CSA PRESIDENT MARK CANNIZZARO’S ADDRESS AT THE 2018 CSA CONFERENCE
On behalf of myself and my partners, Executive Vice President Henry Rubio, First Vice President Rosemary Sinclair, and everyone here at CSA, good afternoon my brother and sisters! We are humbled by your support and so honored to represent you.
Speaking to so many of you this morning, hearing from keynote speaker John Gordon, and looking out at this ballroom and seeing more CSA members here than ever before brings me back to a conversation that I had with my father just last week.
My father’s an 85-year-old Korean war veteran. He lost the life of his life, my mom, a little more than four years ago. We don’t live that close to each other, and so we go out to dinner about once a week to stay in touch and communicate. And we speak about everything. From the Yankees and the Giants (which has been difficult lately), to politics, family, the stock market, and from time to time, CSA. And last week when we sat down, he asked me something that I know has been on his mind for the last six years.
He said, “Mark, I see the long hours that you keep and the phone calls you take late in the evening and on weekends and holidays. And I know that the Department of Education, and the City of New York, and sometimes even your own members can be difficult to please. Are you happy you made the move?”
That question brought me back to June of 2012 when Ernie Logan asked me to come on board the leadership team during a Saturday morning union retreat. Of course, I was extremely honored and humbled, but I was also unsure. So, I asked him if I could have the weekend to consider it.
It just so happened that that same day my family was hosting a high school graduation party for my oldest daughter. When I got in the car, I called my mom and dad and I said, “I’d like a family meeting. Can you get to the party a little early?” I called my wife and I said, “Get everyone together.” When I got home, we sat down, and I asked everyone their opinion.
My mom was unsure and said, “You might miss your school and your students too much.” And my dad was a little bit concerned that the politics involved wouldn’t be for me. My wife, Barbara, as she always does, offered me her full support regardless of what I decided. And she’s here with us today still supporting me 100%. Barbara, thank you. I could not do this work without you.
But it was my middle child… oh, the middle child, right? She got my attention. She stepped up and she said, “Dad, you only live once. You gotta go for it.”
So, getting back to dinner with my dad… I told him mom was right. I miss my school every single day. A piece of my heart and soul remains at Paulo Intermediate School. And to my dad’s point, I admitted that it’s frustrating when politics and bureaucracy win out over what’s best for kids.
But then I told him about some of the amazing, amazing professionals that we at CSA represent. And, of course, I was speaking about each of you in this room.
You have the most difficult jobs in the system. So far be it for me to complain about any sacrifices that I make. You are incredibly talented, you are dedicated and you are caring. You are the first ones in your buildings in the morning and the last ones to leave. And you are held responsible for everything.
Instructional leader is a nice title, but that’s only such a small part of what you do. When you are not at work, you’re thinking about work. You stand tall. You lead with integrity and positive energy. Reminding everyone in your charge that it is their collective responsibility to teach all the children that they have. You love your students. You love your schools. And you find this incredible, yet exhausting profession to be also rewarding beyond explanation. Beyond explanation to those that don’t understand, the ones who call us crazy for doing what we do. But not to us in this room. We get it. We understand. You lead schools or daycare centers, or you do the incredibly important yet often unsung work of supporting those who do. I have learned from you. I have celebrated accomplishments with you. And I have grieved with you as you have led your school communities through some tragic events. And team CSA has supported so many of you when the Department of Education lacked the courage to stand shoulder to shoulder with you during a falsely alleged professional or political misstep.
I thought of some of the remarkable people that I’ve met from among your ranks, and I told my dad about some of them.
I told him about John Boyle and his team out at IS 34 who lined the streets with over 1000 students, their hands over their hearts, outside a child’s funeral mass. And how that same group of CSA members provided a full-blown prom in the home of another child who was too sick to leave the house.
And I told him about Corey Prober of Co-Op Tech, who just this year endured the unimaginable tragedy of a student dying in his building. Yet despite his own grief, he secured the funds so that that young man’s family could lay him to rest with the dignity that he deserved.
I think about Eric Contreras and the CSA members over at Stuyvesant High School, all 11 of them. They led with precision and compassion after a terrorist attack and a serious escalator accident in the building occurred within one year of each other.
