MEA’s Revealing Opinon on Consolidation

The latest Education Intelligence Agency Communique picked up on the piece I wrote criticizing the Maine Education Association leadership for ignoring school consolidation.  The EIA noted that the MEA has failed to “articulate a position on school district consolidation”.  Another MEA, the Michigan Education Association, does not seem to be so tight lipped on the issue.  The Michigan EA came to a logical conclusion that would help their members and school systems alike.  Their solution? Don’t consolidate unless the savings is really there and don’t arbitrarily shove districts together.  Sound familiar?  But the MEA (When I use this term further it will now reference the Maine EA unless otherwise noted) had not been completely silent on consolidation.  Thanks to some searching by Brian Hubbell from MDIschools.net, an email stating the MEA’s position on school consolidation has surfaced.

A few months before regional meetings on consolidation began, the MEA released a statement in April of 2007.  The MEA outlined  their contingencies for supporting the current consolidation effort.  Most of the MEA’s consolidation “must-haves” are no brainers for a union.  Protection of learning environments, employee rights, collective bargaining rights, and not contracting out school services.  The last MEA requirement for support of consolidation is curious.

The actual number of school administrators must be reduced and real cost savings must be realized! Public school administration has become overly bureaucratic and the number of school administrators has increased beyond what our public school systems can afford.  With the threat of future taxpayer revolts in Maine, it is time to CUT the number of school superintendents and other administrators, and achieve REAL savings.  Our students need excellent teachers and school support employees in order to learn at their highest potential.  But our schools have too many administrators that do not contribute to student learning.  It is time to make these cuts.

By this self-proclaimed contingency for supporting consolidation, the MEA should be publicly supporting the repeal effort.  There has been only a small reduction in administrators.  Only 27.4% of districts actually reorganized.  The overwhelming percentage to districts, 57.1%, were given exemptions.  They were not forced to consolidate under a “one-size-fits-all” scheme.  Large communities were given exemptions based on size.  Translation: the state realized large towns like Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor had the numbers(voters) to refuse this restrictive consolidation law.  Others were given exemptions as “high performing” schools or because their consolidation partners failed to reach an agreement.  With so many exemptions it would be difficult to see a large reduction of districts and true cuts in education bureaucracy.

Where are the real savings?  The state promised $36.5 million in savings from consolidation.  After two years in the current consolidation law Education Commissioner Gendron stated, “I really don’t think it will be until the end of the year when we know what we’ve achieved.”  The truth is there has not been any real savings.  Nothing about the current consolidation law ensures any savings.  There have been real cost increases for many communities.  Remember those taxpayer revolts the MEA was worried about?  In RSU 5, Freeport has seen its taxes decrease.  The other two RSU 5 members have seen taxes increase.  Pownal’s taxes have gone up 25%, Durham’s 19%.  Alna resident’s have seen a whopping 33% tax increase because of consolidation.

There are more hidden cost increases in the current consolidation law.  Consolidation law requires that teachers contracts be merged in reorganizing districts, leveling pay.  While this is necessary, it will grind up savings into nothing.  Estimates have placed (pdf warning) the cost of unifying contracts near $18 million over the next three years.  There goes half of the predicted savings, which we haven’t seen yet in any case.  On top of all of these “savings”, the state has spent an estimated $4 million in trying to enforce consolidation.

Unions were created to help defend the little guy.  Shouldn’t they be objecting to this kind of abuse we have seen in the current consolidation legislation?  Silence speaks volumes as they say.  The MEA leadership’s silence on consolidation says something loud and clear.  They have no interest in defending the little guy.  By not speaking out, they are defending corporate interests and bad policy.  If am wrong, which I hope I am, it would be nice to know.

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6 Responses

  1. As a Maine Education Association member from a school system directly affected by the school reorganization law of 2007, I took great interest in “The Maine View’s” posts on the MEA’s silence regarding the effort to repeal the 2007 school reorganization law. I have wondered the same thing and so took the opportunity to ask MEA President Chris Galgay about it.

    His response, “Your request is for me to comment on an article that’s only purpose seems to be to trash the Leadership of the MEA because we don’t view the importance of Question #3 the same way he does. Gisele, I would be happy to have a conversation with you about Question #3 anytime, please give me a call.”

    I disagree that the purpose of the article was to “trash” MEA leadership. I believe that the author was asking a simple question which deserved an honest answer.

    Over the weekend, my copy of the Maine Educator arrived. According to an article on page 3, the MEA is not taking a position on Question #3 because ”there is a division of member interests.” I have to think that their opposition to the repeal of Question 1 would have some disagreeing members, as well, as do their positions on Questions 2 and 4. Why those three referenda question deserve a recommendation, but not Question 3 has me wondering:

    · Is MEA being pressured by members in more powerful urban areas at the expense of its rural ones?

    · Was there some sort of agreement with the Commissioner of Education and the Governor not to oppose reorganization?

    · Will MEA protect rural schools against closure if the repeal effort is not successful?

    Although I am not opposed to some form of consolidation, it should be done right, with REAL savings, and without dismantling the entire educational system in rural Maine.

    The 2007 law, with its 2008 amendments, is a sham. Too many school systems were exempted by the law and then, later, by the Commissioner.

    The MEA should have been vocal from the get-go on what was acceptable to ALL its members and what was not. Now that the numbers are available to prove that consolidation is not working, indeed could cost many communities a great deal of money, I believe that MEA should be using that information to protect the interests of those members who are actually affected by the question, not the many large school systems who had no work to do to comply with the law.

    In my school system’s case, we would be facing well over $100,000 in penalties despite the fact that the community voted in favor of consolidating. Because of our financial situation, no one wants to “play with us” because they believe that their taxes may increase significantly by having us as a partner.

    Happily, though, the most recent edition of the Maine Educator does contain a Letter to the Editor from George Crawford urging MEA members to vote Yes on Question #3. I hope MEA members take his advice on Question 3, particularly since he gives it – which MEA refuses to do.

    Signed,
    Gisele Faucher
    Madawaska

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Let me make this clear. I am not anti-union. I am not MEA. I support unions when they are effective and fairly protect their members. I stand firmly by teachers and their fair treatment. I have no interest in just “trashing” anyone, including MEA leaders. If the MEA leadership feels that I have dumped upon them, maybe they should consider the deeper reasons on why I wrote what I did.

      School consolidation is important. Whether it is more or less important than TABOR can be debated, but to allude that it is of so little importance it bares no comment is a shame. Consolidation impacts many school systems, with a trickle down effect on staff and teachers. Like I said in the article, I hope the MEA leadership’s commitment is to their members and schools, wherever the need may be and no matter how few or how many members are affected. The MEA, like you say, was quite clear on what was acceptable to ALL of its members in regards to consolidation. According to what they said, the current consolidation law is not acceptable. I feel that they should come to the defense of their members in this case.

  2. How is it that the Maine *Education* Association takes a position on everything but the only education issue on the ballot? And their union leadership doesn’t think it’s “important”, even though the policy affects every school in the state, in one way or another? That seems blatantly negligent and irresponsible to me.

  3. […] it will be a payback to the MEA;  in fact it’s the big payback.  There’s been some interesting speculation of late as to the relative silence of the MEA on consolidation.  It’s been pointed out that […]

  4. hello nice site 🙂

  5. […] to Questions 2 and 4.  There is a lot to discuss here, so let’s jump right in.If you read the comments of my previous piece concerning the MEA, you’d know that their position Question 3 is to have no position.  In case […]

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