Friday, December 26, 2014

Divide and Conquer—Cuomo Style

Part-time progressive Bill DeBlasio and full-time douchebag Andrew Cuomo are hearing it from unions these days in New York. Members of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) turned their backs on DeBlasio in Brooklyn, while leaders of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) called Cuomo “clueless” and challenged him to a series of education shit shows town halls across the state. 

Cuomo, ever eager to bask in DeBlasio’s political fallout, has auditioned for peacemaker between the cops and the mayor, especially after PBA President Pat Lynch used the phrases “educate our children” and “blood on the steps of city hall” in back-to-back breaths following the recent murders of two uniformed cops.

In an interview before the shootings, Cuomo called Lynch a “friend” who was only doing his job as union president in moving to bar DeBlasio from police funerals:
"He was venting that emotion. He is standing up for the police, which is his job, and making the point that police need protection, too, in situations like this, and need respect and consideration in situations like this,” Cuomo told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom” program.
On the other hand, Cuomo was outraged when NYSUT President Karen Magee vented her emotion and accused the governor of “doing the bidding of billionaires” when it comes to public education. The cowardly Cuomo responded through his spokeswoman, denouncing Magee’s statement as “mind-boggling” and “hostile.”
What would Cuomo have said if Magee had accused him of having the blood of public schools on his hands? 

The metaphor works in this case, since Andrew Cuomo has done more to destroy public education in New York State than Bill DeBlasio will ever do to destroy the New York Police Department.

Cuomo will never call for the same “respect and consideration” for teachers as he does the police. While public schools are a “monopoly” he’d like to “break”, the cops are the only ones blocking the barbarians from breaking down Cuomo’s gates.  

One can only imagine what Pat Lynch would say, for instance, if Cuomo threatened to break the PBA’s monopoly on law enforcement in New York City.    

It should surprise no one that the governor—who visited a whopping two public schools during his first term—was outraged more by comments aimed at hedge funders and their dystopian visions for public education than comments aimed at a fellow democrat and mayor of the nation’s largest city.

DeBlasio has at least attempted to stem the privatization of public education, and that alone quickly earned him a spot on the governor’s enemies list. 

A vindictive sociopath, Cuomo governs on personal vendettas, caressing his donors while plotting revenge against those who refuse to caress his fragile ego. 

Cuomo recently bemoaned being able to control education only through the state budget, even calling requests for more school aid “political correctness.”  
With schools across the state slipping toward insolvency, Cuomo’s only objective is to repay his donors with more privately-run charter schools and pink slips for teachers.  

As this blog has urged 
again and again, NYSUT must move beyond strongly-worded faxes and petitions and take the battle for public education to Cuomo directly. 

It remains to be seen if the Lobbyist for the Students will show up and share his pernicious bloviations about public education at the NYSUT town halls. Though Cuomo apparently has no difficulty speaking to billionaires about education, he’s apt to retreat to his cave at the whiff of educators and parents who actually know what they’re talking about. It seems Cuomo is comfortable talking about education only with those who have more money and less expertise than he does.    

Though Cuomo will likely ignore NYSUT’s invitation to the town halls, Magee must push for this and other specific actions, calling out Cuomo in the press and trailing the governor and his slimy associates across the state. NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn recently offered a speck of hope this might happen: 

What worked for the anti-frackers will work for NYSUT, since public education and our environment each face existential threats.  

Teachers have an opportunity to answer Cuomo’s questions about education in-person this New Year’s Eve at his mansion in Albany. Though Cuomo will likely filter public employees from the visitors list—a driver’s license number is required to register—teachers could take a big step toward Cuomo in 2015 by stepping through his door on the final day of 2014.
Like the anti-frackers did, New York’s teachers must get in Cuomo’s face—even if he tries to hide behind the police. After all, when Cuomo calls for us to protect the police, he’s really calling for the police to protect him and his wealthy donors. 

And as long as the police are on their side, Cuomo and others will keep attacking labor. For as both Cuomo and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker understand, workers must be divided before they can be conquered:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

With Liberty and Charter Schools for All

Where can 12 billionaires turn if they want education laws changed?

That’s right, their checkbooks.