And I told him about district 75 Principal James McKeon. He couldn’t stand seeing one of his students limp around his building on an outdated and ill-fitting prosthetic device. So, he went out and gathered the resources to provide this child with a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg. He’s a big guy, so when he talks, people listen. And you should hear how he states with authority and passion that his special needs students may be different, but they are not less. And he will never allow anyone to treat them as less or provide them with less.
And how about Nadia Lopez? Author, motivational speaker, and award-winning principal. Most recently honored alongside Barack and Michelle Obama for her anti-racism work.
I think about our daycare directors, mostly women of color, working in community-based organizations who have been underpaid and overworked for years. Yet they show up every single day being positive anyway and giving our youngest New York City citizens an opportunity that they would have never had.
And then I think of the late Patricia Cooper. Wiley Bergen. Gladys de la Cruz. Vilma Perez. Tania McCray. Rayann McElvine. And Teddy Rivera. All CSA members who, in the last year alone, passed away while in active service to the students in this city.
And sadly, thinking about these heroes also makes me angry. Do you know that the City of New York and the Department of Education has taken the position that their families are not entitled to the retroactive lump sum payments that they earned? That’s right. This city has denied their families the money they earned but did not live long enough to collect. I thought I heard it all, but that incredible lack of compassion and morals is a new low to me. However, it also motivates me, this disgraceful injustice, to continue fighting and working and bringing this to arbitration, and also bringing it to the court of public opinion. And for those families, we will prevail.
And what about the schools that many of you lead? Our blue ribbon schools. Our schools in hospitals and in prisons. Our specialized programs. Our amazing teams and clubs. The schools I visit where leadership is so evident that the school seems to embody the spirit and personality of those leading. I sit in on cabinet meetings and I hear passion and enthusiasm. Even the frustration I hear is rooted in a burning desire to want more for the students you serve.
I chose all of these examples off the top of my head, and there are so many more. I could go on and on about the heroes you all are. You really are stars in your communities. You cherish those little notes of thanks that you get. And those chance meetings in the grocery store where you’re approached by some full-grown adult who asks you if in fact you are that person that had such a critical impact at such an important time in their lives. Brothers and sisters, to borrow a bit from our speaker John Gordon this morning, you don’t just have a mission statement. You are on a mission.
So, after all that, I looked at my dad, I smiled and I said simply to him, “Yes Dad. I made the right decision.”
And it’s not just me who recognizes your efforts. Our chancellor has been extremely impressed. And I know that because he’s told me so.
But you and I also know that you could do even more for your students if you weren’t so busy with the minutia that does nothing to help their development. That is why so many of you were ecstatic to hear our chancellor say that he has charged each executive superintendent with identifying five to ten things to come off your plates. You were so excited, in fact, that you almost forgot you had been pulled out of the building for the second time in the week before school started. I know some of you were saying we’ve heard the promises to address our workload before. And you’re right. And the only real result, year after year, has been what? More work. Now I’m told that they’re going to convene a task force which generally means there are no real plans to do anything at all. So, we will suggest that as the task force ponders ideas, they get to work on eliminating the items that we already know are a waste of time, money and resources.
Like the awful attempts to measure your practice instead of trying to help you improve it. We have the CEP and PPOs and a quality review, and an environment survey, and a state quality review. We have ENL visits and IEP reviews, and the Framework for Great Schools. Do we need them all? Ask yourself, how much have they actually helped you improve? How much time is spent reading and understanding the academic policy manual, the various SOPM’s, Chancellor’s Regulations, preparing all the plans and protocols that we’re responsible for? And that’s before we get to the P-Weekly and all of its links. And what about the time we spend completing the CORe form? And waiting for a response? While you wait for the response, children with special needs remain underserved.
Or the time wasted investigating baseless allegations. Or similarly being investigated. And we will be optimistic about the promised workload relief, but we are also going to hold them accountable for it.
And we will also keep pushing back on policies and practices that impede your progress, like Fair Student Funding. We have spent a lot of time talking about equity lately, for good reason. So, how is it that some of our students are worth full Fair Student Funding and others are not? I don’t think it makes sense to anyone that so many of our principals spend their entire summers fighting for a budget appeal instead of planning for the upcoming school year. And why is it that every time we got told there is simply no more money for our students, some new multi-million dollar initiative is announced?
