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SAANYS’ Statewide Constitutional Convention Forums

SAANYS will be holding forums throughout the state during the last weeks in October to provide members and any other interested parties with information as to why their vote is important.

Register for a forum in your region:

  • Region 1: Oct 25 | 8:00-9:00am | Brentwood UFSD |REGISTER
  • Region 2: Oct 25 | 3:00-4:00pm | Nassau BOCES | REGISTER
  • Region 4: October 27 | 3:00-4:00pm | Dutchess BOCES | REGISTER
  • Region 5: Oct 27 | 8:00-9:00am | Orange Ulster BOCES |REGISTER
  • Region 6: Oct 24 | 3:00-4:00pm | SAANYS Headquarters |REGISTER
  • Region 7: Nov 2 | 3:00-4:00pm | CVES BOCES | REGISTER
  • Region 8: Nov 1 | 3:00-4:00pm | Herkimer BOCES | REGISTER
  • Region 9: Oct 26 | 8:00-9:00am | Union Endicott CSD | REGISTER
  • Region 10: Oct 26 | 3:00-4:00pm | CNY Philanthropy Center |REGISTER
  • Region 11: Oct 30 | 8:00-9:00am | Rush Henrietta CSD | REGISTER
  • Region 12: Oct 30 | 2:45-4:15pm | Erie 1 BOCES | REGISTER

 

A message from Executive Director Kevin Casey

The New York State Constitution requires that every 20 years the voters of the state determine whether or not there shall be a convention for the purposes of modifying the state constitution. At its May meeting, the SAANYS Board of Directors voted to formally oppose a convention, and formed a subcommittee to plan a series of communications with our membership to urge a vote of NO. We are also collaborating with other disparate organizations against a constitutional convention. Provided below is a summary of why we have taken the position that we have.

Should there be a constitutional convention, it will be run by elected delegates (three per senate electoral district, with a number of at-large seats). We believe it likely that career  politicians, those with the time, experience, and infrastructure to support a campaign, will dominate any such proceedings. The last NYS constitutional convention, in 1967, was held in the NYS assembly and every convention leader was a sitting legislator. Additionally, delegates included people such as past and future NYC mayors Robert Wagner, Abe Beame, and David Dinkins, as well as Albany mayor Erastus Corning. I seriously doubt that this would be a “people’s” convention that would include the likes of educators. Most people do not have the luxury of taking time off to campaign for, and participate in, a convention. Further, once elected, delegates are not subject to the accountability of a reelection.

The estimated cost of the convention varies widely, but I have seen estimates up to $350 million, in part because delegates get paid. It’s important to note that there exists an alternative means to modifying the constitution, one that has been utilized close to two hundred times. A bill that passes two successive legislatures and is approved by the voters at a general election may modify the constitution without the $350 million boondoggle. Most importantly however, is the risk. At a constitutional convention the entire constitution is open for change, as opposed to just the content of a single bill utilizing the (essentially) cost free alternative means of modifying the constitution. The convention format maximizes opportunity for special interests to make changes that they desire.

There are those that see risk to the public employee pension guarantee, to the right to collectively bargain, to the right to earn tenure, to the right to a free public education, to the independence of the Board of Regents (does any educator want public education under the sole control of any single governor?). Rights may also be created. Rights that form a constitutional foundation for charter schools or create private school tax credits. Rights that limit the liability of health care providers, rights for developers that compromise the “forever wild” clause that protects wide swaths of NYS land. Ask yourself, who would be advocating for your interests and the interests of our public schools and students?

On November 7 you have the opportunity to be heard. If you fail to vote, you defer to others the direction our state will take. The question will be placed on the backside of the ballot, which I believe to be poor placement for a question that has the potential to fundamentally alter the status quo of your existing rights. We urge that you vote NO on November 7, 2017.

 

Constitutional Convention Q & A

Is a Constitutional Convention the only or most effective way to amend the NYS Constitution? No.

  • A legislative process is the most frequently used process and has been used over 200 times. Members of the legislature introduce a bill that requires approval by both houses for two consecutive sessions and voter approval. This process is effective, familiar, and less costly.
  • Amending the Constitution via a convention could take longer than handling amendments through the legislative process.
  • Delegate selection is complex and time consuming. A person seeking to be an independent delegate may need up to 3000 signatures on a petition.
  • Current legislators and judges may be delegates and are eligible for the remuneration as a delegate plus their annual legislative salary. Composition of delegates could look a lot like the current Legislature, which begs the question as to why a convention is necessary.

What key educational issues could be amended?

  • Free public education – The NYS Constitution establishes a system of free schools where all the children of this state may be educated. Also, consistent with the constitutional establishment of the separation of church and state, no public monies can be used to support religious schools.
    • It is possible that the concept of free public education could be raised at a Constitutional Convention. In light of the current national priorities on privatizing P-16 education, the concept of a public education could receive rigorous pushback.
    • Amendments could be added that would allow public funding to subsidize for-profit education providers, allowing tax credits and permit student vouchers for any educational setting. Any of these actions reduces the amount of funding for public schools.
  • Governance of the Board of Regents – The oversight of public education was entrusted to a separate and independent Board of Regents. The Board of Regents is not a state agency under the control of the Executive Branch, which has been a source of tension for many years. The reorganization of the Board could be open for debate at a convention.
  • Worker and retiree rights  – pensions, right to join a union,  collective bargaining, workers compensation – these are all protected rights within the NYS Constitution that could be repealed, restricted, or reduced.
  • Health –  “The protection and promotion of health of the inhabitants of the state are matters of public concern and the provisions therefore shall be made by the state … .” The health and support of all children, especially students with health and other disabilities, is a vital issue for school leaders. As national debates on the health care system and Medicaid unfold, such issues could easily be opened at a convention.