Michigan At first, administrators thought the cost of fingerprinting and background checks for employees—required by recent laws aimed at protecting children from sex offenders— would be their biggest challenge. But problems really began when the Michigan Education Association (MEA) had to defend educators mistakenly identified by the screenings as criminals. For the approximately 200,000 public school employees involved, nearly 4,600 offenses were listed.
“We’ve heard from hundreds of our members who are victims of mistaken identity or errors in the report,” says MEA President Iris Salters. “In numerous cases, completely innocent, hardworking school employees have to spend time away from their classrooms or worksites to clear their good names in order to retain their employment—not to mention their reputations.” MEA obtained a temporary restraining order against the public disclosure of the list.
ESPs Seek New Code
Illinois Officials with the Illinois Education Association (IEA) have introduced legislation to address education support professional (ESP) concerns through changes in the state school code. These concerns include increasing accumulated sick leave, broadening recall rights, prohibiting subcontracting during a collective bargaining term, maintaining active status for employees injured on the job, and establishing bid requirements and public hearings for districts seeking to subcontract school non-certified staff when a contract has expired.
“There are numerous statutory areas that need to be addressed to provide ESPs with job security and due process of law,” says IEA ESP Specialist Stacy Burroughs.
Big Push for Pensions
Maryland Members of the Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA) are in the throes of a campaign to improve teacher pensions. Maryland teachers receive 38 percent of their salaries (minus state taxes) when they retire, compared with almost 75 percent in Pennsylvania (tax free) and 60 percent in New York. As part of the “Push for Pension” drive, MSTA members have hosted more than 500 house parties, sent over 30,000 e-mails to legislators, and sponsored legislative receptions. “I am proud of how our members and staff have seized the challenge of moving this grassroots effort out of the schools and worksites to the halls of the Maryland General Assembly,” says Pat Foerster, MSTA president. Maryland is the third-wealthiest state in the nation with a huge surplus this year.
In the Right Direction
Georgia Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is one of almost 40 governors urging their legislatures to support increased public school funding. Coincidentally, their states are holding gubernatorial elections in the fall. Governor Perdue, for example, has proposed a 4 percent salary increase, a $100 gift card to help teachers buy classroom supplies, and state underwriting for a portion of teacher health-insurance premiums.
“The 4 percent is good, but 6 percent is more in line with taking us in the direction we need to go,” says Merchuria Chase Williams, president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). Georgia ranks ninth in population and is the fifth- fastest-growing state. “Yet, we’re 18th in teacher salaries,” Williams says. Though Georgia teachers received a 2 percent raise in 2005–06, their take-home pay declined because of increased contributions to health insurance.
Arizona Members of the Mesa ESP Association (MESPA) have learned their lessons well. After studying the fine points of school finance, coalition building, and member recruitment at the hands of the Arizona Education Association (AEA), the Mesa bargaining team recently won a 3.4 percent raise for all ESPs, a district-covered insurance increase, a summer bonus of 4.4 percent, and a one-time payment that averaged $450 per educator. “AEA got our people trained, and the results have been good,” says Richard Berumen, MESPA president. Mesa is one of seven ESP locals targeted for assistance by AEA.
Educators Set the Agenda
Minnesota Education Minnesota (EM) launched a five-year communications campaign in January to build public support for schools and establish EM and its locals as the dominant sources of information on education issues. The “Schools First!” campaign includes more than $1 million in TV advertising to encourage Minnesotans to voice their opinions at an EM Web site (www.schoolsfirst.org). EM President Judy Schaubach says the campaign was launched to hear people’s views about public schools. “Our goal is to generate a great statewide public discussion about schools,” she says. In conjunction with the ad campaign, 15 public “listening sessions” were held across the state.