A Madison Teachers Inc. endorsement hasn’t always guaranteed victory for Madison School Board candidates.
But this year, with union members mobilized by Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining changes, the upcoming recall elections, a divisive debate over a charter school proposal the union opposed and a looming rewrite of employee work rules, the endorsement could be influential.
“It will be very hard for someone not endorsed by the teachers union to win,” said former School Board member Ruth Robarts, who won re-election in 2004 despite MTI labeling her “Public Enemy No. 1.”
Robarts is one of four candidates in 13 contested races over the past decade who defeated MTI-backed candidates.
This year the union endorsed incumbent Arlene Silveira over Nichelle Nichols, an executive at the Urban League of Greater Madison, which proposed the charter school plan.
The union also endorsed Michael Flores, who gained attention during Capitol protests last year, over Mary Burke for an open seat being vacated by Lucy Mathiak.
Teacher union influence can extend far beyond local school board elections. The influence process can be quite sophisticated and encompasses local and state elections along with the legal system. Teachers are certainly not the only groups to pull different levers, but a complete understanding of the K-12 governance model requires an awareness of the players (it is also useful to consider the “schwerpunkt“, that is “creating a result around a central theme”). The following links are well worth reading:
- WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators
- Arbitrator Rules in Favor of MTI vs WEAC over legal fees
- Sparks fly over Wisconsin budget’s labor-related provisions:
To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.
- Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman in a 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:
“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).
Matt DeFour’s article failed to include a critical quote: “The school district election is just one piece in the larger chess match”.