NYSUT convention ‘loud and clear’ against Cuomo and King

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At the opening of a Manhattan convention drawing thousands of unionized teachers, a chant rang through the crowd: “King and Cuomo have to go—hey hey, ho ho.”

“Now, now,” New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi responded, calming the crowd as he took the podium Friday night. “You'll get no argument from me.”

As NYSUT delegates prepare to choose the future leaders of their powerful organization at Saturday night's elections, they expressed dissatisfaction with their statewide officials: Governor Andrew Cuomo and state education commissioner John King.

During the convention, the teachers griped about Cuomo's property-tax cap, his signature teacher evaluation system and a his recent push to grow charter schools, and delegates voted to denounce a merit-pay fund that Cuomo championed in the newly approved state budget. The delegates also voted to withdraw confidence in King, and for the first time in NYSUT's history, the union didn't invite the education commissioner to the convention.

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Throughout the convention, union speakers embraced a theme: Cuomo's and King's policies are not just requirements with which teachers must comply; they are hardships to be endured and survived.

“The great recession and the election of Andrew Cuomo by a huge margin hit the public sector hard,” Iannuzzi said during his opening speech. "We needed to regroup, and we did. We did that at NYSUT better than anyone."

First vice president Maria Neira said the union sent a "loud and clear" message, instead of an invitation: "He's got to go," she said.

Cuomo's office did not return a request for comment. Dennis Tompkins, spokesman for the education department, said the vote of no confidence and rhetoric against King were “union politics as usual.”

“The commissioner remains focused on improving our school to ensure sure every student can build the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college and a career,” Tompkins said.

NYSUT donated to Cuomo's campaign this year for the first time since 2009, buying a $10,000 table at the governor's December birthday party fundraiser. But more recently, Cuomo has been at odds with public school teachers. The governor joined a push for charter schools and fought for a property-tax “freeze” in the budget, prompting the union to launch a $1.5 million advertising campaign against Cuomo and the State Senate.

King's approval among teachers has suffered throughout the flawed implementation of the Common Core standards and as he has attempted to improve the rollout, much to their dissatisfaction.

“At this point, a lot of folks believe, as I do, that policies from King, policies from Cuomo, have directly impacted schools in a negative way,” NYSUT executive vice president Andy Pallotta said.