A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.


Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 18•15

The Detroit Federation of Teachers has reached the worst possible outcome of the Steve Conn saga. When last we left our hero, he had been ousted by a vote of the union’s executive board. He vowed to fight on, and the next step was a vote of the union’s rank-and-file to overturn.

He needed two-thirds, and had he gotten it – vox populi, vox Dei – he would have been restored to office and at least it would have been clear who was actually in charge.

If he were resoundingly rejected, he would have become a footnote in the sad recent history of DFT.

Unfortunately for everyone, the voters chose Conn 527-473 – a clear majority, suggesting he has picked up support since his original election, but far short of the two-thirds required to bring him back.

Conn will next take his fight to AFT, where he is very unlikely to receive satisfaction. According to the Detroit News, “Before the vote, Conn’s lawyer Shanta Driver had said if Conn lost he and his supporters would create an independent union or join another union.”

That could get messy, since DFT is still the exclusive representative, the Michigan Education Association and NEA won’t touch Conn with a barge pole, and there’s still the danger that AFT could airdrop the locksmiths and take over the whole operation.

Still, Conn won a majority – well, at least a majority of the 25% of the rank-and-file who voted – and his supporters are a credible threat to challenge DFT.

Detroit teachers have the freedom to weigh in on this drama, or avoid it entirely, thanks to the fact that their jobs no longer require financially supporting DFT.


New Mexico’s $2 Million “Insult”

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 17•15

Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, and the unions often tell us about it. In New Mexico, the state appropriated $2 million in one-time funding to help offset those costs.

It was delivered in the form of $100 debit cards for teachers to use at approved vendors. The teachers are required to keep their receipts and sign an agreement that the money will be used strictly for school supplies.

How did the union react?

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said the cards being distributed this week are “an insult” to educators because they come as districts face teacher shortages.

The union isn’t taking an official stance on the cards, but union leaders are encouraging teachers to send Gov. Susana Martinez a signed postcard declaring “$100 will not buy my silence” while educators protest the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“Receiving this VISA card is not a ‘privilege’ as stated in the New Mexico Teacher’s Classroom Supply Agreement, rather, it is an insult to all educators,” the postcard reads.

More importantly, teachers say the agreement they have to sign to get the cards puts their licenses in jeopardy if an out-of-state contractor concludes their purchases violate the agreement, union officials said.

…”This is designed just to get Susana Martinez some street cred among teachers,” she said. “If she wants to help teachers, end this evaluation system and fully fund school systems.”

Signing the agreement isn’t what puts a teacher’s license in jeopardy. Committing fraud after signing the agreement might, but I doubt there is a single teacher in the history of New Mexico who lost his or her license for committing $100 worth of fraud.

Let’s not risk insulting teachers. Take the cards and insult the working poor instead. They could use $100 in school supplies and they don’t have licenses to worry about.


What the Hell Just Happened in Seattle?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 16•15

The representative bodies of the Seattle Education Association voted to suspend its strike, pending a Sunday ratification vote by the full membership on a tentative agreement reached yesterday.

The union is touting a 30-minute guaranteed student recess (it originally wanted 45 minutes) and the fact that teachers will no longer be evaluated in any way on student test scores. These were important issues for the union, but the teachers didn’t go on strike for recess. What about the money?

The district’s final salary proposal before the strike was 2% the first year, 3.2% the second year, and 3.75% the third year, plus an additional 0.25% for an additional 20 minutes of instruction time (not a longer day, but a reapportionment of time). Telling members the district’s offer “falls short,” the union countered with 7%-7%-7% for the three years.

On September 14, the district’s pay offer was the same. SEA said this “wasn’t good enough” and countered with a 4.75%-5% two-year deal.

The final result? 3% the first year, 2% the second year and 4.5% the third year with (apparently) pro rata pay for 20 additional minutes of instruction.

“Let’s be clear,” said SEA bargaining chair Phyllis Campano. “We won the fight on this contract agreement.”

