My view is that a strong teachers union is an important way for teachers to improve their work environment (which is our students’ learning environment). Each year I was a teacher, I was a dues-paying member of the teachers union. I served as a representative on the state-mandated discussion committee, which is a monthly meeting of school administrators with the union leadership and a few regular union member representatives like me. I encouraged teachers to share their concerns with me so I could bring them to these discussion meetings. I brought up issues, provided data, and suggested improvements. I believe that a teachers union can be effective in advocating for teachers, but unfortunately our school district’s union leaders are not.
Our union leaders have a “cozy” relationship with the administrators and school board. I have never seen our teachers union give any push back on a school board decision. I have never seen our teachers union say anything critical of a school administrator decision. Rather than advocate for our teachers, the union leaders send messages to the teachers encouraging them to support the school board and to support the administrators. This isn’t how a teachers union is supposed to work. I’ll give a couple of examples:
- In April 2019, when the school board voted to fire all the first-year teachers at WLES and WLIS, the union leaders should have jumped into action and defended those teachers’ jobs. Class sizes were higher than ever, the state had forecast an increase in our enrollment for the next year, and the school corporation had millions saved in the referendum fund that was supposed to be used to support teachers and reduce class size. However, the union leaders simply expressed support for the school board’s decision and then sat quietly. Teachers were frustrated. I met with the union leaders to encourage them to take action, they listened, but were not willing to do anything to advocate for the teachers. With jobs at risk and no support from the union, 23 teachers left our district that year. We lost some great teachers to neighboring districts. The principals did some last-minute hiring at the beginning of the next school year to make up for all the exits and we ended up employing more teachers than the year before. What good is a teachers union that is unwilling to work to save teachers’ jobs?
- In the fall of 2020, I was one of 15 candidates to run for four open seats on the school board (I was very close to winning a seat). The League of Women voters invited each candidate to be video interviewed by an AP government student and a teacher. After accepting the invitation, a teachers union leader contacted me to say that they would be using these interviews to decide who to support with campaign funding. I was grateful for the opportunity to be interviewed and I had been a union member, but I indicated that even if the union were to endorse me, I would not accept their money. I don’t think it is right for the teachers union to be involved in the school board election. The school board is supposed to represent the community, not union leaders. The union should be directly negotiating with the superintendent and the school board, not hand picking school board members (scholars call this regulatory capture). When I arrived at the interview, I learned that it was being produced by the RDP-PAC’s political consultant and that a union leader would conduct the interview with a student. I noticed that in these interviews the union leader asked pointed follow-up questions and pushed back on any claim that the schools need improvement while offering softball questions to their pre-chosen candidates. The union transferred $5,000 to the RDP-PAC and put misleading “teacher endorsed” sign-toppers on their hand-picked candidates’ yard signs. The union leaders did not allow teachers (or even just the union members) to vote on who to support yet misled the community that the PAC-supported candidates were the teachers’ choice. I’ve written more about my views on this in my post on “Small Town School Board Campaigns.”
The teachers union in our school district has done a poor job advocating for our teachers. They walk in perfect harmony with the school board and school administrators and use their influence to try to keep teachers in line. My view is that the teachers union should not be involved in school board elections. As a union member, a teacher, and now as a school board candidate, I want the teachers union to advocate for our teachers. There have been some changes in union leadership which has brought in a few new people. I’m hopeful.