Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dr. Homeslice schools a Former School Board Member...

Ah, Kay Brooks. I linked to your post about firing a teacher a few months back...I thought it an enlightening view from the other side.

Now I'm starting to think the view from your side isn't exactly so enlightened.

I ran across your recent post and it took me by surprise, your elementary level understanding of how the democratic process drives a union. I was abhorred by your inferences in your post, and agitated enough to write about it. So here I go.

For those of you who don't know Kay Brooks, she's did a stint on the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education over the summer. The home-school parent (yes, she was on a board of education and homeschooling her kids) endured something of an uproar over her appointment to the board, something about a back-room deal..smoke...mirrors...or something. Read for yourself the specifics here.

The Backstory-- and a little organized labor primer...

An anonymous donor came forward to the MNPS (Metro Nashville Public Schools) and offered up to $400,000 in bonus money per year until 2009 for a diversified pay option for the teachers at two elementary schools. They would receive the money by improving students' test scores on district achievement tests in writing, reading and math. Also, improved scores on the state standardized test (TCAP) in the areas of math, reading and science would also be measured and rewarded. Changes in test scores (both district and state) were the only criteria to measure success (or lack thereof) under the proposed plan.

This proposal ran counter to a resolution adopted by the Tennessee Education Association's Representative Assembly in May of this year. The resolution stated that "Any additional compensation beyond the single salary schedule must not be based upon...student standardized test scores". This resolution was adopted because other factors influence test scores, including attendance, discipline, lexile scores and the like. A good diversified pay plan includes those other factors, like increased attendance, lowered discipline and such-- this Memorandum of Understanding Based on improvement in the test scores, teachers could receive anywhere from $2000 to $6,000. Principals and other staff (including non-certified) were included in the plan, but teachers would have received the lion's share of compensation.

Tennessee is one of 22 right-to-work states, a condition brought about in the 1940's with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act. It allows state governments to outlaw "union shops" (where you MUST be a union member as a condition of employment) and allow employees the "right to work". That means they cannot be forced to join a union, but they can't be fired for joining one, either.

As a result of the state's right-to-work status, 3,600 of the district's 5,500 teachers are MNEA members. Here's the funny thing, though-- despite the fact that about 1,900 of the 5,500 teachers in the district aren't members, they still receive the benefits of the MNEA contract WITHOUT paying dues. Why? The contract establishes the MNEA as the sole representative of certificated personnel, and so MNEA negotiates with the board for everything in the contract. Non-members of MNEA don't pay dues but do get paid at the union rate and enjoy the benefits of the contract, with the exception of union representation at disciplinary hearings and being able to vote for union officers and contract provisions. If they don't pay their dues, they aren't members and they don't vote.

Things Heat Up

This Memorandum of Understanding (for those of you non-uniony folks out there, this is basically a legal document that indicates understanding and a "convergence of will" between two parties) was a change in the contract for the members of MNEA, and everyone in the bargaining unit had to vote, even though only two of the district's many schools. This only includes the 3,600 teachers in MNPS who are actual members of MNEA. Even thought the leadership of the union was "not thrilled" with the language of the MoU, they still decided to put it to a vote of the membership. The ballots were distributed on September 26th and members of MNEA had until October 6th to return them to the union office. The MoU failed, with a vote of 48.7% for, 51.3% against.

Henceforth, Kay began her diatribe. Her comments are in red, quotes from the media used in her blog are italicized and my comments are in blue. While the colors do represent political affiliation, it's not exactly meant to be intentional.

So we had union reps handing out the ballots and maybe
gathering them up? Or did the union reps leave the ballot with the teacher,
without any editorial commentary, and the teacher returned sealed ballots to the
union office? If the union rep waited for the ballot what words may have been
exchanged between the delivery person and the voter?

Yes Kay, the union representative job is to conduct elections. You can do it several ways, from putting them in mailboxes, handing them out personally to teachers in their classrooms to calling a special meeting for everyone involved so they can ask questions and vote all at once. Usually it's the representative's job to make sure the ballots are returned to the union office.

Some locals have tallys that have to be done before the ballots are sent in. As for words that were exchanged Kay, probably none. As a union representative I'm asked what I think about union officer candidates, proposals and the like. If I'm conducting the election, I can't answer that, simply because my feelings aren't important. When I vote, I don't ask the poll worker what he or she thinks about an issue or a candidate. Do you think that union members are that stupid?

And a school board member may have a backbone:

School Board member Steve Glover said the MNEA is simply flexing its muscles.
"This proves to me what I had suspected for some time, that without a doubt, the leadership of MNEA is about the leadership of MNEA" Glover said. "They're not about our kids. They're not about helping those kids that need the most amount of help."

Kay, just because teachers who happen to belong to a union decide to not go along with something that is pushed and supported by the board of education means that they think independently-- not that they don't care about kids. For shame.

