MDEA Opposition to NUSD Vote
By Jim Mills
Many people have asked why the MDUSD teacher’s union is campaigning so hard against the proposal to bring a Northgate-area school district to a vote. Naturally, the teachers in the new district would have the opportunity to choose a different union to represent them, which could cause the existing union to lose members. But residents still wonder whether there is more to such vitriolic opposition than the potential loss of union dues from a couple hundred members. We think there may be much more to the opposition than loss of those dues.
When Guy Moore, President of MDEA (sadly, pronounced like “Medea”, the goddess in Greek tragedy who killed all of her children), stood before the school board last December and vowed on video to do “everything possible to make sure Northgate CAPS and NUSD fails”, he was making a bid in the ongoing card game between the district and the union. He was promising to eliminate a threat that the district leadership did not want to confront — at least not directly, at least not then, when the petition was still circulating.
Generally speaking, large school districts like MDUSD – unlike other government entities — prefer to stay comfortably under the radar to avoid accountability. County, state and federal “oversight” rarely intervenes in school district operations. The media don’t usually follow public school issues very closely. Most households do not have school-age children, and the ones that do tend to have loyalties to their children’s teachers and their neighborhood school, not to the district’s central office. (How many parents in MDUSD could name all of the members of the school board that runs everything?) Over time, a few school superintendents become trusted community figures, whose opinion carries weight among residents, but on average, most superintendents don’t stay in one job long enough to gain that credibility.
Simply put, big school districts are not the most popular of government entities. So when they want to motivate public opinion, they look to teachers to promote the district’s agenda. Teachers are generally viewed FAR more favorably by the public. Everyone has known great teachers who influenced the course of their lives, or their children’s lives. And just about everyone realizes that teachers work very hard, in an “always on” environment, getting paid less than we would like to pay them. We see them as dedicated professionals, focused on our children, so we tend to listen to them when they speak up.
MDUSD has about 1,900 teachers, most of whom are busy with their work and their own families. Most do not teach in the Northgate area and are less motivated to become involved in the campaign against this vote. Clearly, organization is required, and “organizing teachers” is pretty much why MDEA exists. The union can be called upon to make sure that a critical mass of teachers participates in public meetings, demonstrations, social media campaigns, and so on. Union leaders themselves can be relied upon for “enforcement” calls to teachers who are suspected of meeting with NUSD supporters. And most important, by putting teachers on the front lines, the district can dismiss any legitimate criticism as an “attack on teachers”.
School district leaders understand all of this, and of course school board candidates get it. (That’s why it is almost unheard-of for MDUSD candidates to win without a MDEA endorsement – Brian Lawrence being the recent exception proving the rule.) In short, the rules of “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” suggest that our school district will pay, in one way or another, for MDEA’s efforts to fight NUSD — especially if they are successful in keeping the proposal from coming to a vote. The payoff probably won’t be more money for teachers, given the district’s uncertain financial condition, but somehow MDUSD will pay. We just haven’t seen the bill yet.
Now to be fair, teachers often disagree with their district. Sometimes, particularly in a district with all the problems of MDUSD, the public must rely on teachers and their union to sound the alarm on district practices and policies that aren’t in the best interest of students or teachers. We should all acknowledge those contributions. We also know, from personal conversations, that many Northgate-area teachers do not approve of MDEA’s actions in its current campaign against NUSD. Some teachers support the creation of NUSD. Others have taken the entirely understandable “wait-and-see” position about something that may take years to happen, or may never happen. But they know enough to keep out of the fray.
There is an old rule for teachers in big school districts like MDUSD: you can openly oppose your district, or you can oppose your union. But don’t oppose them both at the same time!