As the head of the city’s teachers union was reportedly meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aides on Friday, rank-and-file members were voicing their opposition to the governor’s education agenda at the union’s borough hall in the Bronx.
The Bronx event was the first of 11 forums the United Federation of Teachers will hold in February to showcase opposition to Cuomo’s recent budget proposal, which includes plans to raise the charter-school cap, change tenure rules, and increase the portion of a teacher’s evaluation controlled by the state. More than 200 teachers and principals gathered to air their frustration, in a display of the union’s current strategy for opposing Cuomo: encouraging teachers to speak out and then amplifying their concerns.
“I think the governor is out of touch and he doesn’t know what’s going on in schools,” Tracie Abrigo, a teacher at P.S. 63 in the Bronx, said at the meeting. “I don’t think schools should be used as political playgrounds.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew did not attend the Friday forum. A spokeswoman said Mulgrew isn’t planning to attend the forums, which are meant for educators and elected officials.
A UFT spokeswoman said in a statement that the unions “are engaged in the largest grass-roots campaign in recent memory,” but would not comment on a meeting with Gov. Cuomo’s staff, which was reported by the New York Daily News.
A number of Bronx politicians did make appearances, including State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly members Jeffrey Dinowitz, Jose Rivera, Michael Blake, and Carmen Arroyo assured the teachers and principals that they would push back against Cuomo’s proposals. (A fellow Bronx Assemblyman, Carl Heastie, was recently elected speaker and will play a much larger role in budget negotiations.)
“He’s made it clear that he is declaring war on you folks,” said State Senator Rivera, whose Bronx district includes much of the University Heights and Tremont neighborhoods.
The UFT has also launched a social media campaign called “#invitecuomo,” encouraging teachers to issue their own challenges to the governor to come into classrooms. The union’s annual lobbying day is set for March 4 in Albany.
Still, the union is facing a facing a major challenge in beating back the governor’s agenda. Cuomo has said an increase in education funding is contingent upon his policy changes. The UFT was also outspent by the charter school supporters in the 2014 elections, when Democrats failed to hold onto the state Senate.