Between late September and Election Day, a dozen hedge funders donated a combined $4.4 million to New York State politics, mainly to ensure that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his slimy associates will help publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools seep deeper into the state.
Led by the likes Paul Tudor Jones II, who recently hosted an education “summit” featuring Cuomo and other corpses, the billionaires see charters as investment windfalls. After all, those pesky teachers unions and their due process rights won’t be around to challenge every test and technology tonic sold to New York’s taxpayers once the metastasis of charters quickens.     

With minimal overhead and oversight, charters and their plutocratic backers can finally corner an elusive market in New York State—public education. In words reminiscent of showman P.T. Barnum, “there’s a sucker born every minute”, and the billionaires see no bigger sucker than New York’s working families, with snake-oil salesmen peddling toxic Common Core tests and standards as the panacea for underfunded public schools.

The billionaires would rather subsume these schools than fix them, however, and their sycophantic public servants are lining up to comply. Cuomo has said he wants to “break” public schools in his second term, and lest we forget what Secretary of Education Arne Dunked-on said just last year:

“…he [Duncan] found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
In a recent interview, Jeremiah Kittredge, founder of Families for Excellent Charter Schools (an anti-labor, pro-douchebag super PAC which spent $9 million on the New York election) continued efforts to slime our schools. Kittredge’s organization is calling for an “epic infusion of excellent schools” to rescue 249,000 children supposedly “trapped” in public schools statewide. Kittredge wants parents to believe their local schools face a “crisis of epic proportions” for which charters apparently hold the cure. 

Kittredge says charters are “outperforming” public schools, but it doesn’t require a close-reading of Kittredge’s claims to reveal his simplistic and savage suggestion: charter school students are just better test-takers.

Yet even if their scores are higher—and study after study prove otherwise—most parents would rather raise compassionate, well-rounded human beings instead of test-taking cyborgs programmed by flawed standards. 

Look no further than Pink Floyd’s classic “Another Brick in the Wall” for an allegory of corporate charters and their subservient students. Note how the children in the video react after too many trips through the meat grinder of educational malfeasance: 

The rebellious students in the video throw their teacher on a bonfire, while the New York State Education Department (NYSED) throws teachers on the scrapheap in real life.

With allies like Kittredge doing their bidding—who in the same interview calls public school teachers the “worst servers” of special education and ESL students—
 Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch are paradoxically demanding more accountability for unionized teachers and less for charter chains, from the “board of trustees” down to the lowly teachers.

A glance at NYSED’s handy-dandy “Guide to Charter Schools in New York State”, for example, tells us that 30% of the teachers in a charter don’t need to be certified.
At least the important parts are in color

Meanwhile, Tisch seeks an “aggressive” proliferation of charters as her department makes it more difficult for those who would rather teach in unionized public schools to become certified—the majority of job seekers throughout the state. More and more of these applicants might soon find a home in New York’s charters, however, who will entice them with a logo only a hedge funder could love:

Sadly, the day when billionaires like Merryl Tisch control who gets to work in schools has finally arrived. Up-and-coming teachers are not far from signing contracts with corporate boards instead of boards of education, one bad test score away from working at Walmart.      

It was industrious journalism and not NYSED which exposed the fraudulent resume of “Dr.” Ted Morris, Jr., whose Greater Works Charter was revoked by the state after it was revealed Morris lacked both a doctorate and a high school diploma. Both Tisch and King disavowed responsibility for this gross oversight, with Tisch blaming her unnamed underlings and Director of Charter Schools Bill Clarke in hiding since the scandal broke.

With their schools tumbling toward insolvency and privatization, where can members of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) turn to preserve their profession?

From Manhattan to Massena, the state's teachers union is only as strong as its weakest links.

Though not yet an existential threat, non-urban locals should fight charters as much as urban locals should fight non-urban threats like the Tax Cap and Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

No teacher outside of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), for instance, would be offended if UFT President Michael Mulgrew suddenly spoke out against the Tax Cap, just like Mulgrew should not take umbrage if a teacher in Westchester spoke out against New York City charter schools.

Things might be different for NYSUT if Mulgrew had threatened to punch someone other than teachers who opposed the Common Core, or if American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten’s next arrest is outside the offices of Cuomo or NYSED.   

The privatization of public education is a many-headed hydra, fed by a handful of plutocrats.

