Road Warrior: NEA’s new Secretary-Treasurer travels to where the action is.
NEA’s new Secretary-Treasurer travels to where the action is.
The Sumner County, Tennessee Education Association is like many NEA locals—fighting the good fight for students and public educators, and trying to cope with a school board head who wishes they didn’t exist.
So the SCEA was very happy when NEA field organizer Melanie Mitchell and a posse of organizers from the Tennessee Education Association showed up last spring to help with a membership drive. The staff teamed up with local Association activists and visited every school, boosting membership far above the 50 percent threshold at which the board could have decertified the local and avoided collective bargaining.
Then, last fall, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle came to town to huddle with the SCEA executive board. “She made a great personal connection. We came away feeling we were really part of the whole organization, not just an isolated local in Tennessee,” says local President Mary Pappas.
Pringle helped the Sumner County teachers plan how to cope with their anti-union board president. But there was a second purpose for her visit: to see whether NEA funds were being deployed effectively to strengthen local Associations.
That’s Pringle’s dual role—she’s there to help, but also to listen and learn.
Pringle spends about half of her time far from home, meeting with state and local leaders to make sure NEA’s budget is in synch with its goals. It’s her job to put NEA’s money where its mouth is.
The national and state resources were well used in Sumner County, about 40 miles from Nashville. The organizing teams had a compelling message about what educators would lose if SCEA were decertified: The school board could unilaterally decide salaries, health benefits, and retirement. “Do you want to take what is given, or have what is negotiated?” said the Association’s literature.
Some 200 new members joined, and SCEA increased its ability to keep recruiting after the outside staff left. Says Prin-gle, “The staff people couldn’t do the job alone, and neither could the local members, but together, they were amazing.”
While in the area, Pringle also spoke at a Nashville rally and visited schools, talking with educators about their concerns, such as what NEA is doing to reform No Child Left Behind. “She does a great job of connecting with members, one-on-one, in small groups, or speaking to 500,” said Tennessee Education Association President Earl Wiman.
Last fall, Pringle and other top NEA leaders logged thousands of miles on the road mobilizing NEA members and their families for pro-public education candidates.
“With the so-called ‘No Child Left Behind’ law, the federal government has pushed its way into our classrooms with destructive force,” says Pringle, who led an NEA advisory committee that shaped NEA’s response to the law. “We need a federal government that understands its unique role in securing access and equity and is on the side of kids and educators. We can all feel proud of the progress we made toward that goal last fall.”
But there is more to do, especially at the state level, she says. “Even if NCLB is changed, we will still be left with many state accountability systems that have the same test-and-punish philosophy.”
Electing pro-public education governors and legislators is essential to transforming those systems and letting educators do the work they love, says Pringle. And the economic downturn makes state and local elections especially important because school funding comes mostly from state and local sources.
Despite the economy, Pringle is an optimist: “Who would have thought we would accomplish as much as we did last year?” she says. “This is our opportunity to get across the message that investing in education is an investment in America’s future security and prosperity.”
School Trust Lands Reform Initiative On Hold in Arizona
In 1910, Arizona set aside nearly 11 million acres as state trust lands. Revenues generated from these lands are dedicated to the beneficiaries of the trust. As the primary beneficiary, Arizona’s public education system receives 96 percent of this revenue allocation, with K—12 receiving the largest share.
In 2008, public education supporters backed Proposition 103—also known as the Conserving Arizona’s Water and Land Act—to bolster funding for public schools. The initiative’s goal was to conserve and protect approximately 580,000 acres of Arizona land as well as raise more money for education through more efficient sale or lease of the remaining state trust land. Unfortunately, the act did not make last November’s ballot because of an insufficient number of verifiable signatures.
Arizona Education Association (AEA) President John Wright worked closely with community leaders to build a consensus in support of the measure.
“It’s a broad coalition that is not going to sit back and let this go away,” Wright says. “We will pursue this effort in the near future,” he adds, “until we get the right initiative before voters.”
The measure would have permanently conserved natural areas in Arizona and provided an opportunity for conserving additional lands, enhancing an essential classroom funding stream through improved planning and management of state trust lands.
School trust lands were granted at statehood by the federal government to provide financial support for schools. Every state once held land in a trust fund for public education, though many states have sold off these lands in recent years. Today, 45 million acres in 19 states are still held in trust for public schools, according to the Children’s Land Alliance Supporting Schools. This represents about $32 billion that impact public schools. See www.nea.org for more on school trust lands.
Continuing the Quest for Fair Pay
After staging a three-month-long living wage campaign, a tentative agreement has been reached in Pennsylvania between members of the Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 Education Association and the state agency of the same name that employs them. Most wage campaigns take up to three years to organize and execute. The Association is made up of 330 associate teachers (paraprofessionals), secretaries, warehouse clerks, and certified part-time assistants employed at 95 worksites. ESP salaries, formerly starting at $13,740, were raised to a starting salary of $18—19,000 by the end of the five-year contract. The new contract also includes a salary schedule, 12 Association days, and the right to transfer unused days to the next year.
In other salary news, the Texas State Teachers Association reported that poor pay and working conditions were the two main reasons why educators leave the profession, according to a survey of Texas teachers. "Texas Teachers, Moonlighting, and Morale" revealed that the average salary of teachers surveyed was $47,545. An extra job brought in another $8,288.
We check out who's making the grade—or needs improvement—in education across the country.
Mayors across Texas partnered with local schools and went door-to-door to persuade dropouts to return to school. In San Antonio, Mayor Phil Hardberger and volunteers contacted approximately 500 students; about 100 re-enrolled.
The Alabama Community College System spent $472,500 to contract this company to do employee background checks. It initially identified 200 out of 9,350 employees as felons—damaging some reputations and job status—when only 73 employees were later confirmed to have felony records.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Rhee
In a proposed contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union (not affiliated with NEA), Rhee rallied to fire tenured teachers, promote a 'pay for test scores' plan, and has circumvented the union by creating more nonunionized charter schools.