Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Dear Mahopac, VOTE YES

On Tuesday, May 7th, the Executive Committee of the Mahopac Teachers’ Association voted to support both the proposed 2019-20 Mahopac Central School District Budget and the proposed Capital Project Bond. I know that the immediate reaction of many will be one that goes something like this, “Of course the teachers support raising taxes. More taxes means higher salaries.” The irony of that reaction is that I, along with many of my colleagues, live in Mahopac and will also be impacted by these votes. As president of the MTA and a community member, I face the challenge of those who believe teachers always want to raise taxes to feed higher salaries while some believe that as a community member, I have worked too closely with the district to keep raises in check.

The reality is that the MTA supports the school budget because it is the lifeblood to the many programs that we get to offer students. It is what allows us to offer STEAM classes, world languages, art, music and so much more. The school budget provides our students and teachers with optimal class sizes, the latest in technology and the most recent reading, writing and math programs. However, perhaps the greatest reality is that most of us were working here a little over a decade ago when the school budget did not pass and the devastating consequences that followed. Personally, I watched my home value drop far more than that year’s proposed tax increase and to this day I am not sure it has fully recovered.

When it comes to the Capital Project Bond, our support is simple. Students’ learning conditions are our working conditions and I don’t have to look very far to find a Facebook post or two (more like 50) about the conditions of some of our facilities in the District. In the past six months alone, I have seen posts with parents complaining that the bathrooms are so disgusting, their children refuse to use them. I have watched roofs leak into our hallways and classrooms. I’ve seen classrooms flood when it rains. The bottom line is that many of these repairs and upgrades will have to be made one way or another. So, a cost neutral bond is a much better option than those dollars coming out of the school budget and impacting the District’s ability to continue to offer all of the great programs our students currently have access to. If you have questions about what “tax neutral” means, take a look at the links below.

Lastly, I hate to do this, but all we have to do is look at our neighbors in Carmel. They proposed a Capital Project Bond which took multiple attempts to pass. In the meantime, parents posted photos and stories about being leaked on while walking the hallways or sitting at game because the roofs needed replacing. If I know anything as nearly a lifelong resident of Mahopac, it is that we want to beat Carmel. Passing this Capital Project Bond on the first vote is just another way for us to do exactly that.

So, please come out to Mahopac High School on May 21st between 6am-9pm and VOTE YES!

Tom McMahon
Mahopac Teachers' Association

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What's Your Union Story Part III

In our continuing series of MTA members sharing their union stories, here is the latest from Dave, who teaches at the Middle School.

"My union story started long before I was born.  My father was a union man and the benefits he received from that membership paid the bills and ensured good medical coverage for all of us, while also allowing my mom to be a stay at home mother.  I have continued that tradition by serving on the Mahopac Teachers' Association Executive Council for sixteen years.  To say that union is in my blood is no understatement.

I could share examples of standing on the picket line with my father or joining the picket lines of men and women we didn't know.  I could regale you with stories of hard fought victories and vicious battles with management.  I won't.  In each of those stories, unions stood together when they needed to, combating the overwhelming power of corporations and management through solidarity.  The truth of my union story lies at a time when I worked without a union around me, but with union in my soul.

I was still living at home and commuting to college when I took a part-time job at a local lumber yard.  Hard work and a belief in a fair exchange of labor soon rewarded me with a full time position to balance against a full time college class load.  The yard was vast, dangerous and poorly maintained.  Not long after going full time, I was made assistant foreman and made the transition into management.

The men now under my care were twice my age and desperately needed the jobs they held.  They had no union and feared that any complaint or disruption might cost them their livelihoods.  I spoke almost daily with my father, asking for guidance.  I knew what I needed to do, but what I really lacked was the courage to act.  I didn't fear the risk for myself.  I feared that my actions could harm the very men I was trying to protect.  I spoke to management and tried all I could to cajole them into fixing at least some of the danger.  I was ignored.  

I researched OSHA regulations for weeks and formulated my plan.  I drafted a letter that cited the numerous violations that existed.  I included printed photos.  I made clear that if ownership and the Chief Financial Officer did not meet with me immediately on my return, the same letter would find its way to local Assemblymen, Senators and the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration.  I left a copy on the manager's desk and left for a three day vacation.  I gave the other copies of the letter to my father and asked him to mail them if I was terminated.  He knew I was fearful that I might balk at sending them and he would help bolster my resolve.

