A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

A Little More Charter School Transparency

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 18•14

Yesterday the Annenberg Institute for School Reform released a report called “Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight.” It received immediate and glowing endorsements from the presidents of both NEA and AFT. It came to the conclusions that charters had “uneven academic performance; practices that pushed or kept students out of charter schools; overly harsh discipline policies; funding patterns that destabilized traditional schools; and a lack of representative governance, transparency, and adequate oversight, leading to potential conflicts of interests and instances of fraud and other problems.”

Maybe they do. But you have to work your way to the end to find the name of the primary author of the report, Leigh Dingerson. Let’s just say her opinions about charter schools and education reform in general are well-documented.

Here she is on the pages of Rethinking Schools:

But there’s nothing remarkably visionary going on in Washington. The model of school reform that’s being implemented here is popping up around the country, heavily promoted by the same network of conservative think tanks and philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family Foundation that has been driving the school reform debate for the past decade. It is reform based on the corporate practices of Wall Street, not on education research or theory. Indications so far are that, on top of the upheaval and distress Rhee leaves in her wake, the persistent racial gaps that plague D.C. student outcomes are only increasing.

She appeared at the 2013 AFT Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference. “This is a significant coming-together of parents, teachers and young people determined to protect public education from falling into corporate hands,” she said.

She is the author of “Unlovely: How the Market Is Failing the Children of New Orleans.” She wrote: “The elixir of ‘choice’ serves the privatizers’ interests. It serves up an individualized escape route that not only divides communities, but also weakens the political will for collective action in support of public schools.”

For U.S. News & World Report she wrote “The Promise of Parent Trigger Inspires, But Doesn’t Deliver.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s important for charter schools to be held accountable – too important to be left to those working for their demise.


The Loneliness of the Labor Reporter

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 17•14

Alexander Russo asks “We Need More Teacher Union Coverage — Right?” after he listened to the laments of New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse about the demise of the union beat.

It’s strange that Greenhouse had a better sense in 1992 of where organized labor was headed than he does today, but mainstream coverage follows demand, and with only about 1 in every 9 employees belonging to a union, it is painfully obvious that labor is a niche beat. This makes education labor an even smaller niche beat.

There are many education reporters who do a fine job covering the teachers’ unions, but they are still education reporters. No one trained them in labor issues. Although this blog is devoted to inside information about teachers’ unions, much of my time is spent explaining the fundamentals of union operations and finances to those without knowledge of them. In the last 17 years, I probably have spent more time describing the UniServ program to reporters than NEA has. I ought to get a commission.

So my answer to Alexander’s question is a qualified yes, we do need more teacher union coverage. But what we really need are more individuals willing to choose a segment of the education beat and delve one yard below. We could use someone who writes exclusively about textbooks – the adoption process, the companies, the decision-makers, and the contents. How about someone who follows the professional development industry? I once did a series of stories about the National School Public Relations Association that was very well received. Where is the blogger who tears the veil off of school district PR strategies?

We have 12,000 people writing about Common Core, most of it the same as the next piece, but no one writing about the travails and/or foibles of school superintendents.

So this is my recruitment pitch: It’s easier to stand out if you’re not surrounded by everyone else. Pick something with low coverage and cover it. If you decide it should be teachers’ unions, I honestly wish you the best. I’m not going to live forever.


Alabama EA Board Orders Audit

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 16•14

The Alabama Education Association board of directors gave its “full support” to the officers and executives of the organization, but called for an audit of the union’s finances. The action came on the heels of a letter to the board from former executive secretary Paul Hubbert questioning the AEA budget and operations.

The board met in executive session for five hours on Friday night before approving a budget with reduced expenditures. It is not clear what type of audit will be done or who will conduct it, but preliminary indications are that the AEA leadership envisions a routine audit, not a performance or forensic audit.


Proxy War

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 15•14

Click here to read.


