UFT President Mike Mulgrew is pushing back against allegations by supporters of NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi that he is backing a challenge to Iannuzzi’s leadership team because he wants to control the statewide teacher’s union himself.

“Absolutely not,” Mulgrew told me during a brief telephone interview this afternoon as he was en route to Albany for a series of NYSUT board meetings. “We love being members of NYSUT. We love to support the work of NYSUT, but all of us working together makes a stronger state union.”

“…We are a democratic union, and every three years there’s an election,” Mulgrew continued. “People have differences of opinion. The current leadership can make its own decisions. They can run or they can decide to step aside. It’s up to them. Clearly, there are people here – locals from all across the state – saying that we need a change. I thank the current officers for their service, but it’s time for a change.”

Mulgrew insisted he and the UFT waited as long as it could before wading into this fight, which was brought to his attention when a group of disgruntled NYSUT members from across the state came to him and suggested it was time for a leadership change. Mulgrew said he did not instigate the change, even though NYSUT’s executive vice president, Andy Pollatta, is a candidate on the insurgent slate.

(Traditionally, UFT gets two members on the NYSUT leadership team – of which Pallotta is one – while the unions outside NYC get the other two and the president is selected by consensus).

I asked Mulgrew if this fight is really about Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Iannuzzi’s clearly stated desire for NYSUT not to repeat its 2010 non-endorsement.

“The union gets together and makes its decision; no one person has the power to make a decision about who we endorse or don’t endorse,” Mulgrew responded. “Clearly we have issues with a lot of the educational policies, but right now what we’re focused on is the budget and getting more money into schools across the state. We need to do everything in our power to avoid drastic cuts that force people to lose their jobs and children into large class sizes.”

Cuomo this week proposed a 3.8 percent increase in state education aid, but schools – particularly those upstate – say that’s not enough to make up for deep cuts made in previous years and will still result in spending cuts at the local level.