Upon my return to work, I was summoned to the manager's office and his words still stick with me to this day.  Holding up the letter, he said sternly, "I should fire you for this."  I had anticipated this and had spent the last three days pondering my response.  With all the determination I could muster, I responded, "Be my guest.  Just know that I am a man of my word.  Those letters will go out.  I will bring a civil suit against the company.  So, I would advise you choose your next words very carefully."

The meeting with the ownership and the CFO occurred later that day.  They closed large portions of the yard until safety standards could be improved.  No one lost their job.  No one lost their life.

I had never felt more alone than I had at the time.  As I have grown older, I realize that wasn't true at all though.  I had my father, a union man, standing in solidarity with me.  More importantly, I had millions of union members throughout history standing with me, a non-union shop worker.  The safety regulations that I used to leverage better conditions had come into existence because of the fight that union men and women battled long before me.  Those regulations remained because of the union men and women who stood sentinel over them at the time.  Those regulations will only continue to protect people while union men and women stand together.

I was not alone that day.  I am not alone today.  We are never alone when we are a union."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What's Your Union Story contiinued...

As mentioned in our previous post, we asked MTA members to share their union stories. As they file in, we will be chronicling them here.

"For the first time in my years at Mahopac I booked a Spring Break vacation.  After the terrible winter we had my trip with my family and friends was being questioned.  Because of my union I was able to not lose my trip and enjoy the week away.  I also thank my fellow union members for stepping up and covering classes."- Nicole from Mahopac Middle School "My life insurance policy that I purchase through NYSUT affords me to get double the amount of coverage and  for half of what I pay  on a private life insurance policy." -Christina from Mahopac Middle School

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What's Your Union Story

Last week, the Mahopac Teachers' Association asked members to share their union stories. The MTA is a proud NYSUT local to have 100% membership, even in a post-Janus world. So, as these stories come in, this blog will be where they are shared.

"I saved a LOT of money this summer due to union/teacher discounts on golf and a GM car."- Amy from Fulmar Road ""Over these last 17 years of teaching here in our district I have many moments where I’ve asked a union building leader for advice or help with certain matters.  One remarkable moment that sticks out in my mind occurred just before our winter holiday break.  I was so very thankful for the MMS building leaders and chief negotiator who worked hard to investigate salary payment/s that were never received during my terms of pregnancy and maternity leaves.  I’ll never forget Dave Gordon handing me an unexpected check of almost seven thousand dollars just before Christmas of 2012 when it all got resolved. I think that I was among several other women in our district who were given these checks.  Without the union’s help I believe that it would have gone unresolved.  Thank you for all you each do to protect our contract and working rights."- Ann Margaret from Mahopac Middle School.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Nothing Has Changed!

As the time for administration of state testing approaches once more, the colossal problems that convinced thousands of parents in New York State to opt their children out of the exams over the past years have remained unaddressed. That’s right: NOTHING HAS CHANGED! The tests are still inappropriately difficult, the funds wasted on their implementation are staggering, the instruction time lost to the students and teachers is still far too long to warrant the current protocol of these tests, and despite federal and state warnings against districts where opt out numbers are elevated, schools will not be punished for high opt out rates, students will not be punished for opting out, and students will not be given a score if they do not take the exam. NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

As in the past, the Mahopac Teachers’ Association continues to support parents’ rights to opt their children out of the NYS grades 3-8 exams. I have made my personal beliefs on this topic well known. Here’s my piece from 2015— Here is another from 2016— And, finally, last year’s as well—

What frustrates me as I look back over each of these pieces is that none of the glaring faults found in state testing have been ameliorated. Yes, the tests are now two days instead of three, but they are now untimed which means students could conceivably spend more time testing than ever before, and the school’s instructional resources must be adapted to facilitate this possibility. The tests are still based on faulty mathematics that use SAT scores as benchmarks for students as young as third-graders, and “passing grades” remain unrealistically unattainable for a large majority of the participants. As educator Bianca Tanis posted in her blog:

In 2013 New York contracted with the College Board, producers of the SAT, to develop a metric that could be used to identify student readiness for college.  This number would set the thresholds for proficiency on all Math and ELA tests down through third grade.  The College Board, based on SED’s guidance, determined a student would need the following scores on their SAT in order to be considered “college ready.”

Critical Reading

A score of a 1630 on the SAT is in the 66th percentile, which means that only 34% of test takers attain this score or higher.  The College Board uses a score of 1550 for its own benchmark, a score in the 57th percentile.

 ( Why is the benchmark for an eight-year-old third grader higher than the benchmark for a sixteen-year-old high school student? Nothing has changed!