NYSUT Local Wants to Withhold AFT PAC Money

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 15•14

Some local affiliate presidents of the New York State United Teachers are unusual in that they forcefully and publicly blast the higher-ups in their own union. We’re reminded of Eric D. Przykuta, president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association, who was colorful and bombastic when describing NYSUT’s policies and leaders.

Continuing that tradition is Tony Felicio Jr., president of the Connetquot Teachers Association. Felicio is trying to organize what amounts to a boycott of the national union’s political action committee after AFT president Randi Weingarten made robo-calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul before the Democratic primary. NYSUT did not endorse Cuomo and has had a running feud with the governor.

Felicio sent a letter up the chain to NYSUT headquarters in an effort to withhold some $132,000 his local contributes to AFT. “We no longer want any of our hard earned dollars/dues going to an organization (AFT) whose leader so blatantly undermined the rank and file efforts in this past gubernatorial primary election,” he wrote.


Another Shoe to Drop in Alabama?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 12•14

The Alabama Education Association board of directors will meet tonight to discuss “the budget and other financial matters.” Certainly they will discuss the letter they received from former executive secretary Paul Hubbert about the union’s internal problems. There is a lot in there to talk about. But one particular allegation should receive special attention. Hubbert wrote:

“Of specific and serious concern is the expenditure of remaining reserve funds to invest in high risk stock market ventures. The demand to participate in highly aggressive stock trades forced Merrill Lynch to refuse to service the remaining AEA investments and the investments were moved to Stern Agee (sic) to engage in highly volatile trades. A full audit of these strategies and actions is warranted. High risk trading in the market is no way to use member dues money.”

This one is potential dynamite – not only because having a firm refuse to service investments is a red flag in itself, and not only because the Indiana State Teachers Association insurance trust went bankrupt under similar circumstances. It’s the appearance of Sterne Agee in the mix that should give the AEA board the willies.

Last year Sterne Agee’s former chief financial officer sued the firm, alleging that James Holbrook Jr., its chairman and chief executive, “uses Sterne Agee and its resources and corporate toys for Holbrook’s own personal pleasure, thereby contributing enormously to the wasteful and abusive spending at Sterne Agee that detracts from its profitability. For example, Holbrook bought luxury watches, women’s shoes and jewelry with Sterne Agee funds as gifts for Holbrook’s employee acquaintances.”

On May 23 of this year Holbrook was dismissed, three days after the company was notified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Justice that they were investigating Holbrook for “possible misuse of holding company assets.” Holbrook claims the allegations against him are untrue and unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery Advertiser reports rather matter-of-factly in the 16th paragraph of this story that according to campaign finance reports, Sterne Agee gave AEA’s PAC $89,000 last week.

The local media are treading cautiously around this, but are leaving dark hints. Columnist Kyle Whitmire made a sideways reference to Richard Scrushy and other financial scandals in an editorial about AEA.

If the members of the AEA board of directors take their oversight role seriously, all this will be cleared up one way or another in the coming weeks. Ironically, they probably got used to a hands-off approach while the union was being run by Hubbert. It’s time to ask some tough questions.


Your Mom’s Union

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Sep• 11•14

In a new report for the Manhattan Institute, Daniel DiSalvo asks “Are Unions Democratic?” Well, let the argument begin, but putting the thesis aside, DiSalvo does highlight something that rarely gets attention. Here is the clip from his Investor’s Business Daily op-ed derived from the report:

The vast majority of current workers have never been asked to vote on whether they want union representation.

Although statutes require a “certification” election to set up a union, some 93% of public sector union members today belong to unions that were organized before they were hired.

I’ll go one further: A lot of union members today belong to unions that held a single representation election before they were born.

There isn’t anyone still working in the New York City Public Schools who voted to make the United Federation of Teachers the exclusive bargaining representative in 1961.

Maybe you still live in the house you bought in 1961. Maybe you love it. Maybe your children love it, too. But maybe it’s showing wear around the edges and you would like a new one.