Notes from Camp: The Fourth Day

When I started attending NEA Representative Assemblies in the mid-nineties, I began writing something I call “Notes from Camp.” (More on this particular aberration here.) For a number of reasons, it proved difficult this year to write the daily journals that formed the basis of previous years’ “Notes,” and I find myself writing my impressions close to the end of the trip. Rather than the details of each day’s events, I’ll focus here on observations about the general themes of this year’s RA.–Bill Lavezzi, NEOEA Executive Director

The business of the RA this year emphasized six general themes that between them account for the majority of the actions taken this year. Most of these comments reflect the 125 New Business Items (NBIs) submitted to the 2015 Representative Assembly.

1) Gender Issues: Recent events, including cultural attention to transgender issues and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex  marriage, are reflected in a large number of issues pertaining to gender: student issues related to counseling, bullying, and youth suicide, and staff issues related to discrimination and fair dismissal.

2) Frenemies: NEA and its leaders want to reward our friends and punish our enemies, but that has proved more complicated than you might expect. Delegates rejected NBI 23, which would have required NEA to stop accepting grants from various funds and foundations which sometimes agree with us and sometimes don’t, choosing to leave those decisions in the hands of NEA’s leadership.

3) Racial Justice: The recent shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston concerned the delegates a great deal. This led delegates to adopt NBI B, which states that “We, the members of the National Education Association, acknowledge the existence in our country of institutional racism—the societal patterns and practices that have the net effect of imposing oppressive conditions and denying rights, opportunity, and equality based upon race.” Delegates enacted NBI 8, stating “The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces.” In the last hour of the RA, delegates responded to news that the South Carolina Senate had voted to take down the Confederate battle flag with a standing ovation.

4) Labor Relations: NEA’s relationship with the labor movement was a serious topic of discussion. In the late nineties, NEA and AFT state affiliates began to merge; they pay dues to both NEA and AFT, but not both full amounts per member. Under an arrangement agreed to then, their voting strength at the RA is geared to the portion of full NEA dues they pay. This has led to complaints of disproportional representation and a constitutional amendment that would have greatly increased the representation of the merged states. That amendment failed, after which delegates passed NBI 39, which creates a “taskforce including national, state, and local leaders from merged and non-merged states selected by their respective organizations to work toward an agreement(s) on issues being raised by merged and non-merged states.”

5) High-stakes Testing and Opting Out: Educators’ anger at the legalized child abuse represented by excessive testing was expressed in a number of proposals. Several NBIs dealt with parents opting their children out of standardized testing, including educators advocating opting out, advising parents on opting out, protecting educators’ rights to speak out on the topic, etc.

6) Equity for Special-needs Students: Delegates heard a number of moving accounts on the effects of standardized testing on students with disabilities. Although most states have now passed laws under which testing affects educator evaluation and jobs, most discussion focused on how standardized testing effects students rather than on how it affected educators.

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NEA Delegate Religious Services

Interdenominational Service, room W208C:

NEA has kindly arranged for delegates to use room W208C for a prayer service on July 5, starting fifteen minutes after adjournment for the day.

Mass for Catholic Delegates and Guests:

Unfortunately, we learned rather late that arrangements for a priest to celebrate Mass at the Convention Center were unsuccessful. Our delegates have been invited to join the congregation at the Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe, at their 6:00 PM Mass on July 5. The most likely means of transportation is taxi or private car, and routing systems suggest allowing a minimum of 20 minutes to get there. The address is 8300 Vineland Avenue, Orlando, Florida 32821.

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NEOEA at NEA – Class Photo 2015

Each year we gather our delegates for a class photo. Here’s the 2015 version.

ClassPhoto2015

If you’re a delegate and you think we didn’t get you at your best, let us know at desk@neoea.org and we’ll arrange for you to look through the outtakes.

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Ohio District Night at Treasure Tavern

Ohio NEA Caucus Announcement: Saturday, July 04, 2015

Tonight, four Ohio district associations—Central, ECOEA, NEOEA, and SWOEA—are collaborating on an Ohio Districts Night at Treasure Tavern.

Dinner and the show begin at 8:00. We have arranged transportation to Treasure Tavern beginning at 6:45. Those of you attending the event should go to the regular bus pickup spot. André Prenoveau and transportation staff will send buses as they fill. The last bus will leave the Sheraton at 7:15 or when it’s full.

