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Teachers stage New Year's Eve protest at governor's mansion

Karen DeWitt

Teachers union members and pro-charter school advocates demonstrated outside the governor’s mansion on New Year’s Eve, as inside, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his partner Sandra Lee greeted guests who won a lottery attend an annual open house, one day before the governor is to begin his second term.

Around 100 teachers from several regions of the state gathered in the biting cold to protest what they believe is Cuomo’s unfair stance against teachers and the union that represents them. They even wrote a song, that in part, labels the governor “clueless."

Teachers are angered over remarks Cuomo has made in recent weeks, saying he wants to break up the public school monopoly. Cuomo also vetoed a bill in the final days of the year, that he originally sponsored. It would have protected New York’s teachers from the effects of Common Core related testing for another two years. The botched roll out of the new standards has created tensions.

But New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee says she wants to change the tone, and reach out to the governor to understand the plight of the teachers and students, who she says are understaffed and over-tested. The teachers have invited the governor to a series of public forums.

“The governor doesn’t understand education and what needs to be done,” Magee said.

When asked whether she thinks the scene is set for a heated feud with the governor in 2015, she would not directly answer.

"We'll do what we need to do," Magee said.

Credit Karen DeWitt

A group of charter school advocates stood on another corner across from the governor’s mansion, with signs that read “Thank You Governor “ and “Great Job Cuomo."

Jamaal Hood, who works at a charter school in Albany and advocates raising the state cap to allow more charter schools, says his group is not opposed to the teacher’s union, and views them as being on the same side.

“We need more resources, there should be more accountability,” Hood said. “We’re about just trying to get students to graduate and to move on and live productive lives.”  

Inside the mansion, Cuomo and Lee greeted guests, who were ushered in in small groups to shake the governor’s hand and exchange pleasantries.

Cuomo took a break from the receiving line to comment to news media about the protests outside. He says he respects teachers, but the disagreement is about how best to get rid of bad instructors. And he says the current teacher evaluation system is flawed, and must be changed.

“I understand the union’s issue, that they don’t want anyone fired,” Cuomo said. “But we have teachers who have been found guilty of sexually abusing students that we can’t get out of the classroom.”

Cuomo says students also have rights, to not be taught by poorly performing teachers. The governor says he expects education to be at the top of the agenda in 2015.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.