Story Updates

* The Syracuse Teachers Association situation is escalating. President Karen Fruscello apparently discovered another union officer was routinely surfing for porn on an office computer. The executive board, consisting entirely of members from an opposing caucus, suspended Fruscello, reportedly for conducting an unauthorized investigation, but has yet to take action against the unnamed porn surfer.

Yesterday, acting president Megan Root released this statement:

The Syracuse Teachers Association deeply regrets that what should have been an internally handled personnel issue has become a salacious matter for the public. It is always STA practice to handle personnel matters in a way that preserves our members’ confidentiality and right to privacy.

The Association is disheartened that Karen Fruscello is so insistent in trying this issue through the press. Her statements and behavior do not serve the members or the Association and are regrettable. The Association needs to be able to conduct our investigations internally and privately to ensure that our members are given due process. Karen Fruscello’s actions are damaging, harassing, and interfere with the work of the Association.

The reference to due process is rich, considering the lack of due process for Fruscello’s suspension and the fact that STA’s bylaws do not authorize the actions the board has taken. The appeal to confidentiality and privacy is also a straw man, since the identity of the alleged perpetrator has not been disclosed.

* A union source tells us that the board of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County in Maryland has withdrawn its proposal to require presidential candidates to first serve on the board. Coupled with a similar defeat in Denver, that makes union candidate restrictions 0 for 2.


Syracuse Union Suspends President

The lede in this story reads: “The Syracuse teachers union president says she was suspended after she uncovered a fellow officer’s inappropriate use of a computer during an audit.”

That doesn’t make much sense, and the details aren’t very illuminating either. Another story tells us what the inappropriate use was. But make your way down to the 12th paragraph and you see:

Fruscello first took office in July. She defeated six-year president Kevin Ahern in an election. The rest of the elected board ran with Ahern as part of the “Professional Partners” caucus. Fruscello ran as an outsider determined to disrupt business as usual at the union.

I don’t know if Fruscello is a crusader for transparency or another Steve Conn, but a careful examination of the Syracuse Teachers Association bylaws shows the union’s executive board has no authority to “suspend” anyone, much less the president.

It can recommend to the union’s representative assembly that the office be declared vacant if the president “has been grossly negligent.” It then takes a two-thirds vote of the RA to remove her.

How long before AFT sends in the paratroopers to restore order?


This Week Inside Baseball

Teacher union news is arcane enough, but detailing personnel moves goes that extra level below. Here’s more than you cared to know about who’s doing what and where:

* The floundering Indiana State Teachers Association is looking for a new executive director to replace Brenda Pike, who left to accept a similar position at the floundering Alabama Education Association.

* After running for every elected office from National Education Association president on down, Mark Airgood finally tasted victory, winning a runoff to become secretary of the Oakland Education Association. OEA has 2,700 members and Airgood captured 260 votes.

Airgood is probably NEA’s most prominent member of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a militant leftist group. Most NEA activists consider BAMN to be a mere nuisance, but some accuse it of cult practices.

* Robin Schmidt ran an unsuccessful campaign for president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Now he wants to know why the union wants to change the rules and require presidential candidates to first serve on the union’s board of directors.

“Richard Benfer, TAAAC’s current president, and his minions believe that in order to run for the office of TAAAC president you must first be admitted to their inner circle to demonstrate your worthiness,” Schmidt wrote.

* A similar measure was defeated by representatives of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, clearing the way for members of a social justice caucus to run for the top offices of the union.

* Former Kansas NEA board member Robert Bulk was sentenced to 68 months in prison after pleading guilty to two felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child (background here).


Ah, The Good Old Days

“This could be the beginning of a promising new period for public education in this country,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

…In Chicago, Duncan set his sights on reducing the dropout rate, reducing school violence and creating successful new schools. His efforts have shown his commitment to quality public schools, Van Roekel said, and willingness to make decisive, bold changes.

“We applaud President-Elect Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan to be the next Secretary of Education,” said Jo Anderson, Executive Director of the Illinois Education Association. “In IEA-NEA, we have worked collaboratively with Arne Duncan on a number of ways to improve all Illinois public schools, including increased funding. In our experience, Arne Duncan is committed to working with others including the unions to promote excellence and equity in public education.”

National Education Association press release, December 15, 2008

The AFT commends the Senate for quickly approving President Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.

…Arne Duncan has exhibited his commitment to public education and his willingness to listen as well as to lead. We hope Secretary Duncan’s team includes individuals who share these qualities, and who, like him, are committed to working with all stakeholders to strengthen and improve public education.

American Federation of Teachers press release, January 21, 2009


Building for Retirement

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) does pretty well for those who make a long career of teaching. The average teacher who retired in 2016 will receive $52,428 – about 60% of his or her final working salary.

But as Max Marchitello points out at, that benefit comes at the expense of teachers who will receive nothing from CalSTRS, or less than they contributed to the fund while teaching.

The system is only 69% funded and required bailout legislation last year, but don’t think CalSTRS is suffering in the interim. It is planning a $181 million, 10-story office tower to sit alongside the $266 million, 13-story tower it completed in 2009.


The SEIU Budget Cut Mystery

Last week Josh Eidelson of Bloomberg BusinessWeek obtained an internal Service Employees International Union (SEIU) memo that alerted its employees to a 30 percent budget cut in 2017.

The December 14 memo from SEIU president Mary Kay Henry blames the cuts on the 2016 election results.

Because the far right will control all three branches of the federal government, we will face serious threats to the ability of working people to join together in unions. These threats require us to make tough decisions that allow us to resist these attacks and to fight forward despite dramatically reduced resources.

While it seems certain that the fat years are over for SEIU, it’s curious that union leadership feels the need to take such immediate and drastic steps. After all, the “dramatically reduced resources” haven’t been dramatically reduced yet, and preemptive cuts make it less likely that resistance will be effective.

I don’t have up-to-date financials for SEIU, but at the beginning of 2015 the union was sitting on $281 million in annual revenue with a $12.2 million surplus, and almost $147 million in net assets. So what’s the rush?

The SEIU watchdog Stern Burger with Fries and his sources have a sound theory: The union is preparing for its long-awaited merger with AFSCME.

As we have seen with NEA-AFT state affiliate mergers, staff unions can often negotiate no-layoff clauses to protect jobs. But if you institute staff layoffs because of Trump, you can then proceed with a union merger without hurdles.

Some labor commentators have suggested union mergers will become more common in a post-agency fee world. That may be, but it will have to be a long fall before NEA and AFT take up the issue again.