(If you find it necessary to get to Treasure Tavern on your own, you’ll need to know the address: 6400 Carrier Drive, Orlando 32919.)

The four groups will have leaders at Treasure Tavern to check you off on their lists, and you’ll get your ticket from your leader there. After you’re checked in, you’ll be able to enjoy a VIP reception and meet members of the cast before dinner and the show.

The show is expected to end at 10:00, and our buses will be waiting to bring us back after the show. Please make sure that you get to a bus promptly, and if you’re not going to take the bus back please let one of your district leaders know.

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Ohio Delegates Arrive

Tomorrow–Thursday, July 2–is the date of our first caucus in Orlando. Delegates have been arriving for several days, and tonight Ohio delegates gathered in the Sheraton’s Majestic Palm Room for Ohio Night, an annual reception for Ohio delegates and their guests.

To keep in touch with our delegates and friends this year, we’re going to use two main channels: this blog and Twitter. I’ll be Tweeting @NEOEAXD and using the hashtag #NEOatNEA.

Tomorrow evening I expect to post my first “Notes from Camp” for this RA. For more about the “Notes from Camp” series, check the “meta-post” located here.

Our email server seems to have a problem this evening, so I’ll post here the following communication for NEOEA delegates that was originally intended as an email to them. (But now you know that we won’t be sending emails like this, just posting to this blog and Tweeting to direct people to the post.)

Coming up on the schedule tomorrow, Thursday, July 2:

  • Tomorrow morning, the second Ohio caucus starts mercifully late at 7:30 in the Majestic Palm Ballroom. Before or during the caucus, stop by the NEOEA table to get your receipt packet.
  • You’ll also be able to pick up a seatback cover if you’d like one. Please have a $10 deposit, which we’ll refund on Monday when you hand back your seatback cover.
  • After the state caucus, we’ll hold a brief NEOEA caucus in a corner of the Majestic Palm Ballroom.
  • At 11:00 tomorrow morning, I’ll be leading a Parliamentary Briefing in (where else?) the Majestic Palm Ballroom. We should be done by noon.

Bill Lavezzi, NEOEA Executive Director

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What Delegates and Friends Need to Know about the NEA Annual Meeting

A good resource is NEA’s “Frequently Asked Questions About the Annual Meeting & Representative Assembly,” online at http://www.nea.org/grants/20260.htm.

Terminology: You will hear references to both the “Representative Assembly,” or RA, and the “Annual Meeting.” The Representative Assembly is the governing body of NEA, consisting of elected delegates from NEA affiliates across the country. It is the RA that elects NEA officers, adopts the budget, endorses Presidential candidates, and enacts policy statements and new business items. NEA defines the Annual Meeting as the four days of the Representative Assembly plus the two registration days. (Some events start even earlier: this year’s complete meeting schedule runs nine days.)

Expectations: Delegates should attend all six Ohio caucuses and all four sessions of the RA. The first Ohio caucus will be held starting at 10:00 AM on June 6 at the Crowne Plaza Columbus North Hotel, 6500 Doubletree Avenue, Columbus 43229. The other caucuses will be held on July 2-6 at our delegation’s hotel in Orlando, Florida.

Travel arrangements: Delegates make their own travel arrangements. For this year’s schedule, delegates should arrive no later than July 1 and return no sooner than July 7. You’ll have more options if you arrange your flights early.

Room arrangements: The Ohio delegation will be staying at the Lake Buena Vista Resort this year. To reduce costs, most delegates share a room. Delegates arrange their rooms through an online registration system set up by OEA, which will be “live” after April 10.

Communications: After the delegate reporting deadline of April 10, delegates will start to receive email communications including a registration link. Tips for registration: 1) have your ten-digit OEA membership number; 2) use a non-school email address; and 3) identify your roommate if you know who that will be. (OEA can try to pair you up with a roommate if that’s your preference.)

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Last Morning Caucus

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Highlight today – all OEA delegates participated in the FCPE Drive! Ohio earned their flag for display on the floor. (See photo of state marker.) Delegates were very generous with their donations this year. Ohio was fifth for the highest amount of money collected for the fund.

