2018 Election Results

Overall, last night’s election results offered mixed results from wherever you stand on the political spectrum. But through the lens of the impact on teachers and students in New York State, there is reason to celebrate.

Most of NYSUT’S endorsed candidates in the State Senate and Assembly won, and so, for the first time in years, we have reason to feel optimistic about how Albany will respond to the needs of public education in New York during the next legislative session.

Sadly, Baldwin reading teacher Christine Pellegrino, who we helped elect 18 months ago in a special election, and who had quickly established herself as a dynamic fighter within the Assembly, did not win her bid for reelection. But as we look at former teachers called to politics, Monica Martinez, a former teacher from Brentwood, narrowly defeated Dean Murray in the third Senate District. Much of the credit for that victory goes to volunteers, including close to 100 NYSUT members who knocked on doors for her this past Saturday.

We want to express our tremendous gratitude to all the SWRTA members who volunteered their personal time this election cycle (making phone calls, sorting and distributing cards, canvasing) to help elect candidates who will protect public education.

If (when) things go our way in the coming year, we will all have you to thank.

Rob Verbeck
SWRTA Corresponding Secretary

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Some Good News

Political Action Works
Once again, we’re very happy to bring you evidence of positive change that came about via political action.  We’ve reported on it numerous time over the past few years, and of course we saw it first hand during contract negotiations last Spring. The latest example concerns the Regents rules on opt-outing out of state tests.

Earlier this year, the Regents proposed new regulations that would have severely penalized districts with opt-out rates higher than 5%. NYSUT asked members to respond, and we did. As a result of this pressure, the “Regents rejected regulations that would have wrongly diverted federal Title I funds from students attending schools with a less than 95 percent participation rate… [and]  significantly improved upon the draft regulations and will now allow schools with high opt-out numbers to ‘leave’ state accountability lists if they are otherwise high-performing.”

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to call or write a letter.

Grant Opportunity
RC22 (the local NYSUT Retirement Council) is offering grants of up to $500 for “the implementation of educational projects for which funding is not available through normal school districts channels.”  More information, along with an application, can be found by clicking here.

Fall Get Together
Every new school year is a reason to celebrate – but having a contract (and knowing we won’t be needing to picket) makes this year especially sweet. So let’s all celebrate together at Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place on Friday, October 5th. Appetizers are included, so it helps to get a head-count in advance. Please RSVP by clicking this link.

The Year of the Teacher Strike

2018 may go down in history as the year of the teacher strike.  Strikes are not a new phenomenon, of course, but they have become a far less common tool in recent years, especially in the world of education.

But as conditions for teachers and students got worse and worse around the country, politicians and school boards began to see what happens when you push too far against public education:

Teachers push back, communities support them, and public education wins.

In the past eight months, teacher unions in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahama, Colorado, scored significant victories via strikes, and Seattle teachers pushed their district right to the brink.

Why were they so successful? A lot of the press about the strikes centered on just how low teacher salaries are in many places in the country (teachers losing their houses, having to get second jobs, etc.). And the fact is, people overwhelmingly have positive feelings about teachers and don’t want to see them suffering.  But it’s important to note that strikers were pushing for greater funding for schools overall, including things like more counselors and nurses.

And while strikes are a pretty extreme tool, the success of their efforts point to a bigger point, one we’ve made again and again. It sometimes seems that the forces against public education are so immutable that there is no point even trying, we have the power to make change happen when we are united.

Why We Won

WE WON!

The proposition to hold a Constitutional Convention has been defeated. 

Given the sea of signs and magnets that were everywhere you looked recently, it’s easy to forget that this was not a sure thing, and just a few months ago it very much looked like it would go the other way. Back in May, voters surveyed were IN FAVOR of a constitutional convention by a margin of 62 to 22.

Make no mistake – we made this happen. The combined efforts of teachers, cops, firemen, corrections officers,  etc, etc. not only helped sway public opinion but got out the vote to make sure that this potential catastrophe was averted. It proved, once again, that political action by organized labor can be a serious force for positive change.

