Wednesday, November 14, 2012

MEA and SCEA Working for ALL Teachers

In an earlier post, I drew attention to the agenda for tomorrow night's Special Call Shelby County School Board meeting.  I said that some committee was scheduled to be appointed.

Well, thank goodness Michael Kelley explained what the Committee is about.  Mr. Kelley writes that, "Also on the board's agenda for Thursday is its first step in the implementation of the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011, the state law that effectively stripped teachers of their ability to bargain collectively for wages and benefits.  Responding to a petition from the Memphis Education Association [union] and Shelby County Education Association [non-union] calling for collaborative conferencing, the board is expected to approve the appointment of a special question committee, composed of board and professional employees, to conduct a confidential poll of eligible employees.  The poll will determine whether a majority of employees want to engage in the process and, if so, what organization they want to be represented by at the talks."

I haven't read the statute yet, but I wonder if MEA and SCEA are in competition with each other to be designated as "the organization" that will engage in the collaborative conferencing.  My understanding is that first a certain threshold of teachers have to vote in favor of engaging in the process, then another certain threshold of teachers has to vote in favor of a particular organization.  So maybe both organizations can get a seat at "the table"?  Sounds like MEA and SCEA are merging and are not in competition with each other, based on comments below . . .

Of course, the district can choose to acknowledge what happens at "the table" or not.  It's not an actual negotiation.  We'll see how it goes.  But MEA and SCEA are engaging in the process that the state legislature has allowed them to engage in, and that's good news for teachers given the current environment.

I'll be interested to see what happens in any possible muni school districts.  Will several more education associations crop up?  Will the two big ones combine and end up in all Shelby County districts?  Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but they are the current options.

This article reminded me that SCEA and MEA are also busy in federal court.  The background is that the Norris-Todd statute set forward certain obligations for the TPC.  Among them is a requirement that the TPC not recommend that any current compensation (salary schedule) or benefits to which current teachers are currently entitled be diminished as part of the merger.  Well, that's not exactly what the statute says, but that's how the TPC interpreted it.  But that's a separate post on some other day.  The point is that for current teachers, their salary schedule and benefits cannot be diminished due to the merger.

So the question has come up about whether current teachers have similar protection from salary reductions in any municipal school districts that may arise - whether an English teacher at Collierville High School will make the same amount of money if CHS transitions out SCS into the Collierville School District.  I can't find any articles (right this second) (but will keep looking) that support this, but I know of one municipal mayor that has openly stated that teacher salaries in that municipality will likely be less than the current SCS salary schedule.  However, the general talking point has been that "of course, current salaries will be matched - we want the current teachers to stay in the same buildings that they currently teach in - it would not be in our interest to try to pay them less."  The back-up to that argument is that "well, even if salaries are slightly reduced, the teachers love teaching here so much that it won't matter and they'll still be grateful to work here."  I don't know if any public official has said this, but that's how conversations I've had have evolved, and is in many of the comments sections on the articles on this issue.

But the question is whether there is any statutory protection.  On the first day of the federal trial, during questioning of Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, attorneys referenced a deposition of another TN Dept. of Ed. employee, Stephen Smith.  In that deposition, Stephen Smith stated that for any possible municipal school districts, there was no legal obligation on the part of the municipal school district to match salary or compensation.  Commissioner Huffman tried to walk that statement back while he was on the stand, but the issue was not resolved.

SCEA and MEA were parties to the original litigation in federal court, but have played very little role in the courtroom proceedings.  But this new request - to file another complaint in the existing litigation - is notable.  It's unlikely that Judge Mays would rule on this as part of his municipal schools decision, but Judge Mays has also made up his own procedural rules (with the consent of the parties, of course) as this case has progressed.  So who knows.  But I think that SCEA and MEA are correct to try to litigate this issue on the front end, rather than the back end of setting up municipal school districts, just in case Judge Mays allows the districts to form.

Seems to me the height of unfairness to hold the larger, urban district with existing financial problems to a higher standard due to the merger - without also holding any potential municipal school districts to the same standard, when they are also only a result of the merger.  If the merger is a reason to protect teachers, then let's protect teachers.

UPDATE:  Jackson Baker writes about MEA President Keith Williams.  He seems surprisingly optimistic about the collaborative conferencing process, and unsurprisingly distrusts Stand for Children and Teach for America.  Mr. Williams suggests that there will be "unitary" teachers' organization once the merger occurs.


  1. I sent this post to my email list, and it got around, apparently. Ken Foster of MEA sent this to me, and said I could put it up here as a response:

    I can tell you that MEA and SCEA are not in competition with each other. Just as the two school districts are merging, MEA and SCEA are merging as well. Since we are both TEA affiliates, we will have a new Association in place by July 1, 2013 to comply with TEA bylaws. When the polling takes place under the PECCA law, there will not be the MEA choice or the SCEA choice, but the choice MEA/SCEA.

    I hope that makes it a little more clear.

    Ken Foster
    Executive Director
    Memphis Education Association

    1. Watching in MemphisNovember 16, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      Excellent news. Glad that the two organizations are working together.

      Thanks for circulating, and for getting an answer!