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November 12, 2001
+ Back to the Drawing Board for NEA Portal. For more than 18 months, EIA has tracked the progress of NEAís web portal project. Last April, the union awarded a six-year multi-million dollar contract to develop the portal with iLearning, a web-based technology firm whose investors include Sylvan Ventures and the Chauncey Group, which is a subsidiary of Education Testing Services (ETS). The portal is to feature professional development resources, chat rooms, classroom tips, web resources, education news, union information and a host of member benefits. Other companies were brought on to fill in this content. The job of iLearning consultants is to integrate the content and host the portal. The union set up the NEA Portal Company to handle its new business relationships, placed 11 union executives on the board of directors, and named Barbara Yentzer, NEAís Director of Student Achievement Initiatives, as CEO.

Dubbed "OWL.org," the portal was unveiled to NEA delegates at the unionís representative assembly in Los Angeles in July, with October set as its launch date. This was then postponed to "mid-winter." Now, something more serious has happened.

NEA Executive Director John Wilson informed state affiliate officers, elected representatives and communications directors across the country that NEA "must seek other technology options for OWL.org." Wilson added that "Recent tests and analyses revealed that OWL.orgís initial technical systems would not meet its needs." The NEA Portal Company will now generate a new technology strategy and a new timetable. Wilsonís memo does not explain whether the problem originated with the portal company, with iLearning, or somewhere else entirely.

Additionally, sources at NEA headquarters tell EIA that Barbara Yentzer resigned as CEO of the NEA Portal Company and a non-NEA employee was named as an interim replacement.

NEAís portal problems seem to mirror those of the mysterious AFT portal, MyAFT.org, which is currently dormant. Despite the setbacks, NEA appears committed to pressing ahead with OWL.org.

+ Things Not Improving for NEA in Texas. Since last March, EIA has brought you exclusive news of the problems faced by the Texas State Teachers Association: a budget deficit, membership losses, financial oversight by NEA, staff layoffs, sanctions by the national staff union, merger talks with the Texas Federation of Teachers... you can check the EIA archives for details. The latest news suggests that, on two fronts anyway, the new school year has not improved the outlook for TSTA.

Amid the closing down of regional offices and the consolidation of staff in Austin, about a dozen NEA staffers from other states have spent time in Texas trying to boost membership. Sources tell EIA that the October figures show only "a few hundred" new members have signed up statewide -- not nearly enough to offset losses from resignations and retirements. Meanwhile, other state sources tell EIA an entire 445-member unit of education support personnel in Houston disaffiliated from TSTA and is currently independent.

The state merger talks are stumbling along. Alliance/AFT from Dallas, the largest TFT local in the state, isnít even attending the merger negotiations. Asked to comment, Alliance/AFT told EIA that the union "has taken a recess from the merger talks" but will support a merger agreement that abides by the merger principles passed at the last TFT convention. The principles, also championed by TFT locals in Corpus Christi, Houston and San Antonio, list 14 prerequisites for any state merger agreement, including equal organizational rights for teachers and ESPs, a focus on organizing, a guarantee that at least two-thirds of the membership of the new organization affiliate with the AFL-CIO, no term limits, no increase in the proportion of dues to go to the state affiliate, and recognition of the right of locals not to merge if they so choose.

+ Carson Secession Defeat Huge Victory for Union. The California Teachers Association and its affiliates have been both the driving force and the roadblock for many ballot initiatives over the past 13 years, but their efforts in squashing the Carson school district secession effort in Los Angeles -- by a 3 to 1 margin -- should illustrate once and for all that they are the sole gatekeepers of education reform in this state. After eight years of work to get the measure on the ballot, secession supporters raised a paltry $5,000 for their campaign. United Teacher Los Angeles, on the contrary, spent $125,000 -- almost $18 per "no" vote -- and swarmed the area with volunteers.

A victory in Carson would have peeled 21,000 students out of the 700,000 student Los Angeles Unified School District. The defeat also dampened the hopes of secessionists in the San Fernando Valley, who want to split two 100,000-student districts from LAUSD.

The UTLA strategy should come as no surprise. The union is probably the harshest critic of district operations. It decries mismanagement, bloat, huge salaries and hiring abuses by district officials. It describes a district remarkably out of touch with parents, students and taxpayers. All of this is true. But try to make a run for the wall and see who pulls you back in.

+ NEA Hispanic Outreach Gets First Nibble. It didnít take long. Last Monday, EIA revealed a new NEA Hispanic outreach effort, and on Friday NEA and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) released a statement announcing a joint effort to promote "the implementation of strategies and educational programs that have proven effective within the Hispanic community." The joint project will begin with an informational campaign about laws and policies concerning Latinos, during which financial and technical support will be exchanged.

+ Nashville Teachers Union Has Image, Membership Problems. Last week, EIA featured the message of California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson and the organizational success his methods had achieved for CTA. But the same methods are having the opposite results in right-to-work Tennessee. Yesterdayís Tennessean contained a lengthy story about the problems confronted by the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), which is on the verge of dropping below 50 percent of eligible membership. Should this happen, the school board or a rival organization could move to have MNEA decertified as the exclusive bargaining agent for the districtís educators. Even supportive members believe the current union leadership is too confrontational. "We have to try to lose the image of being only interested in teacher pay," said teacher John Yount. "The only thing we ever have candlelight vigils for is salary. Theyíre never for administrative appointments, never for adding school buildings, never there when they reduce money in maintenance where schools canít stay clean or repaired."

Chris Glenn, who sits on MNEAís executive board, disagreed. "MNEA, TEA and NEA are still the best advocates we have going for education," he said. "Sometimes we are not as aware of some of the positions and ideas that a lot of our non-members take. If we were a little more open to listening to what they say, they might show more desire to become members of our organization."

+ Hawaiian Love Calls. Two weeks ago, EIA reported on the resignation of Hawaii schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu amid charges he awarded a $612,000 special education contract to a company owned by a woman with whom he had an "intimate personal relationship." On Saturday, a joint legislative committee claimed LeMahieu made more than 2,000 calls to the woman over a 14-month period on his taxpayer-funded cell phone. For those without a calculator handy, thatís almost five calls a day, every day, for more than a year -- not counting, of course, any calls from a different phone, or any calls she made to him. Book íim, Dano!

+ Effort to Defeat Teacher Bonuses in Florida Fails. The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association lost its court appeal to prevent Florida spending state money on salary bonuses to teachers. The union sought an injunction against the practice, contending the bonuses violate the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the district. A lower court denied the injunction and the Second District Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

+ California Teachers Association Endorses Rockwell for NEA President. Last week, the 760-member California Teachers Association State Council endorsed Denise Rockwell Woods for the post of NEA president. CTAís support for Rockwell Woods is not a surprise, since she hails from the Los Angeles area. Incumbent NEA Vice President Reg Weaver of Illinois is the other declared candidate. The election will be held at the unionís Representative Assembly in Dallas next July. California sends 12-13 percent of the total number of NEA delegates.

+ Quote of the Week. "At the outset, Dr. Fadhi al-Janabi submitted to his excellency, may Allah preserve him, greetings bounded by love and loyalty from the NEAís warriors and their commitment to remain forever loyal to the source of their inspiration, the light of their brains and the guide of their innovations, the great leader, Saddam Hussein, may Allah render him victorious. They expressed their willingness to continue giving with great energy, solid faith, and steadfastness to resist aggression and the forces of evil and vice, and consecrate themselves and the fruit of their brains to Iraq, its leader and the proud Iraqi people." -- from the November 7, 2001 issue of Babil, a Baghdad newspaper published by Saddam Husseinís son, describing a visit by the Iraqi dictator with the workers of that countryís Nuclear Energy Authority (NEA).

   

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