Teacher union president in Holley says governor holding schools ‘hostage’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 March 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Julie Wantuck, president of the Holley Teachers Association, has attended rallies and forums against Gov. Cuomo’s plans and actions about education. She is pictured last week in a hallway at Holley Middle/High School.

HOLLEY – At this time of the year, school officials are usually close to ironing out the final details for school budgets that will go before residents in a public vote in May.

State legislators and the governor are also in the final week before a deadline to pass the state budget. Normally, an unclear fiscal picture comes into focus for school officials by the end of March.

But this year, school officials still feel very much in the dark about their budgets and that’s because their biggest source of revenue, state aid, is an unknown from Albany.

“The main thing right now is the governor is holding our school districts hostage,” said Julie Wantuck, president of the Holley Teachers Association.

Gov. Cuomo refused to provide aid projections for about 700 school districts in January as part of the governor’s budget, an unprecedented move. He is trying to pressure state legislators to approve educational reforms, including a new system for evaluating teachers.

The governor wants 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student scores on standardized tests. Right now 20 percent of the score is based on those assessments.

Wantuck, a high school English teacher, said it’s wrong to put so much emphasis on one test.

“If the governor’s job performance was evaluated on one day, whether all the state legislators were in for a vote, what would his evaluation look like?” Wantuck said.

The current system for evaluating teachers puts much of the weight on local control and subjective factors, such as evaluations from principals, Cuomo said.

Julie Wantuck wears this button.

He calls the current evaluations “baloney” because 99 percent of teachers state-wide are rated effective even though he said only 38 percent of high school graduates are considered ready for college or careers.

Wantuck said other factors play a role in student performance, in particular poverty. She said the governor should focus on those issues if he wants to elevate student scores.

“Why is he going after the teachers and vilifying them?” Wantuck said. “I think he’s hitting on sound bites to sway public opinion.”

A poll last week from Quinnipiac University showed the public disapproved of the way the governor is handling public education by a 63-28 margin. In a nearly 3-to-1 margin, New Yorkers oppose using state test scores for making high-stakes decisions about teachers.

Wantuck said the governor is trying to build support for charter schools, at the expense of public school districts. She worries districts like Holley will see an exodus of state funding and students as the governor tries to direct more resources to charter schools.

“They’re creating a two-tiered system,” she said.

She attended a rally in Spencerport about education issues last week. Teachers have been holding rallies and forums around the state, trying to push back against Cuomo.

She is critical of Cuomo’s withholding of aid numbers, using that tactic to sway the State Legislature to fall in line with his proposals.

“There are rules for preparing budgets and the School Boards have to follow them,” Wantuck said. “But the governor isn’t following his own rules. Where is the integrity in that?”