 —NYSUT, the state-wide teachers’ union has put out this fact sheet to help both teachers and parents be better informed about the testing issue

—In addition to NYSUT, New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) is also a great resource for opt out information and materials. Here is the fact sheet they put out

—Finally, for those so inclined, here is a sample opt out letter in English and Spanish

Once more, both the federal and state governments have failed to listen to their constituencies to make educational testing more student-friendly, expedient and cost- effective. And, as in any great democracy, the tax-paying public is free to react accordingly.

Tom McMahon
Mahopac Teachers' Association

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Natural Reason to Vote NO on the Constitutional Convention

In an article “Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World's Rainforests,” Scientific American estimates the Earth loses some 80,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest to human activity every day.   It estimates an equal amount of forest, 80,000 acres, is degraded daily by the same activity as well. That adds up to approximately one million compromised acres of forest a week because of private or commercial activity.*
Thankfully, that kind of exploitation cannot happen to the millions of beautifully preserved acres in New York State.   Have you ever thought about why we have long enjoyed trips to Fahnestock, FDR, Taconic, James Baird or Bear Mountain State Parks?  Or why we can play that dream round of golf at Bethpage State Park, where so many professional golfers have competed in US Opens and other Professional Golf Association events? Or why some of our ocean beaches are still pristine, undeveloped, and open to the public?  Or why the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains are still as breath-taking as ever?  It’s because they’re all constitutionally protected by Article XIV of the New York State Constitution.  That’s the same constitution that is slated to be “revised” if the push by politicians and lobbyists for a constitutional convention is successful.  Our natural resources are particularly vulnerable, and without constitutional protections (which can be weakened or even removed by such a convention), big money investors and for-profit corporations could be granted rights to exploit these public lands, transform them, or even limit or deny access to New York citizens.  Is it worth the risk?
I am already concerned about those who want to stand for election as delegates if a constitutional convention is approved. At the 1967 Con Con, which was the last one held, 80% of the delegates were politicians. I am equally concerned that big money is already influencing these politicians in hope for the chance to modify or even remove some regulatory protections and open our natural resources to corporate or private interests. So even if you aren’t a public employee fearing the loss of your pension, or you aren’t a union member fearing the loss of workers’ rights, or you don’t have children or your children are grown and the guarantee of a free public education isn’t that important to you any more, or even if you are independently wealthy and footing a portion of a tax bill in the hundreds of millions doesn’t bother you, voting NO on Proposal 1 is still important to you; your protected environment is just a convention away from deregulation in favor of capital venture and corporate profit.  
On November 7, flip your ballot over and vote NO to Proposal 1 on November 7th. The fragile resources of our beautiful state deserve it.
Note: Proposal 1 is a question posed to New Yorkers which asks if a Constitutional Convention should be held in 2018.  The estimated cost of such a convention is estimated to be between 100 to 300 million dollars. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

November is Coming

Do you trust politicians? Do you think they have your best interest at heart? Do you think they should receive two taxpayer-funded salaries at the same time? Perhaps, you think taxes in New York are too low?  If you answered no to any of these questions, then you should head to the polls on November 7, 2017, turn your ballot over, and vote NO for Proposal 1, which states, “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” 

Every twenty years New Yorkers are asked to vote on this same question. The last time voters actually approved a New York State Constitutional Convention was in 1967. That year, 80% of the individuals elected as delegates to the convention were part of the political establishment; that included 22 judges, 15 local politicians, 13 state legislators, five mayors and three current or former congressmen. They not only continued to receive their salaries for their appointed or elected posts, they also received salaries to be delegates at the convention! Fifty years ago, that convention cost New York taxpayers a total of $47 million dollars, and the efforts of the double-salaried politicians produced absolutely nothing!  No changes were approved to the New York State Constitution. 

Today, the cost of a similar convention is estimated to be anywhere between $100 and $300 million dollars. As a resident of New York, would you vote yes to putting that kind of money toward multiplying the politicians’ personal income?  AGAIN?   

Sure, there may be aspects of the New York Constitution that you do not like. However, there is a way to change it that doesn’t cost any additional taxpayer money. The way is through the amendment process, which requires a vote by two consecutive New York State legislatures and a vote by New York residents. Since 1967, this process has been used hundreds of times to make changes to the New York Constitution, and taxpayers were not required to pay politicians a second salary to get those changes made.  

Yet, it is not enough to pledge to vote NO on November 7th to Prop 1. We must also talk to our relatives, our neighbors and anyone that will listen. We must activate them to spread the word as well. We cannot trust political insiders to promote any interest but their own, so we must take action ourselves.  Defeating this proposal will be a big job, and there is work for everyone to do. Get involved.  If you need additional information or resources, please visit or