Some of the most dedicated and inspirational educator activists can be found in North Carolina, where the Moral Monday movement has attracted thousands of people from across the state and given educators a platform to tell the governor and the conservative legislature that they’re destroying public education. MESPA leaders quickly decided to follow anti-privatization action plans created by the National Education Association (NEA), MEA and the SWAP team, which is comprised of members from several ESP job groups, higher education, and K-12 teachers. “I was not going to lose my job without doing something about it,” says Heather Madigan, a custodial engineer at Beaumont Elementary School who volunteered to join the crisis team. “It was extremely helpful to have experienced people on the team. These setbacks won’t stop Warren and supporters of the bill. “The next step,” Warren said after the vote, “is we’re gonna have to keep hitting on this.” Moral Monday protesters Education Voters “I hope people will see that we have no choice but to be politically active. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was soon named co-chair. They immediately began accepting bids from private companies to provide services for 187 school support jobs in transportation (67), custodial (65) and childcare services (41), and maintenance (14). With each passing day, the campaign picked up steam as more and more of MESPA’s 200 members started showing up to mail post cards to school board members, knock on doors informing neighbors about the services provided by career ESPs, and to send e-mails to school board and administration officials. However, my twin daughters, who are 16, told me last week that they both have changed their minds about teaching. ‘I want a career where I can make a difference’ and ‘I want a career where I am respected’ were their comments. “Those were the same two reasons I went into teaching 25 years ago!
How sad.” It’s also bad news for America, says Walt Gardner, an Education Week blogger who taught for 28 years in Los Angeles. “The timing couldn’t be worse,” he notes. “Large numbers of baby boomers are starting to retire from teaching just when even larger numbers of children enter elementary school. It was titled, “Defending our Careers: How to Stop Privatization Through Coalition Building and Community Connections.” “It was Friday the 13th,” Campbell recalls. “A colleague from Waterford (210 miles away) called to tell me that our superintendent had just announced in a private meeting that he was putting out bids to privatize almost 200 jobs.” One of those jobs was Campbell’s. Small business owners were particularly responsive. “They knew that losing almost 200 local jobs could devastate Waterford’s economy,” Campbell says. Even worse, students would be exposed to what Campbell calls “stranger danger.” “Once you sign with a for-profit company, you lose control of who is working in our buildings and in direct contact with our children,” says Campbell, who works at Knudsen Elementary School. “Private companies do not want to spend the money or take the time to screen their new hires the way a school district does.” The Waterford School District screens and fingerprints all prospective employees. Retired educators signed on with members of local police and firefighter unions, the Waterford Democratic Club, and other citizen-based groups. Also present were MEA UniServ Director Marcy Felegy and Troy Beasley, president of the teacher’s Waterford Education Association (WEA).
In 2014, in the wake of the violence, chaos and unrest following the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the nation once again saw educators go above and beyond in serving and protecting their students. Elementary school teacher and Ferguson-Florissant NEA member Carrie Pace helped create a makeshift school at the local library, where parents could drop off their children for a day of art and science projects. “Our community values education, as all parents do,” Pace told NBC News. “I hope that it’s healing in some way, if nothing else I think it is a total breath of fresh air for the kids who can be here.” Ferguson Educators Every year, teachers and education support professionals step up and show extraordinary dedication and bravery in the face of unforeseen disasters and crises. I know a lot of people are turned off by politics, but we must be involved to give teachers and students a voice,” said Jessica Fitzwater, a music teacher in Frederick County, Md., and the 2014 NEA Activist of the Year. U.S. Despite the bad omen and devastating news, Campbell knew that members of Waterford’s Michigan Education Support Personnel Association III (MESPA) could rally the community and beat back school privatization. I know they are completely sincere and that is disheartening, but I know that teaching is the profession for me and I am sticking with it. “More than ever, students need strong, dedicated, hard-working teachers and that is what I am going to be!” And Dilbeck is confident that the millions of teachers across the country will stay strong and fight back these attacks. “As our state president, Mary Lindquist, stated, ‘It is raining hard right now but we’ve got a damn good umbrella.’” L-R: Drew Campbell, Teddie Watson, and Heather Madigan stand with signs used to gather support for their efforts.
Survey results also showed that ESPs volunteer with local community organizations and have worked as loyal employees in the district for decades. “Parents have told me that their bus driver is considered part of the family,” says Felegy. “You can’t say the same about workers with private companies.” At the membership meeting, a petition was started demanding that board members vote down privatization. I know that children need good teachers and I am determined to be that.” It’s not just the job shortage that has education students questioning their career plans. Since the school board was scheduled to vote on the school privatization issue at a May 21 board meeting, time was of essence. SWAP provides anti-privatization training and assists MEA local Associations threatened with outsourcing. Their future requires we all work together.” Democrats for Public Education 2014 saw the formation of a much-needed and long overdue new organization to advocate for public schools. The district also offered free lunches and mental health counseling to students and their families — critical services in a community where many kids don’t get proper nutrition unless they are in school. We saw true heroism at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, and at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013.
Senator Elizabeth Warren for leading the charge on one of the most pressing education issues of the year: skyrocketing student debt. Luckily for students across the country, thousands of teachers and education support professionals worked diligently this year to push for common sense education policies at the local and state level and hit the hustings for candidates who support public education. Because many Ferguson schools shuttered due to riots, these educators took the opportunity to comb the streets, cleaning up broken glass, tear gas canisters and other debris. For the schools of Waterford, privatizing services means that trained, skilled and loyal ESPs would be replaced by workers with less experience, resulting in a lower quality of service. They worked hard and learned new skills that will benefit this country and help us build a stronger middle class and a stronger America.” Unfortunately, the bill was blocked twice from advancing in the Senate, falling only two votes short in the second attempt in September. They were joined by organizers with the Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT) and Waterford Federation of Support Personnel, the MFT local that represents childcare service workers.