Jamye Merritt, the Metro Nashville Education Association president, said that voter turnout was low but that union rules prevented disclosure of how many of the more than 3,300 members voted. "It's not germane to this issue," Merritt said of the turnout number.

It is when your membership feels disenfranchised. The
integrity of the voting process is under question here.

Disenfranchisement is nothing new, Kay. You question the integrity of the voting process because of disenfranchisement? You must be questioning every non-presidential, non-congressional election where only a handful of state issues and local candidates are on the ballot. The voting process of those elections must have questionable integrity, right Kay?

Other teachers at the schools selected for the pilot program said it was unfair that teachers from other schools were able to decide whether or not to accept the bonuses. "It's unfortunate that the vote went out to all MNEA members," said Karen Elliott, a third-grade teacher at Alex Green Elementary, who voted for the measure. "I don't see where it was a decision that the whole body was to make."

It is unfair. That's something only the union membership can
really do anything about.

They did, Kay. Everyone had to vote because the contract would change and that affects everyone in the bargaining unit. The two elementary schools still would have had to get a 70% yes rate on a separate, secret ballot vote to approve the diversified pay option.

In an interview Monday, Merritt said the decision not to accept the bonus plan was partly a result of mistrust among teachers toward the school board. "I think you have to look at it as trust," she said. "The teachers don't feel appreciated or that there is a commitment to them" by the school board.

This was the same whine I heard at the negotiations table
that I had so little patience with. Now the union is preventing fellow teachers
from receiving extra money (surely a sign of appreciation and commitment) based
on their feelings being hurt. Are we adults or not?

Perhaps the union and their leadership got tired of being called whiny, Kay. If by saying "the union is preventing fellow teachers from receiving extra money" you mean that in a democratic fashion the a majority of the union membership turned down the offer for the diversified pay play, then yes, they did. Also, the extra money came from outside, not the BOE's budget. It means something to give someone (or a bunch of someones) a raise with YOUR money. It's much easier to give away someone else's money.

The ballots went out to every union member in the district on Sept. 26, with a notation guiding members to the union's Web site, where they could read the proposal, said Eric Huth, union vice president. Teachers had until Oct. 6 to decide how they would vote and return the ballots to the union office, Huth said.

Let's see that union page. No other meetings? No other
documentation? No opportunity to meet with the Nashville Alliance for Public
Education in order to get a clearer understanding of the situation and build
that 'trust'?

Apparently Kay, the leadership of the union made the mistake (in your mind) of thinking that the membership could think for themselves and decide on whether or not they wanted to vote for it. They put the text of the MoU on the website, where indecisive or interested members could peruse it. I'm sure the office staff and the leadership and the building level reps availible for questions during this time.

There was no need for meeting with NAPE, as they have no right to be involved in union activities. Besides, the trust issue seems to be between the BOE and MNEA, not NAPE/ MNEA.

Apparently the Board Chair and the Union Vice President did a little wrangling in the press over the issue. The Board Chair faxed the VP a letter, but sent a carbon copy to the local paper (how nice) and you can read it
here. The Union VP responded the next day and put the paper on the distribution list. You can read it here. Well played Mr. Huth, well played.

And in the most entertaining, uneducated part of Kay's post:

Under collective bargaining rules, the proposal had to be approved by a majority of members of the Metro Nashville Education Association, the union that represents roughly 60 percent of the district's 5,600 teachers.

That means 40% of the teachers in Metro aren't union members
and didn't even get a chance to vote on this proposal. I think that's a
substantial number of our employees without a voice in an important matter and
that concerns me. I suspect that a good number of those 3,300 union members are
going to be rethinking the value of that membership.

Yes Kay, 40% of the teachers in Metro aren't union members and didn't even get a chance to vote on this proposal. You're right, it is a substantial number of employees that don't have a voice in this important matter. Please keep in mind that you have a right to work state, and they exercised their right to work-- without union representation. They chose of their own free will and without being under duress to work without paying union dues, which made them a nonmember of MNEA. In short, it was their choice. Their choice to save a few hundred dollars a year cost them the opportunity to vote in a very close issue. I feel no sympathy for them whatsoever.

Why would they rethink the value of their union membership? It did what it was supposed to do-- represent the views of its members. Unfortunately from where you stand, the majority was not what you wanted it to agree with.

That brings up another issue, one that I will close with. Teachers are not Pavlovian in nature; if you put money in front of them, they don't automatically leap towards it. The idea of diversified pay is one that is gaining steam throughout the nation, and I expect it to spread quickly within the next 10 years. However, just because extra dollars are dangled out in front of an underpaid and overworked teacher without a sound measuring system attached to it doesn't mean teachers will say "yes". District tests and state tests aren't the end-all be-all of teaching and education despite whatever the state or federal government says.


Anonymous said...

Okay, so this person isn't clear on what right to work means. She also doesn't seem to like the union. Did you have any points beyond that?

Dr. Homeslice said...

Heh. After reading her post, it just got my blood boiling. Either she doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand unions. The ignorance is frustrating. I had to vent.


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