of death to be executed by Socrates drinking a poisonous beverage of hemlock

In the 1790’s two of our founding fathers, Jefferson and Hamilton, were bitter rivals,  Jefferson, surreptitiously hired James Callender, a sleazy publisher, who unearthed and publicly exposed a Hamilton affair with a married women, Maria Reynolds, an affair that may have been arranged by the woman’s husband. Callender later turned on Jefferson accusing him of fathering mixed race children, which happened to be true.

Politics is a full contact sport

In September, 2015 Cuomo appointed a commission, similar in membership to a commission appointed a few years earlier. The earlier commission held meetings around the state, hours and hours of testimony, and issued a report that came to naught. The 2015 commission (called a task force) met  quietly and issued a report in December, 2015, an attempt, on the part of Cuomo, the Regents and the unions, to repair relationships and set a path for education in the state. The task force (read full report here) made twenty-one recommendations.

The last recommendation removed a thorn in the body of the teaching force,

Until the new system (whatever that is …) is fully phased in the results from assessments aligned to the common core standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.

A few of the other recommendations,

Adopt high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through an open and transparent process

Modify early grade standards so that they are age-appropriate.

and

Reduce the number of days and shorten the duration for standards-aligned State standardized tests.

The Commissioner can check off another item on her “to do” list.

Early Monday morning the Standards Work Group of the Regents convened and the “discussion” dragged on for a few hours. Regent Chin skillfully guided the discussion. Scott Marion, one of the consultants leading the process, described himself as a “recovering psychometrician,” presented a dense and fascinating power point. If you’re taking a “testing and measurement” course and have always been baffled by test creation and design take a look at the Marion power point.

Considerations for New York State Assessments: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/P-12%20Considerations%20for%20the%20NY%20State%20Assessment%20System.pdf

Especially check out “The Life Cycle of an ELA Test Item (slide 17),” – fascinating.

The bottom line: every change has consequences, every plus has a minus, every change, a new baseline, a shorter test, fewer items, fewer days, less accurate, a “new” configuration, more time to score the test, One of the Regents described the test as an “accountability,” not a “diagnostic” test. Marion, politely demurred. yes, the test is used for accountability, to compare schools/school districts to the previous year, less useful for an individual student; however, school leaders can use the results to construct error matrices and use the results to guide instruction and professional development in the following year.

The members of the Board approved the motion to move from three days of testing for ELA and math to two days, with, I believe Regents Brown and Young abstaining. Correctly, they worried about a cycle of changes that would be confusing to the public.

Last year was the first year of untimed tests, although the scores jumped there was no baseline, we have no idea if the scores jumped due to better instruction, or, probably, due to extended time. This year’s scores will be compared to the baseline, last year’s scores; however, next year, a new baseline year.

The 2018 test, a two-day test, will create a new baseline, and, the 2019 tests can be compared to 2018. Of course, if the Regents implement the Next Generation of Standards, guess what, another baseline year has to be established.

Are we entering into a cycle of meaningless testing years? Yup ….

Next year the Regents will begin to explore alternative assessments, and, having everyone, from the governor on down on the same page, just may result in substantive changes.

And, of course, that core question: why and what are we testing?

Does Mario Define Andrew? The Governor Begins His Path to the White House on the Backs of Parents and Teachers

“The connection a man has with his father shapes his life. Which is why every adult son must choose how that relationship will – or won’t – define him.”

As the story goes the charter was sitting on the runway waiting for Mario to announce his candidacy for the presidency and fly off to New Hampshire to campaign for the “first in the nation” primary. The plane waited, and waited, and Mario defaulted. He never caught the plane.

Although not a psychologist I believe this “event” has dominated Andrew’s life, he will never allow the plane to linger on the runway, he will never miss the plane.

Deep in Cuomo Central every step, every speech, every policy is carefully plotted to situate Andrew on the spectrum of potential Democrats. Critics scoff, Andrew can never run for president!! Who was the junior senator from Illinois in 2006, an Afro-American with a Muslim name running for the highest office in the land. Obama overturned the classic progressive-labor-minority coalition, he created a new coalition, hostile to labor, appealing to -baby boomers and creating new voters and activists, first time and young voters who were passionately involved in his election, a campaign that raised mega-dollars and mastered social media.

