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'Job actions' supported by Brandon District teachers

April 20, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Teachers and administrators in the district are united in their opposition to Governor Rick Snyder's proposed cuts to education and both groups say their focus is on students. However, they differ in what needs to be done to achieve the goal of obtaining the best education possible for Brandon kids.

During a Brandon Education Association meeting April 12, members voted to support the Michigan Education Association in multiple courses of action leading up to and including a "job action" in order to "voice displeasure" with Snyder's budget proposal, wrote Nate Odinga, a Brandon High School teacher in an e-mail to The Citizen.

Snyder has proposed a $470 per-pupil funding cut that would equate to a loss of more than $1.6 million to the Brandon School District. Statewide, Odinga said, it would immediately put 200 school districts in deficit and in danger of being taken over by an emergency financial manager.

"This manager would have the power to dismiss the board, fire the superintendent and change employee contracts as he or she sees fit," he said. "This would usurp the control that communities are supposed to have over their schools."

Steve Hendershott, BEA President and Brandon Middle School teacher, said the vote was 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of supporting the MEA. He declined to give exact numbers for how many BEA teachers voted for supporting action and how many voted against. Other local districts voting in favor of supporting MEA in the cause include Goodrich, Clarkston, Lake Orion, Oxford and Lapeer. The MEA, the statewide teachers union, has more than 157,000 members.

The "job actions" the MEA is encouraging teachers to do include wearing red on Tuesdays to draw attention to their cause and participating in "Grade-ins," where teachers grade papers or do other school work they would normally do at home in a public place, and also speak with the general public about the budget and the effect it will have on schools. Teachers, Hendershott said, may stop doig all the extra things they do before and after school that fall outside of their job descriptions, including monitoring classrooms and offers extra help to students, although that has not occurred yet. As a "last resort" the job action could even result in a one-day strike by MEA members across the state.

Asked if it's possible that Brandon teachers would strike, Hendershott replied, "The MEA has not asked, nor do we support striking Brandon schools or students, but we are in support of MEA and trying to bring light to what the governor is trying to do to Brandon kids and schools... Nobody wants to (strike), but it's possible the sun will set at 1 and the moon will come out at 2 and I will retire at the end of this year, but I don't think it's going to happen. I would like the public to support us, but they first need to be aware and ask questions and read and ask for the answers. I would hope they would support educating their children and support the MEA."

School Board President Debbie Schummer doesn't believe the job actions proposed by the MEA and supported by the BEA are in the best interest of children in the district.

"Teachers have every right to do whatever they feel they need to do to justify their reasons to get the message out," she said. "We're a democracy and a labor state. However, there is more than one side... You're unhappy? We're all unhappy. Welcome to the 21st century in Michigan. We all need to give. The good news is the BEA recognizes the trouble districts in the state are in and they are at the table and coming up with a plan that is in the best interest of the kids. We're not going to change union practices overnight, but the time has come to address them in the open like adults."

The Brandon Board of Education and the BEA are currently in teacher contract negotiations for 2010-2011. The previous contract expired Dec. 31. While neither side will discuss current contract talks, Schummer said in general she believes that total compensation for district employees needs to be looked at, instead of focusing only on salary.

"The MEA wins in propaganda when they talk salary only and that is wrong," she said. "They get Cadillac healthcare and fully funded retirement, sick days... I want to stop personalizing it. When I talk about total compensation, they call me a teacher hater. I'm not... Effective teachers are essential, lifeblood to a young mind. It's the practices of the union that hurt the system and that is what needs to be looked at."

Schummer supports an adjustment to seniority rule practices also, what she calls "last in, first out" in the business world.

"This practice forces the district to potentially layoff the youngest and brightest teachers," she said. "We need a system based on effectiveness, regardless of how long they have been in the district, but that's not how it happens. We keep people in the system because of time-in factor, not value-added factor. We should restructure based on performance."

Hendershott said he considers the source when it is suggested that teachers have better retirement, healthcare and salary than they should. He noted that teachers are well-educated and usually have to pay for their own continuing education, which they are required to have. Teachers often attend school during the summer and work outside of the classroom.

"All the BEA members are bright and ambitious and put in extra time," he said. "I don't think the younger teachers do a lot more than the experienced teachers. There are teachers within the system who probably should not be teaching, but there are methods the administrators can use to remove ineffective teachers. I don't think the current seniority system needs to be changed."

Hendershott believes the state needs to fund education differently, by reversing Proposal A, the Headlee Amendment, and giving local districts and voters the power to decide how much money to spend on education, instead of it going to a pot in Lansing.

Schummer, Hendershott, and all district residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas to local legislators during a special community forum planned for 6:30 p.m., May 16, at the I-TEC Center, 609 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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