As momentum built toward’s the April 28th rally at Villa Lombardi’s to protest Governor Cuomo, one of the governor’s top aides, Joseph Percoco, reached out, through an intermediary, to the President of the Connetquot Teachers Association Tony Felicio. Percoco offered Felicio, one of the rally’s organizers, a meeting with the governor to air his grievances in exchange for canceling the rally. Felicio rejected the governor’s offer, telling him that the rally would go on and that if the governor wanted to meet they could do so after the rally.
You will recall the rally did in fact go on. Despite the fact that it was not supported by NYSUT, an estimated crowd of 2,500 gathered outside Villa Lombardi’s to protest Cuomo’s education reform agenda. The rally clearly sent a very powerful message to the governor that the parents and teachers of New York State will “remember in November” the havoc that his policies have wreaked on the children of our communities. Unless he displays a startling and dramatic change of course regarding his education policies in the very near future he can count on no support in November’s election from the people in New York State who value public education, whether NYSUT endorses him or not.
Following the rally, Percoco once again reached out to Felicio to request a meeting with the governor. Cuomo’s re-election campaign clearly is rattled by the tidal wave of support for public education that stands in clear opposition to the reform agenda he has helped to force upon our community schools throughout his term in office. Felicio agreed to the meeting and arranged to bring a few trusted friends in the fight for public education. Yesterday five Stronger Together local presidents, including Felicio, Tim Southerton (President of the Sayville Teachers Association), Laura Spencer (President of the Smithtown Teachers Association), Kevin Coyne (Brentwood Teachers Association), and our very own Beth Dimino were joined by Brad Lindell (Vice-President of the Connetquot Teachers Association) at a meeting with the governor.
At the meeting the team raised concerns about high stakes testing, APPR’s, the tax cap, charter schools, Pearson, and RttT, among other things. Dimino told the governor that given his actions up to this point she could only assume that he didn’t know the truth about the harmful agenda he had been pushing. After the group gave him the perspective of real classroom teachers they suggested potential solutions to the disastrous situation his policies have created. Dimino then warned him that he now knew the truth and that there is no excuse for the continuation of such policies. She stated that there would be a price to pay if swift action is not taken to undo much of what has been done up to this point. Dimino explained to the Governor that there were two things he could do immediately to mitigate the devastating impact his agenda has had on NYS students, first decouple the testing from teacher evaluations and then decouple all of the unfunded mandates from the tax cap, either by funding those mandates or by making them exclusionary under the cap.
Cuomo, who was polite, respectful, and attentive during the meeting that lasted nearly two hours, responded with a lot of “I didn’t know” or “It’s not my fault” types of answers. He also told them, “I thought everybody loved charter schools?!” Additionally he warned that we may want to cancel the rally scheduled for the New York Democratic Convention on May 22nd in Melville so that we don’t upset other Democratic politicians. Let me be very clear here: The rally will go on! As Felicio warned on April 28th, the Lombardi’s rally was just a warm up for a bigger, louder, more intense one on May 21st.
Finally Cuomo pledged to create a task force of classroom teachers to more deeply investigate the issues discussed. He said he would be in touch with NYSUT President Karen Magee to create that task force. Unfortunately Magee is no fan of the PJSTA, so don’t expect Dimino or many other NYSUT members critical of the Mulgrew/Pallotta/Revive NYSUT coup to make the cut for the task force. Of course we have been down the task force road with Cuomo before. Typically what happens is that any voices of truth who speak for teachers and students are ignored so that Cuomo can stock his war chest with big money from Wall Street, Pearson, and Eva Moskowitz. In the end the losers are usually public schools and the communities they serve. Color me skeptical when it comes to any meaningful changes being made. Still, for a change, it was nice to know that our message was sent to the governor yesterday, loud and clear.