Due Process Rights for Teachers Also Safeguard Students
ALBANY, N.Y. July 28, 2014 — New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee released the following statement today in response to a lawsuit challenging due process rights for New York’s teachers:
“This is a politically motivated attack against every dedicated teacher in New York state. We are highly confident the courts will reject this attack as entirely without merit. We welcome the opportunity to expose the many lies and misrepresentations about tenure laws and establish, once and for all, the plain truth: Tenure is an absolutely necessary safeguard for teachers, for students and for quality public schools.
“Tenure means teachers can speak freely and strongly on matters of public concern. Tenure ensures that teachers have the freedom to teach effectively and the liberty to oppose policies or cuts that harm students. Teachers can partner with parents against inappropriate standardized testing and question Common Core precisely because they don’t have to fear reprisals for doing so. Tenure guarantees that caring and dedicated educators can continue to advocate with parents for what’s best for students.
“Before Campbell Brown’s cable TV show was canceled, its slogan was ‘No Bias, No Bull.’ Yet Campbell Brown is slinging both with abandon. She and her wealthy supporters seem to think that if teachers could be fired for any reason at any time, student achievement in high-poverty schools would miraculously soar. That ignores the enormous, well-documented challenges facing students and teachers in high-poverty communities. Pervasive, grinding poverty and chronic underfunding burden students in too many of our cities and poor rural communities. Homelessness, violent crime, overcrowded classrooms, students working to learn English and chronic budget shortfalls are among the outside influences — beyond the control of teachers — that unquestionably impact student achievement. It’s sensationalistic and unsupportable to say that tenure is the problem.
“Lost on the wealthy elite who attack teachers is that the very same decades-old rules governing tenure and seniority safeguard teachers’ rights in fully funded, high-achieving districts where nearly every single student graduates and is accepted to college. Tenure protects all teachers from nepotism, favoritism, discrimination, patronage and other forms of arbitrary dismissal. At its heart is the American value that one is innocent until proven guilty.
“When allegations of incompetence or misconduct arise — against a teacher or anyone else — such allegations shouldn’t be automatically assumed to be true. Rather, evidence should be carefully and quickly examined, and then ruled on impartially. Due process is the foundation of our judicial system. Similar safeguards are in place to ensure police officers, firefighters and other public servants at the state and local levels cannot be arbitrarily dismissed based on allegations or for politically motivated reasons.
“New York’s tenure law has been streamlined in recent years to address concerns that due process hearings took too long and cost too much. In 2012, the state required all disciplinary hearings to be completed within a reasonable 155 days. Most times, cases are resolved before then. Innocent, effective teachers are returned to work and those who are guilty or ineffective are removed. New York’s teacher evaluation law provides a framework to identify teachers who are struggling and provide them with additional support, while acknowledging that, in rare cases, some teachers may not improve and must be removed in an expedited process from the classroom.
“Seniority rights are there for a reason. NYSUT fights vigorously for adequate and equitable funding for all public schools, and layoffs should always be an absolute last resort. When layoffs are completely unavoidable, however, New York must have a fair, objective process that doesn’t rely on subjective judgment or whim. A system based on seniority, which has served New York state fairly and objectively for a century, guards against abuses by those who would use ‘layoffs’ as another way to terminate those who advocate too fiercely, are older or are at the top of the pay scale.
“Those bankrolling this assault on teachers and reasonable protections against injustice have no interest in providing every child with a quality public school education. If they did, they long ago would have joined parents, teachers and unions in fighting for the resources all children need. This suit is just another attack on public education and on working people by wealthy elitists who stand to profit from privatizing public schools. It is telling that Brown refuses to identify her donors.
“NYSUT will fight this attack in the courts and in the court of public opinion, for our members and for the schoolchildren our members teach and advocate for every day.”
SCOTUS Ruling: Harris v. QuinnHarris v. Quinn dealt with the issue of whether employees who benefit from union representation can be required to pay their fair share of the cost of that representation. In New York State, "fair share" for public unions is referred to as "agency fee."
Click HERE for a supplement prepared by NYSUT Legal Counsel concerning questions about the Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn
NYSUT calls delay on consequences a necessary first step
ALBANY, N.Y. June 19, 2014 — New York State United Teachers today said it anticipates passage of a bill now before the Legislature that would establish a two-year moratorium protecting teachers from some of the worst consequences of the State Education Department’s flawed roll-out of the Common Core standards, an essential step toward fixing what’s wrong with the system.
“Hitting the ‘pause button’ on high-stakes consequences for teachers — as we’ve done for students — is a necessary step toward reducing over-testing and restoring our focus on teaching and learning,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. “Parents and teachers agree that it will take time to fix what’s wrong with the system. That message is resonating today at the state Capitol.”
She said Governor’s Program Bill 56, introduced as Assembly Bill 10168, now under consideration by the Legislature, will “provide a very important ‘time out’ that protects teachers from being unfairly penalized as a result of the rushed implementation of the Common Core. The state test scores that have been deemed invalid and unreliable for students would be deemed invalid and unreliable for penalizing teachers. Basic fairness prevails.”
Magee expressed confidence this approach would pass muster with the U.S. Department of Education, which has signaled it would grant waivers under the Race to the Top program to states that delay using Common Core test results in teacher evaluations.
Magee said parents and teachers agree the 2010 teacher evaluation law put too much emphasis on standardized testing and data collection, while failing to properly recognize that teaching is an art that cannot be quantified by a standardized test or a one-size-fits-all evaluation system. She emphasized that teachers welcome fair evaluations, especially those from trained administrators who focus on professional learning, improving instruction and better addressing students’ individual needs. “Teachers have always been evaluated annually. Those evaluations will continue — as they should,” Magee said.
NYSUT said it appreciates the constructive dialogue with the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo that is advancing an outcome that will benefit students and their teachers.
NYSUT Vice President Andrew Pallotta said, “We must continue these discussions about fixing what’s not working. That has to include reducing over-testing and recognizing that a student is not a test score — and neither is a teacher."
NYSUT seeks to challenge legality of property tax freeze legislation
ALBANY, N.Y. June 6, 2014 - New York State United Teachers has filed a motion seeking to amend its 2013 legal challenge to the property tax cap to include a challenge to the recently enacted property tax freeze. The motion argues that the two laws, which operate in unison, deprive taxpayers of their constitutional right to determine local school funding levels, and that the challenge to both laws should be decided together.
NYSUT's motion is now before state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath. If the judge agrees, NYSUT's case against both the tax cap and tax freeze credit program will be combined and heard at a later date.
NYSUT's motion reads, in part: "The tax freeze, in essence, financially incentivizes school districts and voters to stay within the cap. It also effectively punishes districts, voters, taxpayers and school children in districts where school boards and voters exercise their constitutionally protected right to exceed the cap, by denying tax credits to otherwise eligible taxpayers in such districts. This is done without regard to the current funding effort of the district or the current educational achievement or needs of the district's school children."
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said it is clear the tax freeze credit program and tax cap are intertwined. Both, she said, violate the state constitution.
"Public schools are still reeling from budget cuts. The tax freeze program is a gimmick that dangles a check in front of taxpayers as a carrot to go along with the cap's stick," Magee said. "Both the so-called property tax freeze and tax cap undermine local control and only worsen the already devastating funding gap between low and high wealth school districts."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said the property tax freeze credit only deepens the pain caused to students and their schools by the tax cap. "It further coerces school districts into abiding by an undemocratic and unconstitutional tax cap that is harming public education and denying students the programs and services they need," he said.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.