If we look at our hypothetical beginning Seattle teacher, currently making $246.51 each work day, the district’s pre-strike proposal would have raised her pay to $259.49 by the second year. Under the tentative agreement, she will be making $258.99 – 50 cents a day less.

The third year pushes that to $270.64, or 77 cents a day more than the district was offering. That’s $138.60 a year won over the course of a five-day strike. And that’s not realized until the 2017-18 school year.

As I mentioned in Monday’s communiqué, for almost any other union besides a teachers’ union, this would have been a huge money loss for the members. A five-day strike would have cost our beginning teacher more than $1,232 in lost pay, so this deal would have meant an almost $1,100 net loss. Of course, schools have the requirement and the open calendar to make up lost days, and the district has already announced its plan.

The first three days of the strike will be made up using the built-in snow make-up days as previously negotiated with SEA: one mid-year snow day and two days at the end of the school year. All additional make-up days will need to be determined at a later date in discussion with SEA. Typical options are shortening mid-year vacations, using Saturdays or changing the end of the school year.

Let’s hope there isn’t much snow in Seattle this winter.

The majority of comments on SEA’s Facebook page are negative, but that shouldn’t be seen as any indication of how Sunday’s vote will turn out. I do expect, however, that pay will dominate the debate between now and then.


And Just Like That…

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 15•15

Seattle teachers strike settled

…pending approval by the union’s board and representative assembly. Details unavailable until the votes, but we’ll be sure to check on provisions about making up the strike days.


A Lesson in Teacher Strike Math

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 14•15

Click here to read.


NEA New Hampshire Endorses Clinton

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 14•15

Normally it wouldn’t be much of a news item to note that NEA New Hampshire endorsed Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States.

But back in June, Vermont NEA already endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders and specifically mentioned plans to campaign for him in New Hampshire. “There are 350 Vermont NEA members who live in New Hampshire … our organizers are going to start to identify members, and connect them to the (Sanders) campaign, phone banking, leafleting,” and essentially, “whatever the Sanders campaign needs,” said Vermont NEA president Martha Allen.

Voters might not find it too odd to see some teachers campaigning for Clinton and some for Sanders, and I assume that the average voter would not know that they all belong to the same organization, but where it might get dicey are events where both candidates appear – like the debates. Media coverage that includes teacher activists also could be confused and inaccurate.

I’m sure the officers of both unions, and NEA national, will work out a mode of coexistence for the New Hampshire primary, but it is the interaction of those 350 Vermont NEA members with the battalions of NEA New Hampshire volunteers that I’ll be watching. Let’s hope Lebanon doesn’t turn into Lebanon.


CTA’s Mandatory Sales Pitch Bill Looks Dead

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 11•15

The California Teachers Association tried to sneak in a last-minute bill that would have required school districts to set aside 30 minutes for the union to beg members not to leave.

OK, it didn’t say that exactly, but CTA appears so pessimistic about its chances to win the Friedrichs v. CTA agency fee case before the U.S. Supreme Court next year that it’s already preparing a captive-audience, condo-timeshare-type presentation to education employees.

There was immediate pushback from a host of school management organizations and the League of California Cities, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown’s staff to leak the news that it “wants more time than the expiring session allows to discuss the issue with the stakeholders before deciding on a possible remedy.”

This was bad news for CTA, but ironically it was bad news for me, too. The letter sent by the coalition of school administrators to state legislators mentions one of the reasons for its opposition:

The Court has emphasized, as recently as June 2015 in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, that the First Amendment does not allow government to regulate speech based on its content. Any thoughtful legislative response to a decision in Friedrichs must reflect this principle. If proponents of agency fees are allowed to urge public employees to pay them voluntarily, this provides an opportunity to anyone with opposing views to address those employees in the same manner.

If CTA were to get such a bill passed, it inevitably would be challenged in court on First Amendment grounds. And if it were decided that school districts had to provide 30 minutes to someone with views opposing those of CTA, it could have meant BIG BUCKS for the Education Intelligence Agency.