'We Are Not Happy When You Publicly Disagree With Us'
By Rick Green
March 25, 2012
An internal memo leaked by accident Sunday reveals that leaders of the state's largest teachers union say that blocking any change at all might be the best solution during this year of public school reform.
The memo from the leadership of the Connecticut Education Association suggests that at least some union leaders should not voice their own opinions.
"We are not happy when you publicly disagree with us,'' states the email from CEA President Phil Apruzzese and Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine. The American Federation of Teachers "is playing you off against us, to get a deal. NO deal is always better than a bad one."
On Sunday evening, Levine released a statement saying that the "inadvertently sent" email "was an internal communication among the CEA President, the Executive Director, and an employee. It was not directed at CEA members. CEA members are tremendous advocates for public education and have communicated their concerns about SB 24 openly, freely, and consistently." Senate Bill 24 is the governor's education reform package.
Over the weekend, before I received a copy of the CEA memo, I heard reports about teachers strong-armed for trying to talk with legislators on their own. Sunday's memo reveals a union feeling increasingly cornered as pressure grows to come up with a compromise.
The legislature's education committee faces a Wednesday deadline to take up the education package, which Malloy has made a centerpiece of his administration.
"You do not set policy, but rather advocate for our CEA positions,'' the memo states. "If anyone attempts to contact you, please let me know immediately and refer them to me.''
It is ironic that the union urged its members to go and speak up at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's education reform town halls, but now the union is apparently not interested in folks who disagree with it.
For the past week, legislators, union leaders and representatives from Malloy's office have been trying to reach an agreement in private meetings at the state Capitol. The CEA's reluctance to make a compromise has left the negotiations at a stalemate. The memo from Apruzzese and Levine makes clear that the union is willing to block a deal — even if it means throwing teachers and union leaders from the AFT overboard.
Additional emails leaked over the weekend reveal a dramatic difference in perspective between the unions and opposing education reform groups. While Malloy and parent and business groups supporting him talk about children not learning to read and abysmal graduation rates in the state's cities, the email memos suggest that the unions are more worried with contract language, grievances and collective bargaining issues.
I understand that. The union's job is to negotiate the best deal possible for its members. And the governor should be pushed to back off on some of his demands. But somewhere along the line we are forgetting that the goal here should be to come up with the best deal possible for the state's children.
There's still plenty of room for compromise this week. What's distressing is that this behind-the-scenes glimpse of union strategy reveals that "no deal" might be the best deal of all for the Connecticut Education Association. How depressing.
No deal isn't better. Every year that Connecticut wastes, thousands of children don't learn to read, fail to graduate and add to the growing achievement gap that is the largest in the land.
Public school teachers ought to remind their legislators, the governor — and union leaders — of this before it's too late.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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