One of the action packed events of the last caucus is the live auction. Traditionally there are large ticket items that garner additional funds for FCPE. Among today’s auction items – tickets to Cedar Point and an overnight stay at Breakers Hotel, Blue Jacket tickets, OSU football tickets, handcrafted quilt using past OEA shirts, cowboy hats worn by the officers during the RA, along with a homemade authentic Mexican dinner. One of the district leaders is the auctioneer and about $6000 was raised. It is always so entertaining to watch the bidding wars.

Everyone has noticed the team attitude exhibited by our current OEA officers – Becky, Scott and Tim. It is refreshing to have a group of individuals who are not only dedicated to the organization and our values, but also genuinely interested in every delegate and their views. There were standing ovations for the work they have done over the week.

The last day is also filled with personal announcements about retirees from particular locals and kudos to the OEA staff who also works tirelessly on the behalf of delegates. By day four of early morning meetings and extended travel before the RA starts, everyone is really feeling the love for one another and our great union.

The big question on the last day is when will the RA end. By policy, the delegation must complete all their work within four days. I have been at some RAs that adjourned close to midnight and others that ended around seven o’clock. This particular RA will see special tributes to the outgoing president, Dennis Van Roekle and motivating speeches from the three incoming officers.

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Notes from Camp: Sunday, July 6

I drafted this year’s final “Notes from Camp” on the plane back from Denver. The Representative Assembly adjourned Sunday evening at 6:29–an unusually early ending for An RA with an unusually large amount of business. The flight gives me an opportunity to update some of the items I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Overall, it was a pretty good RA for the Ohio delegation.

  • OEA President Becky Higgins’s first year of NEA caucuses were efficient, open, and positive.
  • Some Ohio delegates were disappointed that the delegation never went on record as supporting either of the candidates for NEA Secretary-Treasurer, but that seemed to be the will of the body since no candidate ever got enough votes for the win.
  • Ohio’s delegation contributed the fifth-highest total of all the state delegations ($68,973) to the Fund for Children and Public Education (FCPE), with (perhaps more important) 100% participation by Ohio’s 292 delegates.

Ohio delegates submitted two New Business Items on behalf of the Ohio delegation: NBIs 19 and 58, submitted by Ohio delegates Ray Beiersdorfer and Kevin Carlin respectively.

  • A modified form of NBI 19 passed: “NEA shall use existing resources and publications to educate its members about the environmental and health effects of shale gas fracking.”
  • NBI 58 was referred to a committee to be determined: “NEA will use existing resources to educate its members and the public about how charter schools are funded and what accountability standards to which they are held compared to public schools.”

The RA typically honors a Friend of Education, and this year was no exception. This year’s Friend of Education was Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Afghan education crusader who continues to recover from an assassination attempt ion 2012. Her inability to attend the RA didn’t prevent delegates from honoring her with a sustained standing ovation for her heroism.

There are elections at NEA every year, of course, but this year’s were especially important. Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s was elected President and Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle was elected Vice President. In an extremely close election, Princess Moss won the position of Secretary-Treasurer. For the next three years–and perhaps as many as six–the executive officers of America’s largest labor union, 80% of whose members are women, will be women.

It’s no surprise, then, that all eyes were on the new President-elect as she took the podium for her acceptance speech. She threw down a challenge to those who mistakenly push the agenda she refers to as “privatization, de-professionalization, and standardization.”

“People who don’t know what they’re talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators . . . when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” García told the delegate assembly. “Everything is possible to people who don’t know anything.”

She reminded delegates of the importance of what they do: “Our work is made of flesh and blood. Our work is the future of everything.”

García recalled Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign mantra, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” She then added her own version: “For us, one thing is clear, before anything is going to get better: It’s the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, it’s the stupid testing.”

These are difficult times to be an educator or a student in America, and what lies ahead for NEA and America’s schools is uncertain. The 10,000-plus delegates, staff, and guests who gathered at the Colorado Convention Center this past week got a preview of what the struggle ahead looks like.

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Fourth of July – couple of days late!

The days at the NEA Representative Assembly are intense and your nights can be quite full … all of this to say that I will use this last day to catch up on some posts!

Many members are surprised that we meet and work through the holiday. It is tough to be away from the greater Cleveland area and not enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, but the NEA makes certain to have some holiday festivities – our NEA Choir sang several patriotic selections, delegates were dressed in their finest holiday fashions (quite a sight) and there were lots of balloons and confetti.

