The April Fed Rep meeting was unusual in that constituency meetings were cancelled and in their place was a presentation by ATF President Ellen Bernstein about the district’s budget crisis. Ellen’s presentation was being given at the same time as the Board of Education was having a special, closed-door meeting to discuss the budget. Much of what Ellen stated in her presentation was published in the Albuquerque Journal the following day. It seems that Ellen had great insight into the closed-door meeting and served as a mouthpiece for the district aiming to pacify fed reps about the financial catastrophe.
The Friday prior to fed rep council, two members of AlbuCORE met with Ellen to discuss the idea of the district using their cash reserves to cover the budget shortfall. In this meeting Ellen refused to give any information saying she would not give a ‘private tutorial’ and told us the idea of using the cash reserves was uninformed. When asked why the position was uniformed, Ellen stated “because I know more than you.” Ellen was completely unwilling to share any facts on the budget with dues paying members and was staunchly opposed to organizing any efforts to prevent teachers being saddled with more work for less pay. This is harmonious with Ellen’s cozy relationship with the district and her reluctance to push back on leadership as she clearly prioritizes her friendship with the superintendent and the BOE over the union membership.
The tone of Ellen’s presentation was defeated. Her words regarding the cuts were, “not if, but how much…”. The gist of the conversation was that we need to prepare for the inevitable injustice of more work for less pay. It is easy to accept wrongdoing when one is personally protected from the fallout. Regarding furloughs, she presented inaccurate information on salaries. She said that both level two and three teachers currently earn a wage that is $2000 more than the required state minimum. However, level one teachers make only the state minimum and thus, could not be furloughed. She used this logic to convince us that furlough days were impractical and unlikely. This was wrong and was corrected in a subsequent email stating that level one teachers are indeed over the state minimum and can be furloughed. This misinformation was an attempt to placate members by leading us to believe furloughs were not an option, when in fact, they absolutely are. We need accurate information from our president, not alternative facts that sow confusion and false hope.
As Ellen discussed the crisis and encouraged us to accept the devastation of our schools, she consistently placed blame on the governor. While this is certainly a factor, Ellen’s complete absolution of district leadership and the BOE is highly problematic and indicative of collusion at the top that does not serve the membership. The idea that the district has no accountability is absurd. The district should be fighting the state. The current trend in the ivory towers is to slam the PED and their policies, while then legitimizing them by implementing standardized tests, lending credence to school and district grades, rolling over on budget cuts and cowering in the face of idle threats from politicians. This two-faced approach is ghastly in its weakness and damages our schools and professions. Yet, this is the stance endorsed by our union leadership.
In AlbuCORE, we believe in something different. The union – the rank-and-file – needs to fight. We need to engage our struggle through direct and collective action to prevent policies that reek of corruption. It is unfortunate that our union leadership is content to sit back and watch while we suffer – but that should not hinder the rank-and-file in our battle to defend our schools and communities. One thing is certain, the blame for this crisis does not lay with teachers or students, and we should not be made to shoulder the burden as unethical politicians and leaders at all levels offer platitudes and rationalizations for their malfeasance and incompetence. We are under attack – let us stand, fight and win!