We also need to think about retaining and recruiting excellent principals. Sadly, too many great ones retire when they still have so much to give, and too many potentially great ones are not interested in the job. It would be a start if, once the DOE selected the leader of their choice, they would sit back and then support them. Principals need to have the discretion to make the decisions that they know are best for their students. The DOE must ignore anonymous allegations, which are often used as weapons by those unwilling or unable to make the changes that we know are necessary to improve our schools.
And if they really want people to step up and lead schools, you need more help. That help must come in the form of more assistant principals. Every single school, regardless of size, must have an assistant principal. And the DOE should commit to funding additional APs based on an agreed upon formula. Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about these new teacher leadership positions that sound a hell of a lot like AP positions to me. With one big exception: They come with a prep and a professional period. We must remind our principals that our APs fill all of these roles and more. Like the critical role they play in the safe orderly operation of schools. And we must remind our principals that they, not anyone above them, make the hiring decisions for their schools.
Speaking of safety, it has been just over eight months since the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida left 17 people dead. I attended a press conference just a few months later with a junior from that school whose life was saved when a classmate shielded her body with his own. The deceased child remained on top of her until help arrived. It was gut wrenching to hear her tell her story. While we have plans and protocols for when a crisis arises, the DOE has implemented few, if any, preventative measures. Right after the massacre, I publicly called for a number of practical and noncontroversial security measures. Many of you expressed overwhelming support for these ideas, but the DOE and the City did nothing. Why is it that none of us can enter Tweed Court House and City hall without going through scanning, but we are not even permitted to lock the front door of our school building during the school day?
At the heart of the matter is really this: If the DOE was truly interested in attracting and retaining more great leaders like you, your voice would be heard at the bargaining table. And they would fight to increase your discretion rather than agreeing to compromise it. Have you read the new teachers MOA? Don’t get me wrong, our hard-working teachers deserve to be respected. But whose interest did the DOE have in mind when it bargained away your discretion to create school level postings? How about when they agreed that you would attend even more meetings and be responsible to provide the chapter leader with monthly reports? And I have no idea what they were thinking with their “Collaborative Schools Plan.” Putting aside the fact that a plan like this should never be part of a collective bargaining agreement, how can they call for collaboration without having their school leaders on board? Perhaps they temporarily forgot who truly runs our schools, who keeps this system afloat, and who they need to execute their plans. But don’t worry, I’ve made it perfectly clear that they can design any plan they want, but not much is going to happen until the critical role that you play is duly considered and respected.
Yet, I remain hopeful that we will overcome these issues. As President Obama said to us, “Hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists despite all evidence to the contrary that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, and to keep fighting.”
I have hope that our chancellor listened when we told him that schools can’t be from Tweed or City Hall. And thus far, he has gone out and done some things. He’s appointed nine executive superintendents with the intention of moving decisions closer to the schools. Our executive superintendents must be empowered, and you should feel comfortable knowing that they are the only ones you need to convince on almost any and every decision. Especially if it involves supporting your students or something critical to the operation of your building. If our executive superintendents turn out not to be the final decision makers, we’ll have come to the conclusion that they’re just another layer in a bloated bureaucracy.
As I said, I remain hopeful. And with your support, I am much more than hopeful. I am completely confident. I look around this room right now and I see retirees, many of whom risked their jobs to form this union. They walked picket lines so that you and I could enjoy a middle class lifestyle during our working and retired years. Like proud parents seeing their children lead a better life, they remain active and committed to us. And because each of you share in that commitment, we will continue to progress.
As a result of our collective bargaining, you have just received a six percent salary increase and your salaries have gone up over ten percent in the last year alone. You will continue to benefit with lump sum retroactive payments each February through 2021. And you know I’m not going to miss this opportunity to remind those of you who recently received retroactive money from your years in the UFT, that it is due to the solidarity of your brothers and your sisters in this room who refused to leave you behind. In our last round of bargaining, those who had nothing to gain stuck by your side so that you would not be harmed.
And we are not done. We are currently at the bargaining table working to secure a fair agreement on paid parental leave and a successor agreement to our current contract. For this, I call on you to show the same patience and solidarity that you did the last time. Our current contract runs through April 2019, and recent history has shown us that we fare best when our membership stands together with us, strong and patient, in support of each other. I don’t think we’ve let you down yet, and you have my word we’re not going to let you down now.