It is a tradition for the OEA districts to host an event one night during the week of the RA. This year our NEA Event Committee back home planned a night for the delegates at the Downtown Aquarium. We invited the other districts and their delegates to join us. Six districts joined us for an amazing evening of fish, sharks and other sea creatures. The Denver Aquarium was the venue for our buffet dinner and opportunity to view the city fireworks on the balcony which overlooked Elitch Park. The reviews the next morning were fabulous. Everyone enjoyed the night and Denver’s fireworks show.

NEOEA hit our 100% participation for the FCPE ribbon yesterday at the morning caucus. Each Ohio delegate is encouraged to give $180 to the fund while at the RA. Ohio will often sponsor silent auctions each day and a live auction with some great items on the last morning. Special appreciation to our OEA/NEOEA Directors who are delegates in Denver this week and helped to make sure each of our delegates participated. Just like we push for active fund participation at our own representative assemblies in Ohio – we push here at the national level – even a little harder.

The early morning Ohio Caucus, held in our hotel ballroom, is filled with work and activities. It is here that the delegates take positions, after recommendations from the steering committee and debate, on new business items; as well as resolutions and legislative issues. Delegates are treated to a continental breakfast and it can sometimes be a casual atmosphere with many activities happening (gathering district information, making donations, purchasing chances for drawings) on the outskirts of the ballroom. This year’s caucuses have been filled with many close votes on candidates and issues. It has been more important than ever for the delegates to be present, attentive, and credentialed – in order to vote. You need to be in your seat for your vote to count.

By the way, this is the 152nd NEA Representative Assembly. What a tradition of strength and solidarity. Proud to be NEA!

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Notes from Camp: Saturday, July 5

More on Substance

Recent columns have mentioned two main types of business that comes before the RA. With today’s session things begin to become more complicated as other types of business come to the fore. Here’s a quick primer about some of the types of items that come up at the RA.

Constitution and Bylaws Amendments: These are amendments to the basic governing documents of NEA.

  • Amendments to the NEA Constitution must be submitted the year before they will be voted on. Amendments proposed for next year must be submitted by the end of the secenth session, which is the morning session tomorrow.
  • Amendments to the NEA Bylaws must be submitted 120 days before the Annual Meeting at which they are to be considered.

One of the recurring themes in these amendments is proportional representation. Delegates will vote today on an amendment to remove the Constitutional requirement that classroom teachers constitute 75% of the members of virtually all committees and on a Bylaws amendment requiring that state delegations to the NEA RA be allocated proportionally among various categories of members. OEA’s delegates have voted to support the first and oppose the second.

Another Constitutional amendment to change the frequency of the RA from annual to triannual has been withdrawn. Voting on Constitution and Bylaws issues takes place today.

Elections: President Dennis Van Roekel is term-limited as President, and delegates elected Vice President Lily Eskelsen Garcia as President yesterday with 94% of the vote. Delegates elected Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle as Vice President with 92% of the vote and Princess Moss as Secretary-Treasurer with 53% of the vote.

Two positions on the NEA Executive Committee are to be elected this year. There were five candidates; each delegate gets two votes. At NEA, pluralities don’t win; candidates must get a majority. Incumbent Earl Wiman was re-elected, and delegates will choose today between the next two vote-getters, George Sheridan and Shelly Moore. The Ohio caucus voted this morning to endorse Moore.

A group calling itself the EON/BAMN caucus (Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary) ran candidates for President, VP, and XC, receiving 6%, 8%, and 7% of the votes respectively. EON/BAMN candidates advocate more general liberal positions and confrontation rather than compromise, a tension which characterizes much of the debate at the Representative Assembly.

New Business Items: In yesterday’s “Notes from Camp” I noted what seem to be some themes in the New Business Items that have been submitted here. We have more NBIs than we’ve seen in a long time: by the noon deadline yesterday, a whopping 107 NBIs had been submitted in addition to the three lettered NBIs that were submitted earlier on behalf of the Board of Directors. DVR is working hard to keep the delegates on task so that the RA has a chance of ending at a reasonable time tomorrow.

Legislative Amendments, Resolutions, and Policy Statements: These are policy documents which come up for renewal each year. In each case, the RA considers amendments, which can be submitted by various committees or by delegates.

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