Friday, April 11, 2014

100 Days into NYSUT's Future

As its first-ever contested election fades into NYSUT's past, uncertainty and optimism churn within New York's largest teachers union. Many members worry if the new leadership—led by President Karen Magee—will do anything to stifle the onslaught of Governor Cuomo's tax cap or his love affair with charter schools. While Magee has talked of the tax cap, her first walk may be towards renegotiating the state's teacher evaluation plan (APPR), aiming for a one-size-fits-all system that stretches from Montauk to Massena. Considering the unwieldy plans some of Magee's biggest supporters negotiated within their own districts, a revised APPR could pollute hundreds of other districts throughout the state.

Laced with Common Core tests and modules, APPR is an insidious way to evaluate teachers. However, NYSUT has a more urgent issue to combat than an evaluation system which last year rated 92% of its members as either "effective" or "highly effective." 

Economic inequality remains the greatest threat to public schools and our democracy.

Because of unjust budget cuts, 35,000 teachers in New York have lost their jobs since 2009. It will require the efforts of many to close this wound.  Just as democracy demands many faces, so does justice. Unions must be a face of justice, and if NYSUT and other organizations can't stare the plutocrats down, who will? With 600,000 members, NYSUT possesses the power to confront inequality across the state and nation. Magee and other leaders must address this issue at every turn, and through every medium. After all, it is a leader's job to inspire and educate the masses, and it will require many hands to exterminate the vermin of inequality.

Will Magee meet the task? Like all presidents, her first 100 days may answer this question. This August, NYSUT will decide who to endorse in the state's gubernatorial election. The oligarchical Cuomo needs NYSUT if he wants the support of the AFL-CIO. Cuomo has talked and acted as anything but an education proponent, threatening the "death penalty" for public schools while shaking hands at rallies for privately-run charters.  NYSUT need look no further than Cuomo for a connection to the privatization of public education. The organization only feeds this beast by supporting candidates so beholden to wealthy donors. Though logic calls on people far and wide to rally outside of Cuomo's doors daily, Magee recently said, "the field is open as to who [NYSUT] endorses." Such words do little to spur members against the pernicious policies of Cuomo, as raccoons require only a crack to gain entry.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC, billionaires have permission to burn even more of their money on our withering democracy, which cries out for campaign finance reform.  Oxymoronic justices continue to equate spending with speech. As a result, those with the most cash continue to have the most say in our elections. A few people possess too much power, and power grows corrupt in the hands of the few. Educators throughout the nation can thank this imbalanced system for laws ending collective bargaining and tenure, tilting the pendulum further in favor of plutocrats. 

Workers could be dealt an even greater blow this June, when the Supreme Court may rule on Harris v. Quinn. Should the court rule in favor of Harris, public unions across the nation would begin bleeding members, lured away by the sirens of a few extra dollars saved in their paychecks. In addition to a diminishing voice at the ballot box, workers would also be silenced at their workplaces, and likely blame their listless unions for the collapse of their livelihoods under the dictatorial demands of bosses. 

With many districts careening toward insolvency, NYSUT must start chopping at the roots of inequality before it grows too dense. For example, the next time Magee talks to Cuomo, she should ask him about his duplicitous campaign finance law, meant only to encourage a challenger against Tom DiNapoli in this year's comptroller race. DiNapoli, who opted out of the law, has been a friend to public education, with many urging him to challenge Cuomo in a democratic primary, something DiNapoli has resisted. It’s likely Cuomo’s $33 million war chest has something to do with this; yet another voice silenced by money.

Magee should also ask Cuomo why he decided to disband his Moreland Commission, which had been tasked with investigating corruption throughout the state.  Was Cuomo's commission nothing more than a tool to prod legislators into passing his budget? Did Cuomo fear his own commission would soon start eating its host?    
The next 100 days will determine much about the future of NYSUT and other unions around the country. More people must begin asking and answering the right questions if we wish to salvage our schools and democracy.