This should be no match, however, for an organization fed by 600,000 workers instead of 12 billionaires.

NYSUT must lead this fight before public education starves to death.   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NYSUT Must Run Towards Cuomo—Wherever He Hides

NYSUT has ignored the power of its people

600 members of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) recently gathered at a bowling alley less than two miles from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s house.

No, this was not the staging ground for a rally against the anti-teacher Cuomo, but rather the venue for an event which raised thousands of dollars for the homeless. NYSUT locals from across the Hudson Valley did more to benefit struggling New Yorkers in one night than all of Cuomo’s campaign fundraisers combined.

If only $1,000 per plutocratic plate fed the hungry instead of Cuomo’s political war chest.          

The NYSUT Bowling Extravaganza is yet another example of the Union’s power to organize, something that unfortunately has escaped its newly-elected leadership.  If this many members can peacefully assemble on a Thursday night amid bad pizza and gutter balls, it won’t require much more to rally against a governor who has vowed to “break” public education.

Would it have been too much to ask, for example, for President Karen Magee and the other NYSUT officers at the Mount Kisco event to lead a march past Cuomo’s house after returning their multicolored, sliding-sole shoes?
When will NYSUT President Karen Magee aim for Cuomo?
Cuomo’s words are whispers compared to his actions. His tax cap and GEA continue to syphon more dollars from essential programs, while his teacher evaluation system (APPR) spins its wheels in the muck of Common Core, spraying its sludge on families and educators around the state.

As Cuomo searches for ways to jettison unionized teachers, he’s also counting on a Republican-led legislature (which he helped elect) to dump public schools into private hands. Lifting the cap on charter schools and passing the Education Investment Tax Credit would be long strides in this direction. Look no further than the East Ramapo School District in Rockland County for a taste of what could soon be coming to a district near you.  

With the mood of New York’s teachers torn between indifference and indignation, it is well past time for NYSUT to mobilize its members within shouting distance of Cuomo. Leadership could begin this push by at least publicly pronouncing the Lobbyist for the Student’s name, which they tip-toed towards in a recent statement:
It will take more than fine print at the bottom of a briefing, however, to remove Cuomo’s fangs from public education and chase him back into his cave.  

The good news is that New York’s governor is notoriously thin-skinned, and NYSUT must exploit this. Cuomo rails against the press throughout the pages of his worst-selling memoir and has even placed phone calls to journalists in an effort to downplay and dampen stories that may damage him a lot more than his bombastic book has.   

When confronted in-person by people with placards, Cuomo’s paranoia and resentment deepens. Fracking protesters have crippled him into inaction on the issue, as the governor recently claimed he’s “not a scientist” within weeks of feigning more expertise on Ebola than a doctor who had Ebola. The protesters even scared Cuomo away from his Mount Kisco polling place on primary day:

The small group of protesters Tuesday was apparently undaunted by some last-minute schedule changing by Cuomo's administration. After New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition group, announced Monday they would be outside Cuomo's polling place at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, Cuomo's office announced later in the day that he'd be voting at 5 p.m.

By Tuesday morning, that was changed to 10 a.m.

"I literally see them everywhere I go," Cuomo said of the hydraulic fracturing opponents. "One of my daughters joked, we were pulling up to an event and she said, 'We must be in the wrong place. There's no fracking protesters.'"

NYSUT must join the anti-frackers and also be everywhere Cuomo goes. After all, a lot more than 600 of its members—600,000 to be exact—would like to talk to a governor who usually doesn’t like talking to anyone north of Wall Street.

Less than two years ago, NYSUT bused 20,00o members to Albany to protest Cuomo’s attacks on public education.  In response to the One Voice rally, Cuomo sent Education Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on their disastrous Common Core goodwill tour around the state. Outrage over education reform spread from town to town as Cuomo, King, and Tisch played defense against concerned citizens.

Later the following year, for some reason, the same union that flexed its solidarity and scope that spring day in the capital decided to overhaul its leadership, replacing those ready to challenge Cuomo with those content to lick crumbs from his chair.             

It's time once again to force Cuomo out of his chair and towards the placards approaching his door.

Teachers in the trenches await President Magee’s call.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Letter to NYSUT Leaders from Educators for Howie Hawkins

Below is a letter from Educators for Howie Hawkins offering guidance to NYSUT locals who support Hawkins but may be reluctant to endorse him officially.

