Union to protest at Lake Placid conference

LAKE PLACID – When Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks about promoting tourism in the Adirondacks, groups of protestors carrying signs probably isn’t what he has in mind. Either way, they are coming and will be staying here on May 4.

The protest is being called “Picket in the Pines.” It is led by New York State United Teachers. The teacher’s union members will protest an education conference, run by Education Reform Now, a pro-charter school group. The three-day conference called “Champ Philos,” will be held on May 4 through 6 at Whiteface Lodge.

Carl Korn, a NYSUT spokesman, said the group plans to mobilize “several hundred” teachers and parents from across the state. They will be taking buses to Lake Placid and plan to stay at the Comfort Inn.

“It’s a reformist retreat by hedgefund supporters and billionaires,” Korn said. “Democrats for Education Reform and Education Reform Now give hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates every year. They are trying to use their wealth to impose their radical ideas on all children in New York schools.”

Education Reform Now and its political arm Democrats for Education Reform are led by Joe Williams, of New York City, and part-time resident of Saranac Lake. He chose Lake Placid as the destination for the conference to draw in interest and money to the Adirondacks.

“We’re very pleased there has been so much enthusiasm from the education community in our Philosopher’s Camp,” William wrote in a statement by email. “More than anything else, the buzz surrounding the event proves that this important conversation is happening at a crucial time for education in the United States.”

Cuomo has agreed to attend, being named the “honorary chair” of Camp Philos. Although it is little more than a title, according to his office, he is taking no part in running or funding the conference. Williams told the Enterprise he was working with the governor on education policy, and that he pitched the governor on attending the conference here as a way to boost tourism – a goal both men want to achieve. Democrats for Education Reform has donated at least $65,000 to Cuomo, Capitol New York has reported.

Marla Kilfoyle, a teacher from Long Island and a protestor, said around 50 to 75 people from her area plan to travel to Lake Placid.

“People are at the point now they are so disgusted with (Cuomo) and his agenda,” Kilfoyle said. “It’s not about public education, it’s about selling it.”

Kilfoyle questioned how serious the discussion would be at the conference with people like movie director M. Night Shyamalan attending.

The union members will make signs and then meet the Camp Philos guests in front of the Whiteface Lodge as they arrive. This isn’t the first time NYSUF members will visit Lake Placid. They have held conferences here in the past, most recently at the Hilton in February.

Korn said the lack of teacher involvement at the education conference is telling.

“The fact that entry costs $1,000 and no public school teachers are attending suggests this is more about strategizing about how to profit and privatize education rather than improve the learning experience,” Korn said. “Let me say, as opposed to these self-proclaimed reformers from around the country, NYSUF reformers are very familiar with Lake Placid.”

Williams said on Thursday his conference will feature education leaders as well as both teachers and parents from across the country. Last week, Williams told the Enterprise by phone that school administrators would be attending the conference.

“I am excited to convene this diverse group of thinkers to advance the dialogue on education reform,” Williams wrote.

Bianca Tanis, a teacher in Rockland County, said Williams is “full of it.” She attempted to sign up for the event, but the registration was closed before she could.

“I’m sort of getting the feeling teachers are being excluded,” Tanis said. “There was no mention of teachers or even educators (on the website).

“Around the last week when I was going to purchase the ticket, I got a call from a retired teacher and she got two confirmation emails that she was registered, and then with no notice, was given a refund. She thought that felt strange.”

William said he regrets that they could not accommodate everyone at the conference.

“Given the unexpected interest, the event is now over capacity, and we have had to turn away some applicants due to space limitations,” Williams said. “Without a doubt, we will seek out a larger venue next year to accommodate the growing number of participants ready and willing to engage with these important topics.”

Camp Philos attendees will stay at one of three host hotels: the Whiteface Lodge, High Peaks Resort and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. Ticket rates for the conference were $1,000 for general and $2,500 for VIP admission. The Whiteface Lodge, where the discussion will take place, can host conference groups of up to 200 people, according to Chris Pulito, the Whiteface Lodge’s general manager.

“The bottom line: it’s a really exciting opportunity to bring people to the Adirondacks,” Pulito said, “regardless of the topic of discussion.”