Feb. 28, 2015

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No retreat, no surrender in public education attacks

uupdate 2-28-15

UUP members stand united with their K-12 sisters and brothers around the state against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s unprecedented attacks on public education, UUP President Fred Kowal told nearly 500 NYSUT members and supporters at the opening stop of the North Country “Call Out Cuomo” tour.

“For the 35,000 members I represent, we will never retreat, we will never surrender,” Kowal told the crowd at the open-air rally Feb. 28 in Plattsburgh.

As he bounded into the back of a pickup truck that served as a podium, Kowal carried a copy of the current issue of the UUP membership magazine, The Voice, which features a cover that has gotten attention statewide for its stark, direct message: a photograph of the governor over a one-word headline, “Wrong.” Kowal brandished the magazine as he spoke.

Kowal, a professor of political science and Native American studies at SUNY Cobleskill, invoked the cultures of the Abenaki and Iroquois people whose ancestral lands included or bordered the territory where Plattsburgh stands today when he reminded the audience that tribal traditions encouraged thinking about how an action would affect the next seven generations.

“Do you think the governor is thinking seven generations ahead?” Kowal asked the crowd, as hundreds shouted "No!" in response. “I don’t think he’s thinking seven minutes down the road,” Kowal said.

The event is one of many such rallies and forums NYSUT has organized around the state during budget negotiations. In addition to Plattsburgh, Kowal and Vice President for Professionals Philippe Abraham also appeared at a rally in Massena Saturday. Other speakers included American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; NYSUT President Karen E. Magee; Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group for public schools in New York; and a slate of parents and teachers.

In Plattsburgh, nearly 500 educators, parents and children gathered in the parking lot of Plattsburgh High School, shivering in temperatures that barely nudged out of the teens.

The determination of hundreds of people to brave the bitter cold for more than an hour, many of them with homemade signs pillorying the governor; and the makeshift setup for the rally – which had to quickly pack up and move to its next stop - all conveyed the sense of urgency that NYSUT members feel about an Executive Budget that attempts to hijack the democratic process.

The governor has threatened not to sign any spending plan that does not include a number of harsh and punitive measures for public schools, colleges and universities.

As he waited to speak, Kowal said that such a large crowd, willing to stand outdoors in protest, conveyed “the depth of the commitment that we have to defend our schools and our vocation. That’s what we do – we teach.”

He repeated that message in his remarks to the crowd when he described teaching as “a sacred vocation.”

Kim Hartshorn, vice president for academics at the SUNY Plattsburgh UUP chapter, called the Executive Budget “a disaster.” “It’s taking curriculum out of the hands of the faculty, even out of the [University] system,” he said.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s teacher preparation program is struggling to implement the restrictive and problematic new teacher certification exams, which public and private teacher preparation programs around the state all face.

“The governor seems to want to decimate these programs,” Hartshorn said.

UUP will continue to protest the Executive Budget, which offers flat funding to all public colleges and universities; damaging cuts to the Educational Opportunity Program for low-income, high-needs students; and a performance-based funding scheme.

UUP leaders and members will participate in the “Call OutCuomo” March on Albany, set for March 2 in the Capitol. The event is being organized by NYSUT and several of its partners in the fight for a fair budget.

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