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Harrison Union's Karen Magee Elected NYSUT President

NYSUT/NYSTRS WAMC Composite Photo by Dave Lucas

The Common Core controversy has claimed another victim: New York State United Teachers president Dick Iannuzzi, who lost his seat over the weekend. The vote is remarkable for many reasons.

Over the weekend, NYSUT convention-goers elected Karen Magee, the 11-year head of the Harrison teachers union in Westchester County, to a three-year term as president of the New York State United Teachers. She unseated Richard Iannuzzi, who served since 2005, and was just the second NYSUT president in the union’s history.

Observers see the vote as a tear in the status quo that existed in the way the 600,000-member teachers union, the state education commissioner and governor interact.

Jessica Bakeman spent the weekend in Manhattan following NYSUT's 42nd annual "representative assembly." The Capital New York education reporter points out that New York has already seen two education leaders ousted this year.    "The first being the election for the state board of regents, typically an undramatic affair, and yet we saw the Albany area regent pressured to resign. It sort of begs the questions, what's gonna happen in November when Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are up for re-election. It seems pretty clear that the education issues are going to be at play in those contests as well. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is running against Governor Cuomo as a Republican - he has clearly seen the opportunity with the education controversy and capitalized on it as well."

Astorino favors withdrawing entirely from Common Core standards. In a video announcing his three school-aged children won't be participating in new testing standards, he linked it to another political hot potato.  "Common Core didn't come from parents. It didn't come from teachers or school administrators. It came from [Bill] Gates and, later, Washington bureaucrats -- the geniuses who brought us Obamacare."

Magee taught elementary school and special education in Harrison for nearly 30 years.   "As of Sunday, teachers of the New York State United Teachers are feeling empowered, they feeling that they have new life. They're feeling that their voice will be heard. They're feeling that they'll be engage. They're feeling that there will be innovative solutions to address the issues t hat are currently out there impacting their classroom and their ability to work with students."

Magee has been outspoken in her criticism of Common Core. Her election falls into place with an overall ascent of women taking more active leadership roles in New York State politics. Again, Jessica Bakeman.    "Karen Magee is the first woman president of NYSUT and at the end of the convention she gave some remarks in which she pointed out that it was an historic election because of that and there was a lot of applause and some people saying in the crowd 'it's about time,' I guess about 70 per cent of NYSUT's  membership are women. I think they are excited about the fact that they've elected a woman leader, but I don't think that by any means that's the reason they elected Karen or that's the reason why they chose not to continue with Richard Iannuzzi. I think what motivated the change was more a sense of unrest and a sense of dissatisfaction with the way that NYSUT leadership has handled some of the policy changes that have come down with the pike with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well as Education Commissioner John King, name the property tax cap, teacher evaluations, also state aid levels are challenging for a lot of schools, there have been layoffs, so I think teachers felt like they wanted a slate of leaders that, in their opinion, would fight Governor Cuomo and John King, fight their policies more aggressively."

Dennis Tompkins is a spokesman for the Education Department.   "This is just union politics as usual. Commissioner King remains focused on improving our schools to ensure every student can build the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college and career."

Iannuzzi, who was a regular commentator on WAMC, was heavily criticized for a $10,000 donation the union made to Cuomo's re-election campaign, and for not being “tough enough” when it came to opposing Common Core.

Calls to the Cuomo administration were not returned.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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