by Dan Clawson
As part of our commitment to a member-driven union, EDU hopes to keep members informed about the inner workings of the MTA. The Board of Directors is a representative body, elected by members, and this brief is intended to share with the membership some highlights of the recent Board meeting, and all meetings going forward. As will always be the case, this report does not intend to be comprehensive; these are not official minutes or anything close to that.
Quick summary: The board is united in its opposition to the Trump regime, and its support for pushing back. A substantial segment of the board wants to attack EDU, although it is usually not willing to admit that is its purpose, and in one notable case the attack on EDU was combined with repeated claims that we need to all work together and to avoid partisanship.
There was an extended discussion of the swastika students put up in Stoughton, which led to the discipline of TEACHERS for their responses to the swastika. One teacher, who had written a letter of recommendation for the student who put up the swastika, and who rescinded her letter, has been given 20 days of unpaid leave (to be served two days a week for ten weeks), and two other teachers were given letters of reprimand. The teachers were disciplined because they are said to have discussed the incident in inappropriate ways with students. Apparently the Stoughton administration has decided that in Stoughton a swastika is not hate speech – although swastikas have been held to be hate speech in Amherst, in Concord, and in several other towns. The MTA board voted unanimously to send $1,000 to the teacher involved, and to send a strongly worded letter to any and all groups involved in this.
Trump attacks on labor
The assumption is that a Trump Supreme Court is certain to abolish agency fee, and may well launch a variety of other attacks (for example, ruling that unions cannot get employers to do dues checkoff). In the report of Ann Clarke, the Executive Director of the MTA, she noted that NEA projects losing 5-20% of total membership. That would thus reduce NEA incomes (and NEA provides some financial support to MTA, on the order of $3 million a year). The MTA might well have a similar loss of membership.
Members and local leaders should be talking about these issues. If we lost five percent of our members, or 20 percent of our members, and the associated revenue, what would the consequences be? We have many fixed costs we can’t get out of, at least in the short run. Would that mean we needed to cut staff costs by more than 5%, or more than 20%? Would we lay off staff? Cut everyone’s pay? Raise member dues? Dip into reserves (and if so, how long would it be before our reserves ran out)?
Reimbursement rate for retired member delegates
The board voted to raise the reimbursement rate for retiree delegates to Annual Meeting, from the existing level of $300 to a new level of $450. This was presented as needed because the rate had not been adjusted for eleven years, but (too late to enter the debate) I went on line and found that) the inflation adjustment would have only raised the rate to $369. It may be that costs for Boston hotels have risen more than general costs; that was asserted but no evidence was provided. The total cost of this is about $30,000.
Board refuses to cut its meetings to one day
The Executive Committee had recommended cutting the MTA budget by keeping board meetings to one day each. Traditionally board meetings have been held Friday evening and Saturday. Cutting meetings to just be on Saturday would save the costs of Friday night hotel rooms. An estimated $97,000 was at stake (thus about $1 per member in dues).
The board majority felt that (1) it is too onerous to ask board members to drive long distances, and to have a really long meeting, on Saturdays and (2) It is important that board members get to know each other; important social bonding takes place on Friday nights, and organizing happens in those social events. Ending those Friday nights would weaken the board, and thus the MTA. I voted to save the money and have one day meetings; I think just about all EDU members voted the same way. We should have asked for a roll call vote on this, but screwed up and failed to do so.
The Board went into Executive Session to consider a policy change in how to review the Executive Director. This discussion was about the policy, not about evaluating the current Executive Director (Ann Clarke – who actually is in the middle of being evaluated). A majority of the board apparently do not want members to know which members of the board supported what position on the best policy. Members are permitted to know what the old policy was, and what new policy was adopted, but it would apparently be a major problem for members to know the reasons for the new policy, or to know which board members supported changing the policy. (Trust me, nothing that interesting was said.) Any change in policy requires two readings, so the final discussion of the policy will take place at the March board meeting.
The proposed change in policy has several elements. Two minor elements are the election of the chair and the timing of the process. The most significant change is gathering new information by having board members interview staff (without the president or vice-president present) in order to get their views of the executive director.
I’m not sure how this will work in practice and how much difference it will make. To my mind the most interesting point was that a substantial majority of the board believed it to be important to discuss this in executive session, which means that members cannot know or be told what was said about the reasons for the change. I stress that the board did NOT discuss a personnel issue, that is a specific person, but only the POLICY that should be used to evaluate the Executive Director. For myself, I can’t for the life of me understand why we needed to be in Executive Session; I suspect that if we had discussed it in open session I would not have found it worth singling out for presentation in these notes, but the very fact that the board wanted executive session says something about the importance of the issue. I voted against Executive Session, and I believe all or almost all EDU members did so as well.
In addition there was a “regular” Executive Session on Saturday to deal with issues such as who should win awards, and approving the people selected as new managers and staff.
New Business Items
The board considered what might be a record number of New Business Items, covering a wide range of issues. Sometimes the issues that were most widely supported took the longest time to pass, because many people wanted to make minor wording changes. Many of the items put off to March are proposed changes in board policy, which must be considered at two meetings (unless the board votes to suspend the rules, which it can do); the legality of some of the NBIs was challenged, leading to postponement.
I will not attempt to present all the details of any of the items, but a quick take on some of the key items would be:
- MTA will defend our students, and our members, and will oppose any hate attacks on our students or members.
- MTA will support a march and rally on behalf of public education to be held around annual meeting.
- Changed board policies about how we select the committee to evaluate the Executive Director.
- Ask the NEA to rescind its “Friend of Education” award to Lamar Alexander, a senator who helped push Betsy DeVos’s nomination through
- Considered a policy to be sure that no caucus receives any resources from MTA. (It apparently applies to EDU, and seemingly it only, although the Higher Education Caucus and the Retired Members Caucus both hold meetings at Annual Meeting). This was not adopted, but will be considered again at the March MTA meeting.
- Considered, and put off to March, a motion to have the MTA Board, rather than the president, control the Public Relations & Organizing Committee. (Instead of the president appointing members, the president would appoint five people, and the board would elect ten board members.) This committee controls about $2.5 million a year, and thus is extremely important.
- Considered a motion to restrict the authority of the president to run a campaign, unless she gets two-thirds approval of the board of directors. Thus, for example, if the GIC raises costs to members, and the vote will take place in two weeks, the president could not ask members to send emails until and unless she received a two-thirds vote of the board. (Similarly for opposing Betsy DeVos, or a range of other issues.) Again, put off to the March board meeting.
- Considered a motion that would say board members, officers, and staff when speaking as representatives of the association shall make statements consistent with the adopted positions of the association. It’s not totally clear what this means, but it seems to mean people can’t speak out against board policy. Put off to March.
- Considered a motion that candidates must campaign as individuals, not as slates. Put off to March.
Co-sponsors of MTA legislation and budget
The MTA governmental staff have done a terrific job lining up legislators to sponsor the MTA’s main legislative agenda items. I think that is four bills.
Over 100 legislators are co-sponsoring the K-12 bill, and other bills have 80 or so co-sponsors.
The governor’s budget is not good, has small increases that may or may not keep up with inflation, but that definitely leave us below where we were in 2001 or 2002; for K-12 we are 5% below, for higher ed we are 25% below that peak funding period.