April 27, 2018
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Maligning teachers association is cheap political shot

By Adam Leach, Special to the BDN

The falsehoods and misrepresentations regarding the Maine Education Association espoused by Rep. Jonathan McKane in his Jan. 24 BDN OpEd cannot pass without some clarification of the facts.

McKane’s vitriolic castigation of the MEA’s lobbying effort on behalf of teachers is unwarranted and unfounded. In many cases he blatantly professes false information as political gospel, presumably designed to favor a personal political agenda. As a registered Republican who considers the MEA a valuable and necessary asset to teachers, schoolchildren, their families and yes, even the taxpayers, please allow me to respond to some of the inflammatory statements contained in the aforementioned opinion.

First of all, the most significant variable that impacts the success of children at school is the teacher. The MEA advocates strongly for the educational excellence through their support for teachers. Mr. McKane convicts the MEA for going beyond advocacy for teachers and for venturing into a place where he claims teachers don’t belong. However, teachers are residents of this state and possess all of the rights of free speech and petition that are guaranteed to everyone else.

In a representative democracy, people, including teachers and the union they employ, have the right to voice their opinions on any issue at any time. It is hypocritical for Mr. McKane to suggest otherwise.

On the issues, LD 1326 seems reasonable on the surface, but breaking up the MEA Benefits Trust in favor of allowing local school districts to shop for better deals will, over time, cause violent shifts in premiums and threaten benefits. The trust has a pool of 70,000-plus members which stabilizes rates and protects the integrity of the benefits package. If a local district is able to get a better deal for their smaller pool of employees, it assumes a position in which only one catastrophic illness will cause devastating premium hikes. This kind of instability threatens the ability school districts to properly manage their budgets.

The MEA Benefits Trust has nothing to do with alleged greedy union bosses and has everything to do with keeping teachers safe and healthy. As for the lawsuit, it is an attempt to prevent the implementation of an irrational decision made by an unchecked Legislature and an anti-union governor.

Also, regarding the expectation that teachers and the MEA know their place, I argue that anything that supports the children who enter our classrooms and their families is fair game for our lobbying interests. Softening child labor laws that prevent students from attending to their studies while resisting attempts to increase personal income for the poor is contrary to the facilitation of success in school.

Next point. MEA members choose to join the organization and are not forced to pay dues against their will. The false statement by Mr. McKane that tax dollars are used to pay MEA dues is either in error or an intentional smear. The money that funds the MEA is in fact “private” money from the pockets of teachers, ed. techs and support staff which allows the union to serve as their advocate in Augusta.

The MEA lobbying on behalf of teachers is an exercise of the same rights enjoyed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Sportsman’s Alliance and the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

I assume that Mr. McKane would validate his statement that “charter schools have been proven to be effective” by citing a 2009 policy brief published by Commissioner Stephen Bowen — then eduction director at the MHPC — touting charter schools. A closer examination of that brief shows that the entire reference list is comprised of right-wing blogs and conservative think tank papers. The MHPC’s brief does not include the most comprehensive study on the effectiveness of charter schools conducted by Stanford University ( http://credo.stanford.edu) which methodically demonstrates that the effectiveness of charter schools is a mixed bag and will likely produce poor results at a higher cost to the taxpayer.

Simply put, charter schools are not in the best interest of Maine’s children or the taxpayers.

The attack on the MEA as a greedy union is an out-of-date, right wing, partisan ploy designed to prop up a weak anti-labor agenda and the accusations of irrational party politics is ironic and laughable. The MEA legislative scorecard is a way to inform members on how their representatives voted on important issues. Many conservative special interest groups do the same thing.

The twisted facts and outright lies professed by Mr. McKane are unfortunate and an embarrassment to the people of his district. If he thinks teachers should stay out of the business of advocating for themselves, for Maine families and for the children in our classrooms then he is overdue for a lesson in the democratic (emphasis small d) process.

Adam Leach teaches at Bangor High School and is president of the Bangor Teachers Association. He lives in Hermon.

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