A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
ALBANY—A New York school district cutscloseto 200 teachers over five years, and the state’s powerful teachers’ union is silent. Sound strange?
“Despicable” is how one lawmaker characterized it.
Members of the state Legislature and the Board of Regents, particularly those who are black and Latino, are questioning the decision by New York State United Teachers to remain neutral on a contentious debate over control of the East Ramaposchools, which has divided state leaders and the Rockland County community along religious and racial lines.
Lawmakers are still attempting to negotiatea plan establishing state oversight of the district, even as the legislative session, now in overtime, has been dominated by issues with broader impact like rent control andproperty taxes.
NYSUT, a 600,000-member union and powerful force in Albany and around the state, has stayed out of it and some leaders wonder why.
Senator David Carlucci, an Independent Democratic Conference member who represents the troubled school district and isengaged in ongoing discussionsabout legislation, said he has sought NYSUT’s support but without success.
“I have been trying to work with them to get them to support the bill, and they refuse to support it,” Carlucci said. “I haven’t gotten an official reason. They’ve just stayed out of it. I try to bring it up to them whenever I can and I don’t get anywhere.”
Community relations are fraught in East Ramapo, where representatives of a growing Orthodox Jewish population have gained a majority on the school board even though their constituents send their children to private yeshivas. The board has ordered deep cuts in recent years—including the elimination of 400jobs, 168 of them teaching positions—causing a variety of state agencies, including the comptroller's office and education department, to scrutinize its decisions.
The dispute is complicated by the fact the public school population is increasingly made up of low-income families, immigrants who do not speak English and students with disabilities.
Public education advocates have accused the board of making decisions that favor the private school students at the expense of the poor, minority children attending public schools. The superintendent and school board have argued the district’s troubles are caused by underfunding, particularly a state aid formula that fails toaccountfor the community’s unique demographics, given that most children attend private schools.
“That’s despicable that they can be neutral on the discrimination against black and Latino children in the public school system,” Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat, said of the union. “That’s a political position. That’s not a moral position. That’s not an educational, that’s not a pedagogical position. That’s ridiculous. All of us support NYSUT. We support teachers. And for them to sit on the fence on this is absurd.”
Members of the Board of Regents, a 17-member education policymaking panel, have also criticized NYSUT for its non-position. In hopes of addressing the problems in East Ramapo, the board last year taskedan attorneywith studying the district and delivering legislative recommendations. A bill that passed the Assembly last week but remains stalled in the Senate was the product of that attorney’s report.
Regent Betty Rosa
“I really think they should be supporting the issue of what’s going on in Ramapo, because particularly for black and brown children, it’s having a horrendous impact,” said Regent Betty Rosa, a former New York City schools administrator who represents the Bronx on the board. “So I would assume, given the conditions that these children are subject to, that they would be supportive.”
Regent Judith Johnson, a newly elected member who represents the Hudson Valley, including East Ramapo, said it’s not her place to tell NYSUT where to fall on the bill.
“Maybe that’s a safe place to be. How about that?” she said. “I can’t decide what’s right or wrong for NYSUT. I won’t do that. I think that’s a decision they need to make. Do I think it’s the right bill? Yes, I do think it’s the right bill.”
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, a Democrat from Rockland County who represents East Ramapo, defended NYSUT.
“In my talking to rank-and-file teachers in the district, they are very supportive of the plan, but as you can imagine, a teachers’ association has daily, if not yearly interactions with the board in different aspects,” Zebrowski said. “They’re not going to come out and publicly state something that could hurt their relations with the board. So I actually think the fact that they stayed out of it shows that this isn’t something that the teachers’ union would oppose.”
Jewish lawmakers who oppose the legislation said they didn't have an opinion on NYSUT's decision to stay out of the fight.
Calls to the local teachers’ union in East Ramapo were not returned.
Responding to the criticisms, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said: “Our position hasn’t changed. We remain neutral on the East Ramapo bill.”