Cuomo is “inventing” his own democratic coalition. progressive on social issues (marriage equality, the women rights agenda, the Dreamer Act), conservative on economic issues (property tax cap, tax cuts, working closely with business, new casinos) and joining the Obama-DFER views on education: rigid, test-based teacher accountability, charter schools, annual high stakes student testing, merit pay, school closings and “school receivership.”

As the Governor enters his second term his approval ratings, are sky high,

“On the eve of his fifth State of the State address, voters statewide give Cuomo the best favorability rating he’s had since July,” Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said. “He’s viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and favorably by independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstate voters are evenly divided and Republicans are decidedly unfavorable.”

The independent Quinnipiac University Poll gives Cuomo gets a 71 – 23 percent approval rating in New York City.

Cuomo skillfully negotiated a Republican landslide. As the polls increasingly tilted to the Republicans Cuomo aggressively raised money, lots and lots of money, and, turned off the faucet for his opponent. The charter school Political Action Committee (PAC) was dangling millions and Cuomo snapped it up, antagonizing teachers. For a while it looked like the newly elected New York City Mayor might challenge Cuomo, Andrew refused to allow de Blasio to fund Universal Pre-K through a millionaire tax and also forced be Blasio to pay for charter school rent if space was not available in public schools. There was only one king in New York State.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) chipped away at Cuomo during his first term, and although they made no endorsement clearly union members were tilting toward his primary opponent and stayed home in November.

In his State of the State (Watch here) the Governor cut any relationship with teachers and their unions, and, with approval ratings at the top of the scale he’s betting he doesn’t need teachers, or, for that matter, parents.

Cuomo decided to hold education dollars hostage to changes in the law.

For months the Regents have been crafting a budget proposal, the final budget request was for an increase of $2 billion and continuing the phase out of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The Governor’s plan: you’re entitled to $300 million which I will increase $1.2 billion if the legislature approves my agenda:

Governor’s K-12 Agenda:

* Increase the probationary period from three to five years
* Increase the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation plans from 20% to 50%
* “Receivership,” turning low performing schools over to not-for-profits, with wide discretion including terminating collective bargaining agreements.
* Strip away due process rights in teacher dismissal cases
* Increase the charter cap by 100 statewide
* Increase charter school funding
* A tax credit for contributions to private and religious schools
* Tying college teacher prep programs to candidate test scores

The Governor is attempting to bundle his “K-12 Agenda” into the budget, school districts receive additional dollars in exchange for his agenda – all done by April 1.

For the next ten weeks the Legislature and the Governor will posture, will pontificate, will offer and threaten, hordes and hordes of citizen lobbyists will descend on Albany and the “three men in a room” will negotiate.

If the budget does not pass, a complex pied-a-deux, the legislature and the Governor dance toward a budget, item by item, with power tilting toward the Governor.

Sheldon Silver, the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Dean Skelos the Republican majority leader of the Senate and the guv’s guys will play high stakes poker, really high stakes.

It was not surprising that the Governor ended his speech with the same words his father ended his State of the State with in 1983.

“For all the ceremony, and the big house, and all the pomp and circumstance, please don’t let me forget what makes New York New York.”

And, to himself, “Don’t worry Dad, I won’t make the same mistake, when the time comes, I’m ready.”

Who Will NYSUT Endorse for Governor? Cuomo? Astorino? No One? A Yet to Be Named Working Families Party Candidate?

“Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,” [NYSUT President Karen] Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,” she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino’s education policies.

In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

At last weekend’s annual NYSUT convention the 2300 delegates jeered every time Cuomo’s name was mentioned. While the governor is unpopular among NYSUT members his polling is positive.

Governor Andrew Cuomo leads Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, the only declared Republican candidate for governor 61% to 26% … By a 64% to 28% voters say Cuomo is an “effective governor.”

The 600,000 members of NYSUT may have no faith in the governor, may actually despise him, may not trust him, and may feel he is solely concerned with his own advancement, willing to trade anything to benefit himself; jumping on the charter school band wagon for crass political advantage, to deprive his Republican opponent of charter school hedge fund dollars.

On the other hand he is the governor, he is the “big dog” in the state and all legislation requires his approval. If NYSUT wants a moratorium on the impact of test scores on APPR (teacher evaluation) the governor must be on board. Sitting on the table are the Dream Act, Women’s Equality and Medical Marijuana legislation and perhaps the beginnings of a major adjustment in the property tax cap: every piece of legislation ends on the governor’s desk.

At this point the governor is 35% points ahead of the only declared Republican candidate and he hasn’t even begun to run, he has a deep political war chest.

The campaign will probably be interesting if the Working Families Party (WFP) decides to run a candidate in the primary or in the general election – a candidate to the left of Cuomo who could attract liberal voters. A WFP candidate would require Cuomo to run further to the left and leave the voters in the middle up for grabs. Teachers might have an option, and, Cuomo might decide he needs a NYSUT endorsement, all speculation.

The only elected who spoke at the NYSUT Conference was the senior Senator from New York State – Charles Schumer who ran against Alfonse D’Amato for the US Senate in 1999 – he began with 3% in the early polling. D’Amato decided to run a campaign attacking teachers – Schumer never backed off, he defended teachers, and never backed away one iota. In every speech he regales the audience with his commitment to public education – he lists the schools he attended (PS 197, JHS 234 and Madison High School), he reminds us of his teachers by name, and that his daughters also went to public schools. His teachers did something right!

In 2012 I worked in President Obama’s re-election campaign – as with most teachers I disagreed with almost all his education ideas – yet – did I want Romney in the White House? Did I want a president who opposed public schools? Who supported vouchers? Who wanted to privatize Social Security? No, I worked for Obama because while I disagreed with his educational agenda he was far better than his Republican counterparts.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Chuck Schumers

New Leadership at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT): Can the New Leadership Re-Energize the Union? Will the Members Put Aside Differences?

Every year 2,000 delegates elected by the members of the 1300 locals representing the 600,000 New York State United Teacher members gather, usually rotating annually between Buffalo and New York City, to set policy for the organization, listen to a range of speeches, honor their own and, until this year, listen to a speech by the State Commissioner and ask him questions from the floor.

While teachers in New York City struggled under the yoke of Mike Bloomberg, locals outside the city sliced budgets to comply with the 2% property tax cap, CUNY and SUNY faced increasingly proscriptive ukases from chancellors and urban upstate cities faced increasing poverty. Over the last few years the Question and Answer sessions with the Commissioner have become more and more testy. This year, no Commissioner, no members of the Regents.

Apparently the testiness spread within NYSUT leadership: Was the leadership too aloof from the membership? Was the leadership reactive rather than proactive? A few months ago the behind the scenes finger-pointed increased until an opposition slate emerged.

The opposing slates were both part of Unity, the majority caucus.

NYSUT leadership – the President, Secretary/Treasurer, three Vice Presidenst, at-large Directors and Directors from geographic districts are elected for two year terms in even numbered years.

The Unity Caucus met Friday night – Michael Mulgrew moved that the caucus not endorse candidates and the convention Unity members be freed from caucus discipline. In the past caucus members committed to support candidates selected within the caucus, similar to Democrats selecting candidates in Democratic primaries.

Saturday was an awkward day, beginning with a candidates forum. There were three slates: the Iannuzzi slate (the incumbents), the McGee slate (the insurgents) and a slate from the MORE opposition caucus in New York City.

Each slate divided up the time allotted among their candidates: the audience cheered loudly for “their guy/gal,” was a little like an 8th grade GO election.

Committees met, resolutions were debated, honors and awards to members, a tribute to Peter Seeger, and, finally the locals moved to their election sites at 4:30 pm.

Each delegate casts a weighted vote – if a local has 1,000 members and sends ten delegates the delegates would carry 100 votes each.

Each delegate affixes a sticker to their ballot and bubbles in their choices on a scannable ballot. The ballots are counted by an outside organization.

While the exact votes were not announced the rumors are the McGee slate won with about 60% of the total votes cast.

