Leading the Way: NEA is ready to work with Obama to transform public schools
Fired up, ready to go
After eight years, a true friend to NEA now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And just a few blocks down the street, NEA’s leadership is already working with the new Administration and members of Congress on a progressive legislative agenda for public education.
Executive Committee members Princess Moss and Len Paolillo at NEA’s reception in January to celebrate the Inauguration of Barack Obama.
Patric G. Ryan
“Creating the schools we need for the 21st century will require a new commitment and new partnerships,” says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “We must build on our hard work and continue the momentum.”
Fortunately for the 3.2 million members of the NEA, the two newest members of the Executive Committee, Princess Moss and Len Paolillo, are ready to seize this historic opportunity.
“It’s an exciting time for the NEA,” Paolillo says. “I believe that we are as well-positioned as any organization in the country right now to move the change needed in the country.”
After their respective three-year terms began last September, Paolillo and Moss were out on the campaign trail. They canvassed key battleground states to rally voters and collaborate with other groups and organizations in electing pro-public education candidates.
And now with both President Barack Obama and a new Congress (bolstered by stronger pro-public education majorities in both houses) installed in Washington, the hard work is only just beginning.
“NEA is ready to embrace these new challenges and new ideas,” says Moss, an elementary school music teacher and the former president of the 62,000-member Virginia Education Association. “Of course, our opponents say we are obstructionists to change. But we are, in fact, at the forefront of transforming public schools.”
As Moss observed from her time in a state leadership position, however, many members across the country often don’t fully understand the importance of the work NEA does on their behalf.
“Our lobbying voice is absolutely critical. We influence what happens in Washington, and what happens in Washington affects the lives and careers of all our members.”
As an Executive Committee member, Moss wants to help “make the NEA real”—building better communication with its members about NEA’s leading role. This is “a productive way to build the engagement of our members and prospective members,” Moss says. “Better engagement will help us be a more productive and progressive organization.”
And that’s a message that needs to be carried by NEA across the country, says Len Paolillo, because every member has a role to play.
“Each member—whether you’re a teacher, professor, librarian,
student, retiree, or support professional—is a part of a greater whole.”
Before being elected to the executive committee, Paolillo, a sociology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, led NEA’s Committee on Legislation, which guides the organization's legislative efforts.
He continues to push for comprehensive reforms on issues important to NEA’s members, including the overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law, higher pay for educators, and the repeal of the GPO/WEP offsets that reduce public employees’ Social Security benefits.
“It’s a huge advantage not to have a President who aids and abets bad ideas and bad laws,” Paolillo says. “Now we can move forward and build real partnership with this new Administration.”
Of course, even with new allies in
the White House and Capitol Hill, real, lasting change won’t happen overnight.
“It won’t be easy,” Paolillo cautions. “But if we keep our focus on the organization’s mission and core values, and we keep our eyes on the bigger picture, we can adapt to changes and move our agenda forward. I am confident that within a couple of years we’ll begin to see positive results.”
More locals increase starting pay
Twenty-seven states now have at least one local with salaries of at least $40,000 for new teachers. The proportion of NEA locals with a starting salary of $40,000 increased to 14 percent, representing nearly 1,600 locals.
The Sea Girt Education Association (SGEA) recently became the 50th local in New Jersey to bargain a starting teacher salary over $50,000. At press time, five additional locals reached the mark. SGEA’s 20-plus teacher members will enter the 2009—10 school year with a starting salary of $52,122. Over 90 percent of New Jersey districts have a starting salary of more than $40,000.
Meanwhile, Westbury School-Related Professionals in New York won a six-year contract that puts salary schedules in place for the first time in 20 years. Pay hikes for the group’s 130 teaching assistants and aides average about 7 percent a year through 2013.
The 1,200 teachers of the Bellevue Education Association (BEA) in Washington recently won a 5 percent raise, better insurance, and an end to mandatory pre-scripted daily lesson plans. In this high-turnover district, about 85 percent of BEA members have five years of service or less.
The Stroudsburg Area Education Association (SAEA) in Pennsylvania recently reached a six-year agreement that includes a $50,000 starting salary for teachers. “A few years ago, our leadership set out to create a successful model for obtaining a fair and competitive contract for our members,” says SAEA President Glen Galante. “Key ingredients are having strong leaders within your executive officers and committee chairpersons, and having members who step in to lead.”
The Maryland State Teachers Association and the Hawaii State Teachers Association recently negotiated contracts where new teachers earn a starting salary of $40,000.
Court Leaves Education Funding to Legislators
The New Hampshire Legislature will continue to overhaul New Hampshire’s school funding system without Supreme Court oversight after a ruling in which the justices dismissed a long string of lawsuits over how the state pays for public education. Education groups, like NEA-New Hampshire, and school boards say the Legislature has made great strides in recent years, but they worry that without court involvement, lawmakers may not pay for what they’ve promised. The ruling doesn’t bar the court from weighing in on school funding in the future.
Must Recruit and Retain
Most of the 2,400 teacher vacancies in Mississippi must be filled by teachers working on emergency licenses—educators teaching subjects different than their fields of expertise or who are unlicensed. The shortage could get worse when some of the 6,000 veteran educators eligible to retire actually do so, according to Kevin Gilbert, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators. To counter, Gilbert has approached legislators to offer teachers competitive and comparable pay, develop a career ladder to help assistant teachers become certified, and provide adequate classroom resource funding.
Teacher turnover and member recruitment were two main issues among members of the McKinley County Federation of United School Employees in Gallup, New Mexico. A team from the New York State United Teachers recently spent two weeks in Gallup helping the union confront anti-unionists and garner support of candidates running for the school board. Consequently, three new pro-education board members were elected, and they promptly fired the superintendent who had been complacent about allowing state police to escort union organizers off school campuses and whose district had 15 discrimination cases pending.
We check out who’s making the grade—or needs improvement—in education around the country.
Blind Marching Band