The rowdy protest last week against the hiring of New Berlin, Wis., Superintendent Paul Kreutzer as the next superintendent of the Katonah-Lewisboro schools, which brought out hundreds of teachers from around Westchester and Putnam, gave teachers an outlet for their frustration at being blamed for financial problems faced by districts and taxpayers.
But it was also an attempt to send the message that New York teachers would not accept the changes to union rights seen in other parts of the country and reflected a fear that those policies could gain a foothold here.
Kreutzer became a flashpoint in Westchester because he stood next to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and endorsed his bill stripping most public employees of collective bargaining rights. Despite that, Kreutzer was hired in a unanimous vote of the Katonah-Lewisboro school board.
The protest was a statement that “we’re not going to tolerate that in New York,” said Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the New York State United Teachers.
Pat Puleo, the president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, which sent teachers to the protest along with unions from Bedford, Brewster, Yorktown, Rye, Greenburgh, Chappaqua and other districts, said Kreutzer’s hiring sent a powerful negative message.
“What we saw happen in Wisconsin was like taking a knife to teachers’ throats,” she said.
While Iannuzzi and others acknowledge that Wisconsin-style changes to union rights are unlikely in New York given the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and most state lawmakers for collective bargaining rights, they are pushing back against proposals to base layoffs on evaluations and not seniority and to repeal the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law.
The Triborough Amendment says that the provisions of an expired contract, including step increases but not salary increases, stay in place while a new contract is negotiated.
Katonah-Lewisboro and several other districts have signed onto a resolution put forward by the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association that calls out the Triborough amendment as an impediment to cost control by districts. That is an attack on collective bargaining rights, said Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers Union President Sandy Grebinar.