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2011 UFT Lobby Day

City’s educators get their message across

More than 1,200 make annual trek to Albany

City's educators get their message acrossUFTers armed with plenty of factual ammunition head toward the Capital. There was much at stake for New York City’s public school children when more than 1,200 UFTers descended on Albany for the union’s annual lobby day on March 1. And they swept the halls of the Capitol filled with anger, passion and frustration, letting legislators know that they are tired of being blamed for a budget crisis they didn’t create.

Teachers from around the five boroughs spent the day fighting for school aid restoration, teacher center funding and the renewal of the “millionaire’s tax,” which would drive billions of much-needed dollars to New York City over the next two years.

When it was over, and the 34 busloads of educators headed home, veteran lobbyist Dennis Gault, chapter leader at PS 219 in Manhattan, called the day “the greatest of them all.”

“It’s been a great experience,” said Gault, who has been making the trek for 18 years. “Teachers delivered their messages with passion and the energy was synergetic. They were not talking from a list but from the heart.”

A strong supporter of the union’s position that the wealthy need to do their part to help fix the budget, Gault noted, “We’ve already sacrificed. I’m not a trust-fund kid. I pay my bills with my paycheck.”

Kevin Zilber, a kindergarten teacher and chapter leader at PS 77, Manhattan, made the point, “It’s expensive to educate a whole society.”

Firing up a crowd already at low boil before they headed off for their meetings, UFT President Michael Mulgrew urged members: “Teach better than you have ever taught before so that the legislators will be able to di more than just pass a test, but be able to truly understand.”

He spoke of a city drifting toward “a caste system” as the earnings gap widens and with the millionaire’s tax about to possibly sunset.

He recommended that educators tell the stories of what’s going on in their schools to help our elected representatives understand how deep budget cuts have already taken a toll.

“You are our strongest voice,” he said.

During a lively discussion in Assemblyman Jose Rivera’s office, Sean Brock of PS 33 in the Bronx described how his school is “doing more with less every year.” Fifth-year teacher Maria Lopez of PS 91, also in the Bronx, asked Rivera about his position on the millionaire’s tax — which he said he supports.

First-time lobbyist Geri Shea made it clear that the loss of programs, support services and English-as-a-second-language teachers at PS 86 in Brooklyn was taking its toll. In her class of 24, 16 are ESL students who will be expected to take the tests on which her school will then be evaluated.

Legislators and their staff had plenty of questions for UFT members as well, on issues such as class size and layoffs.

Donna Francina of PS 15, Manhattan, said, “We’re fighting to keep teachers in the classroom” so that class sizes don’t get even more out of control.

Perniece Richardson never thought she’d be fighting for her job after 20 years of “good and dedicated service.” A science teacher at PS 137, Manhattan, she remembers when the city was “begging us to go to needy schools — even offering us parking spots. Now they’re blaming us.”

New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes applauded the UFTers for their sense of purpose, citing unions as “the backbone of fairness and the values of our country.” And New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi declared that the state’s solidly united 600,000 NYSUT members “will not let the seeds blowing in from Wisconsin grow.”

In a final send-off, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on the lobbyists “to make your voices heard and help us so another generation of children will not be shortchanged in the education they deserve.”

On the bus heading home, parent Jianghai Wang of PS 51 in Manhattan rated the day “a great experience.”

Jolan Nagi, the new chapter leader at Richard Green HS of Teaching and a first-time lobbyist, said that with so much on the line, any legislators that he didn’t see he will “catch at home.”

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