Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On East Ramapo, the UFT and AFT Disagree

AFT President Randi Weingarten

National, state teachers' unions split on East Ramapo

ALBANY—The state teachers’ union and its national sibling appear to be at odds over a proposal for state oversight in Rockland County’s troubled East Ramapo school district.
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who previously led New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, reacted late Monday on Twitter to the State Education Department's release of a series of reports on the district’s failure to provide state-mandated academic support to students with limited English proficiency.
Weingarten tweeted: “1 more story on #EastRamapo -now on ELLs. I grew up in Rockland so it's personal-when is childrens’ deprivation enough to warrant a monitor.”
Weingarten was not immediately available to elaborate on her tweet.
State lawmakers who represent East Ramapo have pushed legislation that would empower a state-appointed monitor to veto decisions of the locally elected school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish leaders who have been accused of shortchanging public school students in order to benefit those who attend private yeshivas. Members of the state Assembly’s Democratic majority pushed the bill through that chamber earlier this month, but it is stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The national union president seems to be willing to say what New York State United Teachers won’t.
As Capital reported Monday, NYSUT has remained neutral in the debate over the contentious legislation, despite that the district leadership has fired about 170 teachers in recent years.
East Ramapo district leaders have ordered deep cuts in staff and academic programs over the last five years, attracting scrutiny from the comptroller’s office as well as the education department. The school board and superintendent argue the district’s problems are due to underfunding, specifically a state aid formula that fails to account for the unique demographics of the district, where most students attend private schools.
When asked last week to explain NYSUT’s position, a spokesman simply reiterated that the union was neutral. But on Tuesday, following Capital’s article, the education department’s reports and Weingarten’s tweet, NYSUT posted a lengthy statement on its website stressing its support for funding increases in the district.
“NYSUT's record on issues of equity is unequivocal,” according to the statement. “NYSUT is proud to be a leading advocate for students in high-needs communities—dedicated to ensuring every child has effective teachers, small class sizes and the resources for a quality public education. We continue to press at the state level for the support and resources students in East Ramapo deserve including the $15.3 million owed by the state in foundation aid and for solutions that respect and build on the voices of parents and educators at the district level.
“Together, we must ensure every student in a high-needs district, our English Language Learners and students with disabilities receive the quality public education they deserve,” the statement continued. “We will continue to fight the underfunding of small cities, challenging the undemocratic tax cap that limits opportunity for students and pressing a legislative agenda focusing relentlessly on statewide solutions to the inequity that unfairly penalizes children in high-needs communities."
NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn linked to the statement in a tweet shortly after, commenting: “How about $15.3 million in owed aid? @nysut continues to press for resources, support for students in East Ramapo.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers are unsure whether they’ll have a deal before session ends. Now in overtime, the Legislature will return to the Capitol on Tuesday in hopes of reaching an agreement on other unresolved issues with broader impact, particularly rent regulations.
Senate Republican leaders have denounced the legislation giving a state monitor veto power over the district’s school board as “draconian.”
Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democratic Conference member from Rockland County, has tried to bridge the gap between the chamber’s leaders and his colleagues in the Assembly.
Assembly members Ellen Jaffee and Kenneth Zebrowski said they were willing to establish a process where the monitor appeals a decision of the school board to the education department rather than give the monitor unilateral veto power.
But the Democrats want the monitor to have the power to appeal any decisions he or she believes would harm children in the district. The Senate wants the monitor to have less power, appealing only violations of state and federal law. For about a week, the two sides have been unable to find compromise on this specific aspect of the legislation.
“There’s no new progress,” Zebrowski told Capital on Monday.
“We believe the commissioner of education and other agencies can already enforce violations of law,” he said. We believe the monitor needs a broader enforcement power. … But the Senate has refused to move at all on that salient issue. I even think, in discussions, they take steps backwards.”
A spokesman for the Senate G.O.P. did not return a request for comment.
Carlucci pressed Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he is actively seeking legislators’ support for state oversight in East Ramapo, to get more involved in negotiations.
“We are close to having a deal,” Carlucci said. “There are some hang ups, but that’s where with the governor’s leadership, working with the Senate and the Assembly, we can get something done. He knows if we don’t do something, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
Darren Dopp, a spokesman for the district, said, "We have not seen the reports in question, but we are eager to review them. We have a growing ELL population in the district and we want to do right by these deserving students. We welcome the input from SED."
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

No comments: