A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Who Needs Union Votes When You Have Union Cash?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 31•14

California has had its share of extraordinary elections over the years, but the 2014 edition will have something singular. As expected, every Democrat seeking statewide office will evidently coast to victory. There are two Democrats vying for one office, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and their race couldn’t be closer.

Tom Torlakson is the incumbent. He’s a former state legislator and has been the unions’ guy since he took office in 2010. He’s opposed by Marshall Tuck, a charter school executive who is supported by reform Democrats and the Corporate Axis of Evil.

The race has become a proxy battleground for the direction of the Democratic Party. Spending on the race will exceed $20 million before all is said and done – a truly outrageous amount considering the office itself isn’t exactly imbued with overarching education policy power.

Step back from the battleground, and the campaign assumes its natural level. The latest Field Poll shows Torlakson and Tuck each with 28% support, and an amazing 44% undecided. Strange as it seems, those undecided numbers haven’t changed much since last month’s poll. But that’s far from the strangest number.

The California Teachers Association will end up throwing more than $10 million into this one race – most of it dues money. The union is flogging its activists to contact members, work phone banks and walk precincts for Torlakson. It turned most of its State Council meeting last weekend into a Torlakson campaign rally, complete with an appearance from the candidate himself.

Odd, then, that the Field Poll shows support for Torlakson from union households in California at an anemic 31%, with 23% backing Tuck, and 46% undecided. That’s after months of hyping Torlakson through every available union communications outlet.

The question arises: If 69% of union households are not, or not yet, backing Torlakson, how did the unions approve spending $10 million on his behalf?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so.

Some union members may think I’m overstating the dysfunction of such a system. Well, what would be the reaction of the rank-and-file of the New York State United Teachers if the union leadership endorsed and spent $10 million supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lobbied NYSUT members to support him? Probably open rebellion. I might add that Cuomo is disliked by teacher union members, but he probably has more than 31 percent support.


Maryland NEA Affiliate: Teacher Union or Covert Op?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 30•14

After the cloak-and-dagger events in Wicomico County, one would think the Maryland State Education Association would stay far away from such stuff for a while. But check out this allegation from the school board in St. Mary’s County:

The majority of the St. Mary’s County Board of Education has taken the unusual step of voting to recommend that the State Board of Education remove member Marilyn Crosby for “immorality, misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty.” School Board Chairman Dr. Sal Raspa, Vice Chairman Brooke Matthews and board member Cathy Allen voted for the resolution. Board member Mary Washington abstained; Crosby voted against it.

The resolution comes after the board hired an investigator at $300 an hour to find who was behind alleged leaks to the media of confidential personnel information.

The issue related to the candidacy of Assistant Superintendent Brad Clements to become interim superintendent and then his subsequent withdrawal from consideration.

The resolution states: “The independent investigator determined that all of the Board members, including Mrs. Crosby, had been provided with confidential personnel information in envelopes labeled ‘Confidential,’ to be reviewed and discussed during the Executive Session of the Board of Education and determined by a preponderance of the evidence that Mrs. Crosby provided copies of the confidential personnel documents, or at least their material contents, to the media and the MSEA UniServ Director without the knowledge or permission of the employee, which disclosure was in violation of Maryland Public Information Act and Board Policy BC.”

The resolution also says, “In disclosing the documents, Mrs. Crosby interfered with the effective operation of the St. Mary’s County Public Schools, interfered with the well-being of the employee whose rights were violated, violated Board Policy, and subjected the Board of Education to penalties under the Maryland Public Information Act.”

During discussion of the motion to approve the resolution, Crosby admitted giving the Enterprise a copy of Clemens’ letter announcing his withdrawal of candidacy, however she says there was no confidential personnel information contained therein. She flatly denies giving any information to or talking to Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) UniServ Director Liz Purcell-Leskinen.

There is far from enough evidence to draw a conclusion one way or the other. Clements withdrew his name from consideration because his candidacy – in his own words – “caused considerable controversy within the Board of Education, the community, and the employees associations.” However, the local teacher union president said she supported Clements for the interim position.

What we need is someone on the school board to leak the independent investigator’s findings. Which one should we call?


NEA Makes $550K TV Buy in Iowa

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 29•14

Eleventh hour ad against GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst.


Teachers Unions and the War Within

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 29•14

No, that’s not the title of a CNN special report, it’s the headline over a piece I wrote for the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next. It’s on their site now, so get over there and read it.

While you’re there, you might also want to take a look at Alexander Russo’s “Teachers Unions and the Common Core,” especially in light of the latest Gallup poll.


CTA Hires The Sphinx

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 28•14

That’s the only explanation for an organizational exercise the California Teachers Association has been using at meetings of its activists. The union has embraced the concept of “appreciative inquiry,” which, the Internet tells us, is…

…about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” often-involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people. In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul– and visions of valued and possible futures. Taking all of these together as a gestalt, AI deliberately, in everything it does, seeks to work from accounts of this “positive change core”—and it assumes that every living system has many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.

Heavy, man.

CTA hopes appreciative inquiry will…


The tagline reads, “You cannot think your way into a new way of acting, you have to act your way into a new way of thinking.”

Which is what reminded me of The Sphinx, a costumed hero from the film Mystery Men. The Sphinx routinely spouted such pearls of wisdom as “When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts” and “He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.”

So expect to see this soon in CTA promotional material.



Teachers Unions’ Last Chance to Repopulate Ranks of Friendly Governors

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 27•14

Click here to read.


High Roller

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Oct• 27•14

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has a detailed exposé of elaborate machinations in the Clark County School District involving board members, insurance consultants and John Vellardita, the executive director of the Clark County Education Association.

I encourage you to read the full story, but the short version goes like this.

In 2011, the district hired Business Benefits, a consulting firm, to negotiate a new deal with United HealthCare to cover education support employees. The firm delivered, getting coverage with significantly lower premiums. District teachers, however, were being covered by the union health trust, and CCEA refused to join support employees in one big plan.

Last year, the union changed its tune – on the condition that United HealthCare was dropped in favor of the CCEA trust, and the unified plan was administered by Vellardita in place of Business Benefits.

The district refused – sensibly since the trust is operating at a loss – and soon after Erin Cranor, school board president and union ally, began making accusations of kickbacks and bribes involving Business Benefits and other members of the board. She received a sympathetic ear from new superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who abruptly canceled the Business Benefits contract at the end of 2013.

One problem: The contract required a six-month cancellation notice, and Skorkowsky gave one day. Business Benefits sued the district for breach of contract, and Cranor as an individual for instigating the action, allegedly on behalf of CCEA.

Last month, Cranor sent a $100,100 settlement check from district funds to Business Benefits – not to drop the suit, but to drop her from the suit. She did this without the approval, or even the knowledge of the school board.

You can’t idenftify the bad guys without a scorecard, and there don’t seem to be any good guys. It’s a picture of school district operations that doesn’t include the interests of students, teachers or taxpayers.