Speaking of getting out the vote, SWRTA had a great showing at the RCFA phone bank: We had at least one representative from each building, and we managed to make hundreds of calls. CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES.  (Note: I couldn’t get actual pictures of everyone who made calls, so I had to improvise)

Congratulations, Christine!

We are delighted to announce that Baldwin Reading Teacher Christine Pellegrino won Pellegrino-Family-300x200Tuesday’s special election in the 9th Assembly District.

Running as a progressive Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican district, her candidacy was a longshot, but she prevailed thanks to tremendous support from NYSUT and other unions. Members from all around (including SWRTA) made phone calls, attended fundraisers, and canvased for Christine to help get out the vote and help voters see why she was the far better candidate to represent working people.

While it’s just a single seat in an Assembly with 150 members, make no mistake – this is a huge victory. It is a victory for teachers who now have a voice within the chamber, and it is a victory for unions – showing that we can still fight the good fight and prevail.

We are very proud of Christine and wish her tremendous success.

2017-18 State Budget Summary

The New York State Legislature finally reached an agreement on a state budget last week, a little more than a week past the deadline. This was the latest budget during Governor Cuomo’s time in office (although quite shy of the 2-4 month late budgets of the late ’90s and early 00’s). You can click here to see the final bill and get an understanding of why it is referred to as “The Big Ugly.”

The following is a top-line look at some of the key issues. For more detail, please see NYSUT’s detailed summary (from which this post was excerpted and modified).  For the sake of comparison, if you want to look back at what NYSUT was advocating for and what the individual houses were proposing, please see this prior post.

School Aid

  • The budget includes an increase of $1 billion in school aid, which includes an increase of $700 million in Foundation Aid and fully funds expense based aids. This is far less than is needed just to maintain everything at last year’s level.
  • The proposal to eliminate the Foundation Aid Formula was defeated.

Millionaires’ Tax

  • The Millionaire’s tax was extended for two years, without any progressive expansion.

Teacher Centers

  • Funding for Teacher Centers was restored and increased by $5.74 million, for a total of $20 million.

Charter Schools

  • The proposal to eliminate or increase the charter cap was defeated, as was the proposal to unfreeze charter school tuition rates which would have provided these schools with hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • The proposal to require school districts to reimburse charters for costs related to the employment of school-related professionals such as: nurses, food service workers and others was rejected ($124 million).
  • Charters will receive an additional $500 in funding per pupil in 2017-18 that will be paid in the first instance by the resident school district but is fully reimbursable by the state in the following school year. After 2017-18, per pupil charter school tuition payment increases are linked to the growth in per pupil spending in each school district, which is not be reimbursable by the State.

Tax Cap

  • There was no change to the Tax Cap law.

“Free College”

  • The final budget includes something that the Governor is touting as a major accomplishment, but critics say is just a gimmick to boost his progressive credentials in preparation for a 2020 Presidential run: Free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools. Undoubtedly it will be a big help to many students who might not otherwise be able to attend college, but the program is extremely flawed, as described in this piece at Slate.com.

Union Dues Deduction

  • Union Dues may now be deducted from income for calculating State Income Tax. Previously, union dues could be included under miscellaneous deductions, which had to exceed 2% of adjusted gross income (this is still the case for Federal Income Tax). This will open the deduction up to many more people, but still only to those who itemize rather than taking the standard deduction. Estimated savings for those who can take advantage is somewhere around $75.

FOIL

  • The changes to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) that would have made collective bargaining agreements subject to FOIL prior to their ratification by union members were not included in the budget.

NYSHIP Retiree Health Insurance Benefits

  • The Enacted Budget rejected the proposal to eliminate the reimbursement of Medicare Part B premium rates for NYSHIP retirees, as was the Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts (IRMAA). The Enacted Budget also preserves NYSHIP retirees’ individual (and their dependents) share of their health insurance cost, based upon their years of service and grade-level as a state employee.

Governor’s Right to Modify Budget

  • Because of the uncertainty stemming from the Federal budget proposed by the President, the State budget includes language allows the Governor to modify and limit state spending once the Federal budget is solidified. In that situation, the Legislature has ninety days to pass their own plan, and if after ninety days, the Legislature has not acted, the plan developed by the governor and the division of the budget will be put into place.