History of the Oceanside Federation of Teachers
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Up until about 1968, the OFA (Oceanside Faculty Association.) was the organization for the teachers in Oceanside. In the 1960’s, the Oceanside Faculty Association, the forerunner of the OFT, benefitted greatly from the expertise of Al Cullinane, Bill Baer, Lou Votino and Ray Sobel (all OFA Presidents), as well as Walt Pearsall, Martha Perrone, Don Murray and Herb Robb. In the early to mid 1960’s, a movement was begun to form a Union in place of the Association. Jeremy Palmer, a high school teacher, began creating and running off flyers campaigning for a Union and for collective bargaining rights. His mimeograph machine was in his garage and many an hour, often until the wee hours of the morning, was spent on this task. Jeremy was not alone in this goal of unionizing teachers. His flyers were distributed and his efforts reinforced by other early founders of the OFT: Donald Murray, Robert Higgins, Peter Nicholson, and Angelo Storti. Just some of the other teachers who supported and helped in this effort were William Baer, Helen Kleiner, Martha Perrone, and Olga Pederson. Their endeavors were not made many easier by the District or by their own colleagues who considered them to be Communists and rabble rousers. Their dreams and efforts came to fruition in 1968, when the Union was formalized. The date of the actual Collective Bargaining election is unknown, but it had to have been shortly before the OFT was formalized.
Another big win for us, at around that time, was the concession by the administration to allow our “budding organization” to use teachers’ mailboxes for the dissemination of our literature. Additionally, there was the issue of the District’s policy of assigning teachers to parking lot duty. (I think this only applied to the high school). Later, we would successfully fight lunch duty and bus duty, as well.
When the first election of officers was held, Jeremy Palmer was elected President. He remained in office for one year. The following year, Robert (Bob) Higgins was elected President. Martha Perrone was elected Executive Vice President. Martha was an active member and officer, and at later dates, held the office of Elementary Vice President and Secretary, as well. After Martha came Alice Rosenberg. Donald (Don) Murray was our next President, and he remained in office until 1981. The years after Don was President for the first time, he “shared power” with Alan Diamond. Al and Don would rotate President and Vice President positions each election, until CaroleAnne Geraci became our first female President and our first elementary President. Up until that time, our Presidents were all from the high school. CaroleAnne was our ground breaker. Leslie Sontag Krasnoff broke another record when she held the office of President for 17 years. Louise Garfield was our third Executive Vice President. Louise was Al Diamond’s second in command when Don Murray became the Affiliates Vice President. Louise also served as our Elementary Vice President for many years. Bill Baer is a record holder in being Junior High V.P., an office he held for about 20 years.*Other early Union leaders in the Junior High were Jeff Wurst, Ned Black, Marilyn Epstein, and Geoff Fennimore.
Our earliest meetings were held in local Oceanside restaurants. One such restaurant was called “Yesterdays.” We had no OFT office to speak of and our files and records were held in a file cabinet in the high school. OFT meetings were held after school, often in a “back room”, where decisions were made, strategies were planned, food was eaten, and beverages were consumed. If the officers were lucky, Sandy Cohen baked some of her wonderful goodies for the meeting. Our first “real office” was in School #6, after it was closed as a working school building due to “structural dangers.” During Leslie’s 17 year term, we had 4 different offices in School #6. We had a great office when CaroleAnne Geraci was President because the Teacher Center was housed with us and Carole was the Teacher Center director. As of 2010, our office, which is given to the OFT, rent free, by the administration, remains in the School #6 refurbished basement. We are next to the Buildings and Grounds offices and across the hall from the Project Extra classrooms.
Speaking of the Teacher Center, one must not take that particular accomplishment for granted. The OFT leadership worked long and hard to convince the District that the establishment of the Teacher Center, as the vehicle by which teachers could augment their in-service education, HAD TO be in the control of the teachers. Louise Garfield was an early advocate for the establishment of the Teacher Center and she served as the Chairperson of the Policy Board. Lousie Garfield, CaroleAnne, Lenore Meisel, and Cecile Rosenfeld, and Gerard Gamberdella, were all early champions of the Teacher Center and the Policy Board. They, among others, believed it was imperative that our peers determine our professional needs. For the administration to dictate what our needs were was contrary to the goal of Teacher Centers. We needed to work collaboratively with the administration, but the controlling vote belonged to, and still belongs to, the teachers. We are responsible for our own educational growth. Betsy Weinman has continued to make the Oceanside Professional Development Center the role model it is today.