Both slates, the Iannuzzi and the McGee slates spoke passionately about the need for all parties to coalesce- the importance of the union over the ambitions of either side – delegate after delegate pleaded for unity – committed to fight together for the membership – it was an impressive display of commitment to ideals of the union. Randi Weingarten made one of her best speeches – again, a call to fight together for members, for families, for students, she slammed Cuomo in the strongest terms.

At the end of the convention Karen McGee made her maiden speech – impressive – she reminded us she was the first female President in a union in which 70% of the membership was women. She’s an excellent public speaker.

One of the most popular resolutions was calling on the Board of Regents to “immediately” fire the commissioner.

While the Governor’s support for charter schools received all the ink, it will be interesting to see the result of one section of the law giving the city and state comptrollers the right to audit charter schools. The increase in state aid was substantial, the limitations on the use of student test scores and vague comments from the Governor about the need to modify APPR (teacher evaluation) did not mollify the members.

Sitting with 2,000 like-minded union members is an emotional high – converting the passion to changes in state laws and regulations are another matter.

Singing, arm in arm, Solidarity Forever is emotionally satisfying – the hard work begins after the convention delegates return to their localities around the state.

The Governor, the Attorney General, the Comptroller, the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate will be on the ballot in November.

Cuomo’s opponent, probably Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is a conservative Republican, pro charter school, anti-Dream Act, anti-marriage equality, on the other side of just about every issue that NYSUT supports. Parent anger could jeopardize the re-election of some legislators; there are a dozen vacant seats in the legislature. How can the 600,000 NYSUT members use their clout the change the direction of state education policy?

The new NYSUT leadership will have an immediate test.

NYSUT Leadership at Stake: The Members Will Decide Who Leads the 600,000 NYS Teachers.

In the early seventies the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, (AFT) locals in New York State merged into a single state federation – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). There was considerable doubt that the merger would succeed, the organizations came from starkly different cultures – a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a “professional” organization.

NYSUT is incredibly diverse – New York City, locals with 100 or fewer members deep in the Adirondacks, high wealth suburbs, college teachers in the CUNY system and across the state in the SUNY system. Per capita funding is one of the most disparate in the nation; upstate urban communities have seen industry flee and the inner cities face increasingly deep poverty and less and less revenue.

NYSUT is not a union – it is a federation of 1300 local chapters. NYSUT uses dues dollars to establish and staff regional support centers around the state – the centers provide labor relations specialists and attorneys who negotiate contracts and support the locals as well as lobbying in Albany.

New York City, teachers, teachers outside of New York City and college teachers belong to different pension funds, CUNY and SUNY have chancellors selected by appointed Boards, the Board of Regents appoints a state commissioner while New York City is a mayoral control city.

For decades Tom Hobart led the NYSUT federation with élan. Tom skillfully guided the extremely diverse elements within the federation. Tom and Toni Cortese, his first vice president balanced the complexities of the needs of 600,000 members and, from the UFT, Alan Lubin, guided the political/lobbying side across the state.

NYSUT collected millions of dollars in voluntary political contributions (Committee on Political Education – COPE) and for many years has been the major contributor to political campaigns – both Republicans and Democrats.

Some months ago the unity of this extremely diverse organization began to fray. The incumbents are being challenged by a new slate – all the candidates within the same caucus (See Revive NYSUT here and a blog supporting the insurgents here)

The annual NYSUT Representative Assembly will begin on Friday evening April 4th and the election will take place on the evening of April 5th.

Rumors abound about the reasons that the split is irreconcilable:

* have the incumbents mismanaged the fiscal side of NYSUT?
* have the incumbents been tone deaf to the needs of members?
* has the split been engineered by the larger locals?

Interestingly this a not a philosophical split between different caucuses – all the candidates are within the Unity Caucus – the caucus that has dominated the federation for decades.

For the anti-Unity folk it’s a Randi Weingarten plot, the press points to a dispute between Vice President Andy Palotta and President Dick Iannuzzi. Others just think that NYSUT has been slow to respond to the attacks on public education by the governor, the commissioner and most members of the board of regents.

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reports,

Iannuzzi is losing ground among local unions whose delegates will vote at a convention in early April.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers, said his members are frustrated that the current leadership wasn’t as aggressive as they’d hoped in responding to the state’s rollout of the controversial Common Core standards.

