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For the first time, the state teachers union will be headed by a New York City educator

Andrew Pallotta
Andrew Pallotta

One of the most influential labor unions in Albany — the New York State United Teachers — has a new leader. And for the first time in its roughly 45-year history, that person hails from New York City.

Andrew Pallotta, who attended the city’s schools and spent 22 years as an elementary school teacher at P.S. 32 in the Bronx, replaces Karen Magee, a fierce supporter of the test-refusal movement. She did not seek reelection after a three-year stint leading the roughly 600,000-member union.

In an interview, Pallotta said he does not intend to back away from the union’s support of the opt-out movement, and he predicted a warmer relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose initial moves on education angered unions.

“The rhetoric has definitely been toned down,” Pallotta said of Cuomo’s reform agenda, which included a controversial “receivership” law that could allow struggling schools to sidestep labor rules or be taken over by an outside entity. Just one school has been threatened with a takeover, and Cuomo has increasingly plugged the union-favored approach: giving schools extra resources instead.

“I would hope that in the next year or so, we continue to build on the support for public schools coming from the governor’s office,” Pallotta added.

Pallotta served as NYSUT’s executive vice president overseeing its legislative and political fundraising efforts, and was previously a representative of District 10 in the Bronx for the United Federation of Teachers.

His election last weekend to head the state teachers union means he’ll be a key player in state education policy as officials craft a plan to measure schools’ progress and hold them accountable under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

But he also emphasized a slew of other priorities, including pushing back against Betsy DeVos’s school choice agenda, and protecting state education funding from cuts (the latest budget boosts funding by $1.1 billion).

“We’re going to play a role in pretty much everything,” he said.

Charting a course that satisfies the union’s diverse membership, which runs the gamut from teachers in the largest school system in the country, to those in rural school districts is a perennial challenge, said Peter Goodman, who blogs about state education policy.

“There are internal political complexities,” Goodman said. “I think he’s going to have to convince a lot of these locals that voted against him that he represents everyone.”

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