When you read the contract, you may not be aware of all the changes that have taken place over the years. We have “won” many concessions and almost all were tough fights. Your founders did more than run off flyers to form the original Union. There was picketing, tee shirt and button wearing, marching at train stations, distributing information to businesses, leafleting car windshields, heated debates, name calling (besides “communist”), silent faculty meetings, walking around the homes of Board members, working strictly to contract, showing our massive presence at Board of Education meetings, candlelight vigils, and other activities that fit into the “strange but true” category. The bottom line is that all who have come before you have fought for the rights you effortlessly enjoy today. They negotiated many contacts to get you the benefits and rights you have today. Just some of the early negotiators were: Bob Higgins, Jeremy Palmer, Don Murray, Al Diamond, Russ Falzone, Bill Baer, Jeff Wurst, Louise Garfield, Marie Heinz, Martha Perrone, Helene Krupin, CaroleAnne Geraci, Sandy Cohen, Eric Berman, and Leslie Sontag Krasnoff. Without Unionists like Martha Perrone, Louise Garfield, Sandy Cohen, Leslie Krasnoff, Roz Lorge, Helene Krupin, and CaroleAnn Geraci, the elementary schools would not have been as well represented as they are. Certainly at our beginning, our Union was predominantly led by men, and the majority were secondary teachers.
When transfers of teachers were seemingly made on a whim, the Union fought for transfers to be made based on seniority. An example of that is when the Sixth Grade Center, housed at School #6, was closed (1976?). All of the teachers were given their choice of which elementary school they wanted to be transferred to, and their requests were filled based on their seniority in the district. The principals in those schools had no say. In the secondary schools, transfers were often punitive and teachers were being “punished” when they were transferred from the high school to the junior high (as it was called in the 70’s). We fought to force the District to give an “educational rationale” for any move/transfer. The goal was to make transfers less whimsical and not punitive. Unfortunately, that is not to say that people are no longer being transferred against their will. It does happen. It seems that the administration has gotten proficient at “rationalizing” these moves/transfers.
Our substitutes were not always paid an increased sum if they taught the same class for over 5 weeks. Now, they go on the salary schedule at the end of five (or six) weeks. That took negotiations. And it wasn’t until the about 2006-2007 that retired teachers from Oceanside were paid significantly more than daily substitutes when they took a class for an extended period. Renee Apley Lewen from School 9E was our groundbreaker for this. Marcie Abrams (School #8) and Susan Henkus, (School 6 & 3) have also worked at these higher rates. At this writing, the rate is $250/day. Receiving this sum is not in writing and is negotiated with the superintendent with “past practice” as a silent fallback.
For many years the Union fought movement on the salary schedule with credits earned working towards a degree in administration. Our belief was that as a Teachers’ Union, it was our responsibility to encourage and reward teachers for remaining in teaching and becoming better educated teachers. Often, teachers were not happy with this practice. A compromise with the Administration included teachers now being able to take courses for credits in areas other than their current specialty, including administration. For example, if an English teacher wanted to become certified in Math, he/she could earn that degree and move on the salary scale with those credits. Previously a teacher could only earn credits for lateral movement on the salary scale with courses in his/her current field.
While the Oceanside Federation of Teachers began strictly as a teachers’ union (including psychologists, librarians, and social workers), we slowly but surely expanded our representation. This did not come easily to us. The District did not want us to represent other groups because they feared, and rightly so, our increasing strength in numbers. Don Murray, who was the president at that time, believed very strongly in our right to organize the Affiliate groups. His belief and determination, in conjunction with the growing power of the Union, brought about this expansion. Don’s dream was brought to fruition with the assistance and dedication of Jeff Wurst and Eric Berman. Eric and Jeff each served as the Affiliate unit’s Vice President and both were instrumental in negotiating their early contracts.