“Many of the Buffalo teachers have not been satisfied with the positions that NYSUT has taken,” Rumore told Capital on Wednesday. “Let’s put it this way: If anything, we are leaning toward a change in direction, but we haven’t made a formal decision yet.”

Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Patricia Puleo said her union’s delegates are free to decide for themselves who they’ll vote for in April, and she questioned whether new leadership would make a difference in how the state Education Department goes forward with implementation of the Common Core standards. But she recognized that the city’s teachers have grown frustrated.

“People are so upset that they are willing to make whatever changes they can,” Puleo said.

Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, said his delegates aren’t sure how they’ll vote.
“We have to do what is best for our local, and we are waiting until we have thoroughly discussed where both slates are at in terms of what will work best for us in the long term,” Ahern said.

Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said teachers have been dissatisfied with Iannuzzi’s handling of some issues in the past, they “have also noted a marked change in his position with the call for a moratorium and with spearheading the vote of no confidence against Commissioner King,” he said.

“I think there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out,” Urbanski continued, “and I think they want a stronger position to be taken by NYSUT than NYSUT has managed to take until now. There is absolutely no question about that. But they don’t want change for the sake of change; they want change in position and the issues to be the focus point, not personalities.”

United University Professions, a union of about 33,000 SUNY professors and other employees, will back the challengers.
Higher education institutions in the state are facing different issues than elementary and secondary schools, and UUP president Frederick Kowal said a primary focus has been the financial troubles of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which might close. He’s unhappy with NYSUT’s involvement in professors’ fight to keep it open.

Universities have also faced state aid cuts. NYSUT launched an advertising campaign earlier this month advocating boosts in funding for SUNY and CUNY. But Kowal said his union has had to rely on its own lobbying.

“There needs to be a consistent and long-running commitment to the needs of members and locals,” Kowal said. “It’s just not enough to see a flurry of activity as a contested election approaches.”

Sometime late Saturday night the votes will be counted and the incumbents or the insurgents will prevail. What is crucially important is that the transition, if it occurs, is an orderly transition. The worst thing that could happen is if the losers attempt to undercut the winners.

Politics is complicated, it’s easy to attack the governor or the commissioner or the legislature, and it’s difficult to impact policy decisions. You influence lawmakers one vote, one meeting at a time, by developing relationships. As Tip O’Neill, the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives so famously noted, “All politics is local.”

A contingent of CUNY students was meeting with an Albany legislator; they were vigorously demanding more money for the city colleges to prevent a tuition increase. The legislator asked whether the students would campaign for higher taxes, or, what programs should they reduce to add funds to colleges, the students got frustrated, angry, and threatened, “We won’t vote for you – we’ll campaign against you.” The legislator asked, “Will you work with me to find a solution?” The students angrily stalked out of the office. The legislator took the sign-in list and ran it into the computer – none of the students were registered Democrats – they were not eligible to vote in the primary in which candidates were selected.

An hour later we met with a lobbyist and some clients – they advocated for legislation and left a detailed folder with a suggested bill.

In my former school district the school board, the superintendent, the parent associations and school union leaders met with all the local legislators and provided them with a legislative agenda for the district and followed up with Albany visits and visits to the legislator’s community office.

One would hope that teacher union local presidents have excellent relationships with local electeds, that they communicate regularly, that with the assistance of the NYSUT lobbying team they are a presence in their district. Impacting policy is not an e-blast or a one-time trip to Albany – it is a day-to-day process.

For the UFT the major issue is negotiating a contract and relief from the onerous requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, for CUNY the fight is over Pathways, for SUNY the proposed closing of Downstate Medical Center, outside of New York City the property tax cap, all locals are fighting for increased state aid, locals and groups of locals have diverse interests and needs.

The voters are the elected delegates representing the membership of the 1300 local unions. The “voters” vote in proportion to the members they represent – local unions decide on the number of delegates to send to the Representative Assembly. Each voter bubbles in the candidates of their choice on a ballot with a barcode – the ballots are scanned and the totals available a few hours after the closing of the polls – Saturday night.

While it is commonplace to speculate about backroom deals and grand strategies frequently disagreements are what they seem. Members of organizations become dissatisfied and an alternate leader emerges – this is what democracy is all about.

