Warm holiday wishes and a look ahead
As we head into the holidays and toward the end of the year, I want to thank all of you who have helped Janet and me make the transition into our new roles. It has been a busy and productive time. Members, elected leadership and staff have shared their knowledge and passions to deepen our commitment to member-led organizing and reclaim public education. Here is a recap of the major activities we've undertaken in our first few months in office and a look into what might come in 2015.
A bill that would have lifted the cap on charter schools - among other changes - was poised for passage in the Legislature on July 15, the day we took office. My first official act as president was to reach out to members to launch an aggressive e-mail campaign to state senators. The members responded in force. The very next day, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 26-13. Since then, members in Brockton and Fitchburg, with support from members and leaders in other locals, have continued to organize to fight charters that are seeking to open in their communities.
"NONE OF THE ABOVE" was our response to DESE's proposed plans to tie license renewal and advancement to evaluations and/or student test scores. MTA members generated thousands of e-mail messages to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members, all but shutting down their e-mail systems for a time. Local leaders were on the verge of busing hundreds of members to Bridgewater and Malden to protest at two DESE town halls when the department abruptly canceled the events and agreed to withdraw the proposals. Victory! But we are being vigilant to make sure the idea doesn't resurface in another form.
We have met with more than 800 members in 29 regional and local forums across the state. Each forum reminds us of the strength of our union: the knowledge, thoughtfulness and commitment of our members. In the new year we will share a summary of what we heard in the forums and work with leaders, members and staff to develop a plan to push back against the assault on our schools and colleges. We will fight for the schools every child deserves.
On Dec. 6, the Board approved MTA's ambitious legislative agenda, which you can read about here in the members-only area of our website. We have been hearing from Legislative and Political Action Team members, local leaders and others who are enthusiastic about our proposals to stop and roll back high-stakes testing, charters and other initiatives that undermine public education, to promote initiatives that will help provide our students with the schools they deserve and to join coalitions to ensure the well-being of our students, our members and our communities.
Level 5 Schools.
We don't win every fight, and that's true about the ones involving our two Level 5 schools - one in New Bedford and the other in Holyoke. MTA members and staff worked very hard, but faced an uphill battle in our efforts to modify the commissioner's plans for these schools. In the end, we won only small concessions. Through the legislative agenda and in other actions, we will continue to challenge the state's accountability system. Most recently I delivered this testimony to the BESE on Dec. 16 about why union rights are essential to creating the schools every child deserves.
Higher Education Contracts.
Bargaining units within higher education spent the summer and fall negotiating. As of this writing, most are settled and ratified or ready for ratification. Within the UMass system, units organized solidarity campaigns and shared knowledge and tactics as part of their collective bargaining efforts. This solidarity work is continuing as UMass members are being asked to contact legislators and be certain that ratified contracts receive support.
Retreat and Next Steps.
On Dec. 12 and 13, an interdivisional group of 29 staff met with Janet and me for two intensive days to share what we have learned from the forums and other local conversations with members and to consider how we can use that knowledge to deepen our commitment to being a member-led union. We will be continuing this conversation at MTA governance and staff venues as we develop our plans for the upcoming year.
Foundation Budget Review Commission.
The FBRC hearings are an excellent opportunity for members to influence legislators by telling our stories and helping them understand what we and our students need to create the schools our students deserve. Please look at the upcoming schedule of hearings at the bottom of this article and prepare statements - your stories - about where we need resources and about the work you do every day to compensate for the lack of resources. I am on the review commission, and your stories can make a difference.
We have incredible challenges ahead, but our history tells us that when we access member knowledge and skills and join in solidarity, we can win meaningful struggles. As we enter the darkest days of winter, we can often feel overwhelmed. Yet this season of reflection and gatherings with friends and loved ones brings to mind one of my mother's favorite quotes, from Shelley: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
I hope you all have a chance to relax with friends and family and enjoy the spirit of the season in good health and good cheer.
In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great things ahead,