Syracuse Teachers Union Rebuffs Mayoral Candidate Over School Control, Funding For Charters

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Republican mayoral candidate Laura Lavine has focused much of her campaign on education, and it’s easy to understand why. She’s spent the last 40 years immersed in the Syracuse education system as a speech therapist and as superintendent of the Lafayette County School District. But even though she’s devoted four decades to improving education, she’s now being snubbed by the Syracuse Teachers Union due to her stance on charter school funding and a proposal for mayoral control of the city school system.

In August, Lavine outlined her plan to essentially place the Syracuse City School District under mayoral control. Currently, New York City is the only “Big Five” district in the state with this kind of control. Voters are responsible for choosing the school board now, but if Lavine’s plan were to be enacted, the mayor would be responsible for that task. Her reasoning is that Syracuse schools are suffering from extremely poor performance and that the school board has failed to take both action and responsibility.

“Our city school system in Syracuse is failing,” Lavine explained in a press conference outlining her proposal. “Our students are not learning as they should. They’re not graduating as they should. Our graduation rate recently improved to 60%… Our city officials, sadly, celebrated that the school district had improved its graduation rate to such an abysmal number.”

In addition to this plan, Lavine revealed her intention to increase funding for charter schools. At least 34 states provided less funding per student during the 2013-2014 school year than they did before the Great Recession hit, but the idea of upping the funding for charters is still a controversial one. However, Lavine explained that families who don’t have the means to send their children to private schools often have to suffer the consequence of underperforming (and potentially unsafe) public schools.

But neither of these main points sit well with the city teachers union. Officials say the union does not support Lavine’s proposal for mayoral control nor her advocacy for additional charter school funding. As a result, the Syracuse Teachers Association declined to interview her for a union endorsement.

Lavine fired back, calling the union’s decision an “outrageous attack on our families.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong when the union leaders, representing our teachers, refuse to even discuss my proposal to bring more accountability to our school system,” she noted in her statement. “Is this how they teach our students to communicate and solve differences?”

After leaving a message telling Lavine she would not be interviewed by the Syracuse Teachers Union, NYSUT Political Action Coordinator David Kirby could not be reached for further comment.

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