The MEA Saga Continues

“Stop Excise Tax Cap”

“Stop TABOR”

Two bright red stop signs advise this to readers of October’s monthly MEA publication, the Maine Educator.  Questions 2 and 4 on this November’s ballot feature prominently in the publication.  Of its eight pages, I’m not counting the ads, four of those are devoted to the referendum questions.  Two and one half are devoted entirely to the excise tax cap and TABOR II.  Question 1, the same sex marriage repeal, receives half a page.  Question 3 receives roughly one quarter of a page concerning the November referendums, I’m being generous here.  The rest of that piece is devoted 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 you missed it, or cannot get your hands on a copy of the Maine Educator, here is MEA President Chris Galgay’s statement on Q3

At this point in the regionalization process, many schools and members are unaffected; some have put in the hard work to consolidate; and, some are solidly opposed,  Based on this division of member interests, MEA is neither for nor against this measure.”

Unless you have an Educator in front of you, you’ll just have to take my word for the quote.  Three days before the election the MEA has yet to post their opinions on their website at the time I write this.

There are several things wrong here.  Is this the only issue that members are divided on?  Not likely.  It is a safe bet that many MEA members are on opposing sides of Question 1.  I think it goes without saying that same sex marriage arouses a bit more passion than school consolidation.  Yet the MEA devotes a column in support of voting No on 1, saying that voting yes promotes inequality in Maine.  Not to trivialize Question 1(you all know my feelings on Q1), but seems as though the school consolidation law is unequal as well.  Penalizing communities that saw no savings or sought alternative consolidation methods, but giving exemptions to communities with enough power to win them sounds unequal to me.

The MEA president freely acknowledges that many member districts were unaffected, citing that as the reason why the MEA will take no side on consolidation.  What about those who were affected? What about those that are facing penalties?  What about those with alternate methods of consolidation that wont be considered?  What about those facing large increases in property taxes?  They are largely rural communities.  Shouldn’t the MEA take a stand for them.  Aren’t unions about protecting the disenfranchised?  That is what makes unions so important.  They are a voice for the voiceless.  That is not what is happening in the case of school consolidation.

A WCSH6 voice of the voter piece on Question 3 brought to light many issues of school consolidation. One was the loss of local control.

“Yes on 3” says loss of local control is devastating, and if one school committee is responsible for all of the districts, smaller towns get left out.  The campaign also argues there’s no even way to split the state’s subsidy check.

A picture from a recent MEA rally in the Educator shows someone with a sign which reads, “Vote NO on 4. Local Control.  NO TABOR”.  This echoes one of the MEA’s reasons for opposing TABOR.  “[TABOR] handcuffs local control and replaces it with rigid spending limits…”  When comparing this argument to the one made by Yes on 3 supporters it becomes hard to wonder how the MEA cannot support repealing the current consolidation law as well.  The MEA also fears that TABOR is too restrictive and applies a “one-size-fits-all formula” to budgets.  Again the MEA could be echoing a talking point of Yes on 3.

The column from MEA president Chris Galgay begins with the header “Honoring our commitments in these uncertain times”.  Many member districts are facing uncertain times. They are wondering if they will be slapped with heavy fines.  They are concerned if they will be forced into a consolidation plan that will increase taxes citizens can’t afford and that they will have no way of escaping.  The MEA also made a commitment concerning consolidation in April of 2007.  The MEA would give its support to school consolidation if several conditions were met including the following: “The actual number of school administrators must be reduced and real cost savings must be realized!”  School consolidation has not brought real savings.  The state has not even come close to realizing the $36.5 million in savings it promised and many local communities have seen costs increase.  Affect MEA members, and some in districts unaffected, are looking toward the MEA to support them in their time of need.

The MEA leadership seems to be out of touch with their members.  While Chris Galgay’s lack of concern over school consolidation is disappointing, his efforts on Questions 1,2, and 4 have shown commitment to MEA principles on those issues and for a segment of MEA members.  A recent Report Card by Matthew Stone has shown that MEA executive director Mark Gray may not be in touch with the average Mainer.

Gray spoke last Tuesday at a Legislative Ed Committee meeting.  The meeting brought together the MEA, Maine Principals Association, Maine School Management Association, and legislators to discuss ways to alleviate Maine’s budget issues.  Asked that the state consider incentives for early teacher retirement, making more federal funds available to schools (maybe the MEA should stop opposing charters then), and not burdening schools with further mandates like consolidation.  The Mr. Gray suggested raising the state sales tax to pay for education.  That’s right, he wants to raise the sales tax.

Things are improving, but we aren’t out of this recession yet.  If you think strict controls on budgets imposed by TABOR are bad in this economic climate how on Earth can you endorse increasing the sales tax?  Sales taxes are some of the most inequitable taxes there are.  Who gets hit the most?  The rich who can afford to spend more anyway or those counting down the minutes until they get that paycheck?  Tell the people with a stack of overdue bills that you want their their dollar to buy them even less.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Schneider (D-Orono) said the idea of Mr. Gray finding support for his suggestion “fanciful.”

In closing, I would like to point out that I am not anti-union or anti-MEA.  I am not writing these pieces simply to trash the organization.  I stand by all MEA members and their fair treatment.  I write to be a conscience or sorts, to promote thought on questioning of the MEA and its leaders.  I seek to reform, not to destroy.  I hope everyone realizes that before they dismiss what I say.

One Response

  1. Right on! Thank you!

    Madawaska, ME

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