As the letter notes, educators cannot afford to sit out this election. NYSUT leaders have the ability to galvanize their members against a governor whose policies are eroding the foundation of public education.

Howie Hawkins will bring solvency and sanity back to our schools.

Please read and share widely.   

Dear Local President,


Luckily, there is one candidate who is running for governor this year who is truly pro-education and pro-labor and that candidate is Howie Hawkins.

Ideally, we are asking that you and your NYSUT local take the bold step of endorsing the Hawkins/Jones ticket.  Already many locals have done this and more are on the way. 

We do understand, however, that not every local will be able to endorse Howie.  With such a short time remaining between now and Election Day, we realize that some of you are hesitant to move in that direction.

This letter then, offers you an alternative
.   Attached you will find a clear, concise, and comprehensive contrast between all three candidates on the most important issues to educators, parents, students, and schools.  As a local president you have the right and responsibility to educate your membership. Certainly, a local president can preface such an email to their membership in one of two ways.

 Approach 1:  “Dear Member,  As you know, public education and issues that impact each of you will be on the ballot this November in a governor’s race that will determine the next four years of education policy and funding in New York State.  I think we all could agree that the last four years have not been good for our schools.  To help you make an informed decision in the governor’s race, I am attaching a comparison of records for you to consider.  I encourage you to read these, share them with friends and family, and most importantly VOTE on November 4.  Thank you.”


Approach 2:  “Dear Member, As you know, public education and issues that impact each of you will be on the ballot this November in a governor’s race that will determine the next four years of education policy and funding in New York State.  I think we all could agree that the last four years have not been good for our schools.  While the (name of your teachers association) is not making a formal endorsement at this time, I can tell you that after studying the records of each candidate, I will be voting for Howie Hawkins, whose platform is exactly what we need now in public education. Attached please find a comparison of records for you to consider. You may or may not come to the same decision as I have, but however you decide, I encourage you to read these, share them with friends and family, and most importantly VOTE on November 4.  Thank you.”

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Lee Cutler, Education Outreach Coordinator for the Howie Hawkins campaign, at or at 518-229-5111.

Thank you,

Educators for Howie Hawkins

                                  Contrasting Candidates for NY Governor





Teacher Tenure

 Sees it as a way to allow ineffective teachers to stay in the classroom


“Any change to the current law would have to be carefully reviewed"


"Tenure establishes and preserves a highly qualified teacher workforce in our schools.”

Triborough Amendment


“I support changing the Triborough Amendment, which now keeps public-employee-union contracts in effect even after they expire. “


Silent right now but has used buzz phrases like support of “mandate relief”, which is seen as code for elimination of Triborough


Supports the right of public workers to strike and he would maintain the Triborough Amendment, which extends existing contracts when they end if there is not an agreement.

Common Core


Would replace CC with “In-State Standards,” although unclear who would design these.





 He believes we need standards, but educators should design them, not private contractors with lucrative contracts

Property Tax Cap and Freeze

Supports Concept

Would take it a step further: “My plan will give New York one of the lowest tax rates in the Northeast, making New York much more competitive than it has been in over a generation.”


A legislative accomplishment he is proud of


“We need to end the property tax cap and the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which have balanced the state budget on the backs of our children by cutting state aid to schools for the last five years.”

End of the Gap Elimination Adjustment

Has not addressed This

Opposes Any Change

Supports Immediate End

Charter Schools



“You are not alone.  We will save Charter Schools!”
- April 3, 2014 at Charter School Rally, Albany, N.Y.


Reduction of State Tests


but little offered in what kind of reduction would occur under his leadership


but has done little or nothing to reduce tests


“We should let the local teachers and parents and school boards make the decisions about standards, curriculum and assessment.”


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hitting Cuomo's Left with a Left

                                                  Just like Foreman, Cuomo's vulnerable on his left 
Forty years ago this October, Muhammad Ali relied on right-hand jabs and the ropes to recapture the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire, Africa. Ali goaded Foreman into punching himself out while pummeling the champion's left with a series of right-hand leads. Though powerful and unexpected, right-hand leads also exposed Ali to retaliatory left hooks from the 25-year-old Foreman, but the 32-year-old Ali—recently removed from boxing exile—had little to lose except his pride. Foreman fell in the eighth, and Ali flew home from the Rumble in his Forefathers' Jungle to a country which had also tried to put him in chains for evading the Vietnam draft, a conviction which the Supreme Court overturned in 1971.

Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout was an even bigger underdog than Ali in her recent Democratic primary battle against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, running on the passions of populists versus the purse strings of plutocrats. Unlike Ali, however, Teachout bruised her opponent's left with left-hand leads, questioning Cuomo's propensity for quid pro quo, trickle-down economics, and his unwillingness (a la Ernie Terrell) to utter her name in public.  Cuomo is likely still asking what a zephyr is.

Cuomo floated like sludge and slunk like a slug when Teachout walked within a handshake’s length of the Lobbyist for the Students at a Labor Day parade in midtown Manhattan.  The man who called political debates a “disservice to democracy” brazenly turned his back on Teachout, evidently in desperate need of a hug from New York City mayor and part-time progressive Bill DeBlasio. Teachout, whose campaign was outspent nearly 40 to 1, took 34% of the vote on primary night and won over half the counties in the state, a clear rebuke of a Democrat who likes to feed the rich so they can shit on the poor.

With the governor of the nation's third-largest state refusing to articulate his visions in public or even say his opponents' names, the future of American democracy looks bleak. Corporate money has lulled many voters into both apathy and cynicism, continually casting their ballots for candidates who are ascending to power on rungs made out of $1,000 bills.

Rather than bowing before the devils they know, voters must comb the moral high ground for more candidates like Teachout, unafraid to confront issues of social, economic, and planetary justice.

Cuomo will only skip around these issues should he ever agree to debate his Republican challenger Rob Astorino, however.  Unlike Foreman, Cuomo will easily block Astorino's right-hand leads with a limp left glove. What Cuomo cannot defend, however, are blows to his left from the left, and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins and his running mate Brian Jones remain the only candidates who can engender the transparent, 3-dimensional debate New Yorkers deserve.

Thus far throughout the campaign, voters across the state have been subjected to discussions on unicorns and the faux Women's Equality Party, and that's just the way Cuomo wants it.

Hawkins will ask and answer the questions both political parties and the corporate-controlled media ignore like metastatic tumors.

Teachers and workers across the nation have an obligation to vote for issues over parties.  After all, parties will only erode if their members don't understand or care to understand the issues.

Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones line up with New York's workers on the issues that matter, leaving no doubt with whom their loyalties lie.

What teacher would pull the lever for Astorino over Hawkins, for example, when Astorino wants to make Cuomo's insolvency-inducing tax cap permanent, while Hawkins wants to repeal it?

Rather than demonizing public sector unions—a tactic of Republicans and Democrats alike—Hawkins wants to expand the public workforce to meet a community's needs, reducing class sizes instead of millionaires' taxes by hiring more teachers. Teachers should support the hiring of more teachers.

On the issue of tenure—which Cuomo has prodded and poked through his disastrous APPR—Astorino wants to open due-process up for bargaining by offering teachers "renewable contracts." As
a former public school teacher himself, candidate for Lieutenant Governor Brian Jones understands the need for fairness in a system that could easily be overrun by nepotism and self-serving administrators and school boards.

Hawkins will also defend and expand workplace justice with a $15 minimum wage while upholding the Triborough Amendment and Scaffold Law, which Astorino wants to reform and repeal, respectively. The Triborough Amendment protects workers from bosses ripping up their contracts during an impasse, while the Scaffold Law protects workers from bosses ripping apart their scaffolds.  Much like his stance on fracking, Cuomo has been ambivalent on these issues, perhaps waiting for the right-sized donation before whipping his Republican-controlled state senate into a fight against the will of workers everywhere.

Cuomo has governed like a Republican throughout his first term, feigning to his left on issues like gay marriage and gun rights. Unlike Ali, Cuomo did not realize how his own reliance on right-hand leads could open up his left to jabs from the left. 
Howie Hawkins is the only candidate who can lead this barrage, and therefore must be allowed in the ring to debate Cuomo.

And if by the will of common sense this happens, will Cuomo even address him by his proper name?