We are days away from an historic moment in the history of education unions in the state of New York. On April 16, delegates to the Delegate Assembly of NEA/New York (NEA/NY) will vote on whether to approve a Principles of Merger agreement negotiated with the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). If ratified by a two-thirds vote of the delegates, the two former antagonists will spend a year writing a constitution for the merged organization which will begin to function in September, 2006. If the delegates who have vowed support for the merger show up to vote, the Principle of Merger should be passed by more than the two-thirds vote it requires. If it does pass, it will signal that the leaders in both organizations have decided to put aside the minutia that has divided them for the opportunity to work together in the struggle to save public education from those powerful forces that seek its demise. Our leaders will decide to lead.

In a time when the unchecked growth of charter schools drains millions of dollars from school districts like Buffalo, real leaders will decided that it doesn’t matter as much as it used to how the officers of their state union are elected, as long as the elections are honest and democratic.

In a time when academic standards in the public schools are eroding as the Regents and Commissioner of Education claim they are raising the bar for all of our students, real leaders will decide that how we provide for minority participation in the governance of our union doesn’t matter so much as long as we provide for it.

In a time when an equitable funding formula for New York’s public schools evades us and the children in too many of our schools languish as a result, real leaders will decide that the war stories of the struggles between NYSUT and NEA/NY have no relevance to our members working in crumbling school buildings.

In a time when our political leaders appear obsessed with the percentile students achieve on a seemingly endless number of standardized tests and understand these scores as reflective of the sum total of what students learn in school, real leaders will choose to close ranks, subordinating their personal ambitions to the welfare of their membership and the students they serve. They will work with their brothers and sisters across the state to end the percentile dysfunction gripping our schools.

In difficult times, real leaders emerge. I believe wholeheartedly that when the delegates to the NEA/NY convention assemble in Albany on April 16, they will lead the way to a new day in the history of education unionism in New York.

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