[Editor’s note: Steve Quester is a second-grade teacher and UFT Chapter Leader at PS 372, The Children’s School, in Brooklyn.]
It’s early May, and things in Albany are really tough right now. Our state is facing yawning budget gaps, while political stalemate stymies any effort to raise significant new revenues.
In this environment, the UFT’s message to our elected representatives in the Assembly and Senate has been clear: they must oppose the governor’s drastic proposed cuts to the education budget. Lawmakers are considering a $600 million cut to state funding for our city’s public schools. If we lose that much state funding, class sizes will skyrocket, tutoring and after-school programs will be eliminated, and great teachers will be laid off.
Kids don’t get a second chance at an education. If we allow our school system to be decimated like it was in the ‘70s, another generation of young New Yorkers will lose their opportunity for a better life.
In this crisis atmosphere, we have urged our mayor and schools chancellor to stand with us as we struggle for justice for New York City’s school kids. The UFT helped save our city from bankruptcy in the 1970s, when our pension finds began buying up bonds from the Municipal Assistance Corporation, and we stand ready to do whatever it takes to save our schools now.
It has been disheartening indeed to see the city administration treat this crisis as a opportunity to move a long-held political agenda — end teachers’ seniority rights, expand privatization in the form of charter schools, and so on. While they quibble about who should be laid off, we’re the ones standing with our students’ allies in Albany saying NO ONE should be laid off. Some of you may remember the years in which thousands of New York City school children were taught by uncertified teachers. Those days are over, thanks to historic salary gains and a stable employment situation. In an atmosphere of layoffs, New York City would again face a teacher recruitment crisis once the economy turns around. Few educators want to start working for an employer who’s going to turn around and fire them when the budget gets tight.
Things are tough for teachers all over. The entire high school staff in Rhode Island’s poorest school district was fired this winter because of test scores — and the president publicly endorsed the firings. In Florida, where the gap between the widely respected National Assessment of Education Progress scores and state test scores is sixty points (!), both houses of the legislature passed a bill to end tenure and convert all teachers’ contract to one year, renewable on growth in student scores on the state tests. (This measure, thankfully, was vetoed by Florida’s governor after a statewide outcry by parents and teachers.) In the District of Columbia, seniority layoff rules were abolished eight years ago, leading to a five-year turnover rate of close to 50% and an unrelenting decline in student achievement. In New Jersey, the new governor has tried to pit parents against teachers, urging voters to reject school budgets unless teachers agree to pay cuts. And here in New York City, we’ve worked without a contract since November, with no progress made by the Public Employees Relations Board’s mediator.
Whenever you’re reading this, please pick up the phone and call your Assembly Member, State Senator, and City Council Member. Tell them that you stand with your children’s teachers for a strong public school system. Remind them that election cycles don’t matter to our kids; good schools do.