Will the representatives of the 600,000 member NYSUT decide to stick with the current leadership or opt for a new team – I suspect they will opt for the new team.

Leaders require a “third ear,” Joyce Brown, a psychologist and President of FIT describes her process,

I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

The current NYSUT leadership appears to have lost contact with their membership – too many members feel the leadership is neither listening nor leading. Leadership requires a deft touch – the membership goals may be unrealistic – do you follow the membership even though you know the path is futile or guide the membership to another path, even though they are reluctant?

In New York City Michael Mulgrew is a popular leader – he won the last union election with almost 90% of the vote, there is an active opposition, a former very oppositional mayor – with currently a much friendlier mayor Mulgrew will have to negotiate a contract and satisfy his members – some may have unrealistic expectations. Senior teachers want as much money as possible to augment their pensions; younger members want job security and “respect,” aka, better working conditions. Mulgrew will have to check the pulse of his membership and craft an agreement that satisfies members across the board.

Apparently NYSUT leadership was unable to find a middle ground, hence the leadership struggle.

The members will decide.

On a personal note: I have worked with candidates on both sides of the struggle and have always found them dedicated and hard-working – I hope that once the membership decides the factions can come together for the benefit of the membership.

The Leadership Battle Within the State Teacher Union (NYSUT): “Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar.”

For months the leadership of the 600,000 member New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been bickering. In the past few weeks a Louisiana blogger sees the dispute as a plan by Randi Weingarten to vault Andrew Cuomo into the presidency in 2016 and, others see equally Machiavellian intents.

To quote Sigmund Freud: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

NYSUT is not a union, it is a federation that encompasses over 1,000 bargaining units, NYSUT doesn’t “own” any collective bargaining agreements.

In the early 1970’s the National Education Association state affiliate and the American Federation of Teachers affiliate merged to form one organization. The cultural differences between the AFL-CIO affiliated unions and the NEA affiliated unions was enormous. It was due to the skills of the first President, Tom Hobart that NYSUT held together and prospered.

The diversity of the membership is mind-boggling. From the 100,000 plus UFT in New York City to locals deep in the Adirondacks with a few dozen members, from high tax wealthy districts in suburbs to districts teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as industry and the tax base leaks overseas, from colleges in every county in the state to colleges in the five boroughs, the list goes on and on.

NYSUT Regional Service Centers provide labor relations specialists and legal services to both assist districts in contract negotiations deal with legal issues and local public relations. NYSUT is the face of the teacher union movement, NYSUT lobbies the legislature, the governor, the commissioner and the Regents.

Under the broad umbrella teachers may vigorously oppose fracking while other teachers in the extremely poor, oil shale rich areas may support fracking which would bring revenue to revenue poor areas. One NYSUT union in New York City endorsed de Blasio, another Bill Thompson. The UFT endorsed a pro-teacher candidate for City Council while the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) supported his opponent. The NYSUT umbrella is all-encompassing, unions can disagree on some issues and work together on core issues.

Bloomberg did everything possible to destroy the union in New York City; introducing a bill to eliminate seniority, allowing principals to choose who to layoff. The bill passed the Senate, was progressing in the Assembly, the Governor announced bill was unnecessary; the Teacher Evaluation Law would identify “ineffective” teachers. The Governor decided not fight with the union.

In the battle over Tier 6 almost all the New York City democrats voted against the law, not so successful upstate.

The property tax cap was at the top of the Governor’s agenda and sailed through the legislature, NYSUT opposed, to no avail.

The New York State Psychology Association (NYSPA) affiliated with NYSUT some years ago – looked like a new arena – NYSUT lobbying for professional organizations – last year, dissatisfied with the services, NYSPA withdrew and sought other representation.

Clearly locals were dissatisfied, blame placing, finger pointing, and opposition within the leadership. Accusations of NYSUT leadership paying themselves too well,. NYSUT’s finances in trouble, union democracy in action.

Either one slate will defeat the other and the loser accepts the vote of the members or the losing side will form their own caucus.

We love conspiracies; House of Cards politics dominates our entertainment lives. The real world is much more boring.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.