More than 2,000 signatures were gathered within 30 days. Felegy was particularly proud of the 450 yard signs that members distributed across town. Campbell was named chairman. At least, that’s true in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, which recently reported the number of teaching credentials issued by the state dropped 29 percent over the past five years. Because of low wages and poor benefits, surveys show that the turnover rate among private sector workers reporting to schools is about six weeks. “That means these companies cannot hire enough people to clean our buildings, work in our cafeterias, or drive our buses,” Campbell adds. “So, they start hiring less desirable workers and no one can do anything about it because the school district signed a contract.” During April, the crisis committee had been meeting to review strategies.
Three versions were created: “Outsourcing Hurts Our Students,” “Stop Privatization Now,” and “Waterford MEA Supports QE2/Quality Employees Quality Education.” “You could not drive anywhere in Waterford without seeing a yard sign or some kind of support for our ESPs,” she says. Educators from Ferguson-Florissant NEA, Jennings NEA, Normandy NEA and Riverview Gardens NEA, banded together to assist in the community’s recovery and to bring a degree of normalcy back to the lives of their students. Educators also organized food drives to assist families who were too afraid to go outside during the unrest and sold I LOVE FERG t-shirts to raise money. But I have always wanted to teach and I remain true to that dream. Democrats for Public Education (DPE) was launched in June by Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio, and political consultant Donna Brazille.
According to the group’s mission statement, DPE believes every student should have “access to a strong and safe neighborhood school with well-prepared and supported teachers, deep and engaging curriculum and social services to meet their mental, social and physical needs.” Their message is clear: public education is a fundamental civil right and schools cannot be improved by cutting funding and attacking the very profession that is charged with teaching our students. In June 2014, Warren introduced in the Senate the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would provide relief to some 40 million Americans struggling with student loan debt. “Exploding student loan debt is crushing young people and dragging down our economy,” remarked Warren while introducing the bill. “These students didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card. Colleagues say that “privatization” is his signature word if not his middle name. “I use that word a lot,” says Campbell, a custodian with the Waterford School District for 28 years and member of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) Statewide Anti-privatization (SWAP) Committee. It’s the lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. “My three teenagers have talked their whole lives about becoming teachers just like their parents,” said Karen Cagle Botkin in Chicago. “My son starts college next year and still wants to be a physical education teacher. At California State University, which traditionally produces thousands of new teachers yearly, only half as many students are on their way to a teaching career today as eight years ago, the newspaper reported. Now with the 2014 elections over and state legislatures scheduled to go into session in January, educator activists in North Carolina and around the country will be ready. “Educators are not the type of people to back down when it comes to what is best for students,” says Florida teacher Lucia Baez. “Regardless of which party came out ahead, we will do what is best for students. Who will teach them?” In Wisconsin, epicenter of the attack on public employees, newspaper reports say veteran teachers are preparing to retire early and student teachers are looking for jobs in other states. “I keep hearing friends say they do not want to teach in Wisconsin,” reports Samuel Guerrero, the incoming NEA Student Program state president. “They are looking for a stable state to teach in, especially a state that has a governor that recognizes the value of a good education system.” And the current Wisconsin Student Program president, Erik Collins adds, “I know outstanding students who would do an amazing job in education have begun to consider changing their career path.” Stephanie Dilbeck But Stephanie Dilbeck, president of the Washington state Student Program, is one of many aspiring teachers who are undeterred by all the attacks. “My fellow state board members, who have been teaching for thirty plus years,” she says, “constantly turn to me and remark with little questions or comments like, ‘Is there anyway I can talk you out of it?’ without a chuckle or a smile to follow.
Which they did, but it wasn’t easy. “I knew we wouldn’t panic,” he says. “We’d organize.” Within 48 hours of hearing the news, executive committee members of MESPA III (custodians, maintenance/transportation and food service workers) got together and established the Waterford Education Support Professional (ESP) Crisis Committee. The MEA and supporters were successful in thwarting an attempt to outsource almost 200 ESP jobs in Waterford, Mich. (Jose Juarez/Special to the NEA) Over the last several decades, Andrew Campbell has given many school board presentations, workshop trainings, and media interviews about the futility of privatizing public school services. Last March, Campbell and two other SWAP members were conducting a typical training workshop in Bellaire, Michigan. We got right to work.” During this time, school district officials also pounced. In addition, officials announced that one transportation and two custodial supervisors were being released as of July 1. “We hadn’t had a raise in seven years and have homework market accepted many concessions over those years,” Campbell says. “Now this.” At a March 21 membership meeting, members were briefed and asked to fill out surveys that included questions about years of service, education and training levels, residency, and social media activity. “Almost 80 percent of our members spend their hard-earned money at local stores,” says Felegy. “They live, shop, and eat out in the same district where they work, which helps the economy.” Waterford School District is the largest employer in town.
The continuing attacks on educators and school funding are hurting not just today’s schools, but tomorrow’s as well: Fewer people want to teach. Rozy Paleo with her students “I admit there are times I think, ‘What was I thinking?’” says Rozy Paleo, who graduated from the San Diego State University last year. “Pink slips have been handed out left and right in our district, and hearing about increasing class sizes leaves me feeling discouraged.” She’s been subbing but she hopes to land a full-time position for next fall. “I get questions all the time from family about whether I feel comfortable going into this occupation or if I’m worried about not having a job,” says Samantha Dunn, an NEA Student Program member at Park University in Missouri. “I know that if I allow myself to consider these fears, I would doubt whether this is something I want to do.