MTA members enthusiastically embraced the fight for full funding of public education at the association’s 174th Annual Meeting of Delegates.
More than 1,200 registered delegates conducted a wide array of business at the event, but the Fund Our Future initiative was the dominant topic of discussion.
During the two-day event, held May 3 and 4 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the delegates also filled positions on the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and Retired Members Committee; debated and voted on proposed changes to the association’s standing rules, bylaws and resolutions; acted on new business items; and passed the operating and Public Relations/Organizing Campaign budgets for the next fiscal year.
The delegates welcomed Jeff Bollen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, as he offered heartfelt thanks for MTA educators’ support during the recent Stop & Shop strike.
“Never in my 40 years have I ever seen such solidarity,” Bollen added. “Maybe this country is turning around.”
In her leadership report to delegates on Friday afternoon, MTA President Merrie Najimy stressed the need for all public educators and their allies to join rallies calling for full funding of public schools and colleges on May 16 at the State House in Boston and on the steps of City Hall in Springfield.
“We’re part of a nationwide movement of educators — something that is bigger than ourselves,” she told the delegates.
In 2016, she said, Massachusetts educators and their community allies “had the nation’s attention as we fought against Question 2,” the failed effort to sharply increase the number of charter schools allowed in the Commonwealth. Now, “the Red for Ed movement is our resistance movement,” Najimy said.
In his leadership report, Vice President Max Page reiterated the call for action on May 16 to persuade legislators to pass the Promise Act and Cherish Act, the only bills before the Legislature that would fully fund public schools and colleges.
Acknowledging that the past 10 months have been “a whirlwind,” Page said that he and Najimy “have made a clear priority of supporting members in locals so that they can find their own voice.”
Standing alongside educators who come to recognize their power “is what makes this all worthwhile,” Page continued. “But we also know that our vision for public education can only be achieved when we band together and fight at the state level for what our schools need.”
The delegates were introduced to new MTA Executive Director-Treasurer Lisa Gallatin, a longtime labor and social justice advocate and former chief of staff for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
Gallatin told the delegates that her experiences in the labor movement have given her a bird’s-eye view of the troubling landscape for workers in the 21st century. But the MTA has emerged “stronger than ever” after the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision, she said, adding that the Red for Ed movement opens an exciting new chapter.
During an issues forum on Friday afternoon, delegates heard reports from a number of MTA locals that are meeting and overcoming assaults against public education.
Contingents from Springfield, Brockton, Northampton, Cape Cod, Haverhill, New Bedford and Revere, as well as higher education chapters including UMass Boston and Salem State University, explained how they have turned their struggles into organizing campaigns.
They have employed coalition building, an emphasis on solidarity, open bargaining and other tactics to win everything from contract campaigns and fights against charter schools to efforts to override Proposition 2½.
On Saturday, delegates heard from members of more locals — including West Springfield, Easthampton, Chicopee, Waltham, Natick and Framingham — who described their own Red for Ed moments.
During the meeting, the delegates also had the opportunity to honor a number of individuals who have shown their commitment to public education, labor and social justice. In addition, 27 public educators were recognized for their work in the Teacher Leadership Institute, a program for teachers looking to expand their impact on the profession.
Early in the Saturday session, the delegates applauded Joni Cederholm, the 2019 MTA ESP of the Year. Cederholm is a secretarial paraprofessional and vice president of the Weymouth Educators’ Association.
The Friend of Education award was presented to Ricardo Rosa and José Soler, co-chairs of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, which is currently leading the fight against the expansion of the Alma del Mar charter school in the city.
In New Bedford, Rosa said, the fight against charter schools “is only the beginning.” “This is part of a deeper struggle,” he added, in part against gentrification and the taking of public wealth by ruling elites.
Soler said that New Bedford’s fight is similar to right-wing onslaughts against public education in Latin America. “We have to fight together, all unions and all of us,” he said. “And teachers’ unions are on the front lines.”
The MTA Friend of Labor award was presented to Ann Clarke, who retired recently as the association’s executive director-treasurer.
Clarke told the delegates she felt privileged to have worked with members for more than 40 years. “We have big enemies out there, and we’ve run big campaigns,” Clarke said. “Our collective power is what has seen us through.”
Jamil Siddiqui, the 2019 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a member of the East Bridgewater Education Association, also addressed the crowd. Siddiqui, a math teacher at East Bridgewater Junior-Senior High School for the past 25 years, said he recognized only recently that he needed to redefine his role as an educator — from teacher to teacher leader.
Supporting teachers is supporting students, Siddiqui noted. “We need to support teachers,” he said.
The MTA President’s Award paid tribute to the Red for Ed movement. Najimy said she chose to honor the entire movement with this year’s award rather than a specific individual.
Keynote speaker Karla Griego, a special education teacher in Los Angeles who was a leader of the recent United Teachers Los Angeles strike, accepted the award on behalf of the movement.
Griego described the struggle for the soul of public education in her city, which came on the heels of educators in West Virginia launching a strike in their state. At the time, she said, UTLA was getting “strike-ready.” “But West Virginia showed us that teachers could fight for a strike that is righteous,” she said.
Educators were driven by the fact that even though California is a “blue state,” per-pupil spending was 46th in the nation. More than half of the schools in Griego’s district had no school nurse or librarian, and charter schools continued draining millions of dollars annually. Politicians refused to tackle the real problems, Griego said, “so we had to organize from the ground up.”
The strike succeeded because of “our love for our students and the communities we serve,” she said. Griego exhorted the delegates to put their hearts into the Fund Our Future campaign. “Make these the biggest rallies yet,” she said. “You’ve got to go big to win big!”
Among actions adopted by the delegates was a bylaw change creating a seat to represent ethnic minority members on the Executive Committee. The delegates referred to committee a bylaw proposal to provide for the election by electronic ballot of many MTA officeholders by the entire membership.
The delegates approved the following new business item: “That the MTA delegation to the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly propose a national teachers strike in support of the Green New Deal.”
Also during the meeting, the delegates passed an operating budget of $46,845,152 for the next fiscal year, as well as a Public Relations/Organizing Campaign budget of $1,699,760.