Nothing was accomplished overnight and, as with most successes, this was a team effort. Anna Sifrey Levendel was instrumental in the organization of our teacher aides. Working with Carole Geraci and Don Murray, Anna held a meeting in her own home to get the ball rolling. Anna’s work with Don helped the OFT to lay the groundwork necessary to efficiently and successfully negotiate the teacher aides’ contract, thereby guaranteeing them rights, clarifying responsibilities, and setting a salary. Pam Nichols was one of the first nurses to work with the OFT in the nurses’ chapter. Our nurses group may be small in number, but not in representation by the OFT. When it came time to organize the security personnel, Shelly Santamaria was a driving force. Again, working with Don Murray, this new affiliate group became a strong and vocal part of the OFT. Marilyn Sherman made sure that our permanent substitutes also joined forces with the OFT. It is almost impossible to name all the hardworking members whose belief in Unions and worker rights made the OFT what it is today. We now represent the Affiliates groups: nurses, regular substitutes, permanent substitutes (until recent budget cuts eliminated their jobs), summer school teachers, administrative assistants, security personnel, monitors, and teacher aides. While each Affiliate chairperson and the Affiliate V.P. negotiate the contracts, it remains the responsibility of the OFT President to sign any and all legal documents.
When many teachers desired to expand their education beyond the MA + 60 credits, the Union jumped on board and negotiated a yearly stipend to be added to the salaries of those who reached MA +75 credits.
One could go on about the many rights the OFT has negotiated for the teachers and affiliates, but just reading the contract can supply that knowledge. Rights concerning: preparation periods, grievance procedures, Union representation at meetings, teacher files, committee procedures, and more. The District GIVES nothing away…we have always FOUGHT for what we believe is right and just. Yes, we work collaboratively with the administration, but your rights were secured for you by your Union.
More than 20 years ago, the OFT expanded our community service activities, thereby increasing our visibility in the community. Very early on in the Union’s history, Alan Diamond and Louise Garfield became teacher members of the Oceanside PTA Council. They were the first teachers to represent the “T” in PTA on this formidable Council. They weren’t “just teachers,” they were the OFT President and Elementary Vice President. Back in the early 90’s, President Leslie Krasnoff worked closely with Oceanside Fire Department Rescue Company’s Captain, Mitch Krasnoff, to organize and host what became our annual Holiday Toy Drive and Party. This annual event has grown from donations of a few hundred toys to well over a thousand toys and gifts. These toys have been given to less fortunate children in Oceanside and in surrounding communities. Even South Nassau Hospital and the Ronald MacDonald House have benefitted from the OFT’s generosity. The Union sponsors this event, but the entire district contributes to its success.
In addition to our awarding yearly scholarships, in honor of Don Murray and Jeremy Palmer, the OFT is a major contributor to the Oceanside High School Scholarship Fund and to Dawn Delirium. Rotary and Kiwanis also benefit from our community spirit and generosity. Every year we join together with our colleagues from other NYSUT locals in support of the LI Breast Cancer Walk. Our contributions help to make LI one of the largest contributors to this worthy cause.
Our community presence is most visible at the Oceanside Board of Education meetings. Almost from the onset of the OFT, our president and other officers have attended these monthly meetings. The OFT wanted the Board to know that we cared about what was going on in the school district and in the community all the time- not just during contract negotiations. For quite a few years now, the OFT presence has been increased by building representatives, more officers, and the rank and file. We care about and participate in the Oceanside community.
The Union’s history expands with every year and every contract that passes. We are an organization in motion and we respond to the needs of our members. That is the strength of our Union and of our history.
*Chronological Order of Officers (At times approximated)
Leslie Sontag Krasnoff
|Executive Vice President
Leslie Sontag Krasnoff
|Elementary Vice President
Leslie Sontag Krasnoff
|Junior High/Middle School V.P.
Marilyn Epstein (JHS #6 & 9)
|High School Vice President
Mitzi (Mary Ellen) O’Neill
|Affiliate Vice President
Where we are now?
Our Union is over 30 years old. Before we were the Oceanside Federation of Teachers, we were an association, not a Union. Our first President was Jeremy Palmer, then Robert Higgins, followed by Don Murray and then Al Diamond (Don and Al switched off between Pres. and VP a few times) and then CaroleAnne Geraci. I have been President for 13 years (I think). Our Union is part of the American Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers and the AFLCIO.