And you, brothers and sisters, have not let us down either. Last November, standing in this room, I challenged you. I told you of the Constitutional Convention and the sustained and continued attacks on unions and public education. And I told you that the Janus case was designed to convince union members to defund their own union. I referenced Dr. Martin Luther King calling “Right To Work” laws an attack on civil rights and an attack on job rights. Dr. King rightly pointed out that wherever these laws have been passed, job opportunities are fewer and wages are lower.
And here we are now. The Supreme Court has defied all logic, and they voted five to four in favor of Mark Janus. Overturning a nine to zero precedent. But together we decided that we were going to look at this challenge as a great opportunity. And you embraced it. You united around a common cause. You committed to attending union meetings and encouraging others to do so. You spent time educating your colleagues on the power of a strong union.
Your first opportunity was to defeat the Constitutional Convention. Polls were indicating a 70% to 30% “yes” vote. Our enemies were salivating over a chance to get their hands on your pensions and your benefits. But you and your union brothers and sisters across the state, showed up to vote and you brought others with you. Instead of a 70 to 30% vote for, the final result, due to our collective voices, was an incredible 83% to 17% vote against the constitutional convention.
And then came the Janus case. We all witnessed teachers across this country pushing back. We saw successful and historic campaigns in West Virginia, Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington state. Our nation’s school leaders came together in Maryland this summer at the AFSA Triennial Convention to recommit to unity, and we all left fired up. Our CSA field staff, our chairs, our executive board members all began expanding their reach. They engaged all members and they listened to all opinions. Their goal was, and continues to be, to embrace all and welcome them into the CSA family. We have seen attendance at this conference and at district union meetings increase. In fact, right now I need to make a special shout out. For the first time in CSA history, every single CSA member in an entire district registered to attend this conference. Congratulations, and a huge, huge thank you to our District 14 CSA members led by an amazing unionist and outstanding principal, Brian De Vale. Thank you all so much.
We held new member receptions in eight different locations during the month of October to congratulate new members and welcome them into this family. We have invested in district CSA committees so that there is more support for you at the local level. We have added a political liaison to every district to get your input and advice on political endorsements and educational laws. We have stood up and supported those who are being unfairly attacked by the media by showing up en masse and making statements at CEC and PEP meetings. Our great legal and grievance teams have been successful time and again protecting your rights and the jobs of our members against injustice. We have come together to support the families of our brothers and sisters in times of sadness and grief. And the outpouring of love that I have seen from you is profoundly moving. So we have agreed to begin setting aside dollars to create a disaster relief fund for CSA members. Today I am so proud to announce that in addition to the five college scholarships we traditionally present to a graduating high school senior in each borough, we have created another scholarship that will be specifically for the child of a CSA member. Applications will be out soon, and due to your generosity and the generosity of our sponsors and vendors, the 2019 college scholarship for the child of a CSA member will be $10,000.
So, how else did we respond to this Janus opportunity? Well, I am so thrilled to tell you that while experts were telling us to brace for a 30% reduction in union membership, that we did not see a 30% reduction in new membership. We didn’t see a 20% reduction. And we didn’t see 10% reduction. In fact, we have seen no reduction in union membership since the Janus case. And even better, since the Janus decision, we have actually seen an increase in union membership. How did that happen? When all of our former agency fee payers realized they had to make a decision on whether they were in or out, they asked for a union card and they joined this union.
I thank all of you for making that happen. Because of you, CSA is strong and CSA is unified. We can and should celebrate this. But we will not rest. Our enemies are still at it. They are lobbying our members now to leave our union. And they are filing lawsuits across this country demanding even more than the anti-union Supreme Court has ordered.
But I know for sure now that we will not quit on each other. You, who give your heart and your soul to this profession, to the students you serve, and to your union, often at such great personal sacrifice. You will continue to fight, and we will continue to prevail. You will continue to educate your colleagues, telling them your personal stories and reminding them of all that we have accomplished together and how much more we plan to do. You will remind them that the cost of not paying for their union dues will be far greater than the cost of paying them.
In the final speech of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King implored union members to be concerned about their brothers and sisters as, in his words, “we will either go up together, or down together.” Brothers and sisters, you have shown me that you do have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, and to keep fighting. And because of you, we are headed up, and we are headed there together.
Thank you all. Enjoy the rest of your day. And may God bless you and the work that you do.