By Scott Farnsworth
As has been the all too dominating theme for the past several years, politics was the primary focus of the 2016 WEAC Representative Assembly Meeting in Madison this past weekend, the 94th annual business meeting of your state association. All the news was not, however, negative!
While the meeting began with out-going Betsy Kippers making a pitch for contributions to the important NEA-PAC, she was later able to report on the positive changes to federal education policy contained in the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), much of which can be credited to NEA’s strong lobbying efforts on our behalf to remove much of the “No Child Left Untested” language of the old NCLB law. Great credit goes to NEA being able to work with education-friendly legislators like Wisconsin’s Senator Tammy Baldwin; along with work done by NEA Executive Board Member Shelly Moore Krajacic, who is from Wisconsin; and WEAC NEA Director Lynn Goss, who sits on the ESSA implementation committee (and who was re-elected to her WEAC NEA Director seat at this RA also). This strong presence and advocacy to shape federal legislation that affects what happens in local classrooms is a fine example of the work on your behalf that your dues dollars support.
Russ Feingold also made a guest appearance, and his successful campaign will be pivotal in shifting the power of the Senate away from the Republicans. Why is this race worthy of your particular concern? Mainly because the next president may well have the opportunity to appoint up to three Supreme Court justices, positions for life. Even if a Democrat is successfully elected to the Presidency, we have an on-going example of the type of obstructionism a hostile Senate can impose on such a nomination. The appointment of so many justices could shape judgements from this body for decades to come – and we do not need the type of politically-partisan, non-precedent based decisions coming from the federal bench that we have seen from our own state supreme court.
Interestingly, as an aside to that last observation, Russ Feingold made reference to his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo for our government. There, as part of his team working to end its civil war, he was joined by former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, with whom he had earlier dealings when a U.S. Senator. Russ said that, even though they had not seen each other in years, the first thing Mary Robinson said to him was, “Russ, what on Earth is wrong with Wisconsin?!” The actions taken by the Republican-led legislature has not, then, gone unnoticed! The lack of any separation of powers and the virtual elimination of any checks-and-balances, including the fact that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is seen as anything but an independent and objective judicial branch, was one focus of the commentary made by WEAC Executive Director Bob Baxter. He made it clear that WEAC continues to do everything in its power to combat and mitigate the injustices contained in proposed legislation. The WEAC Legal Services challenges unjust treatment of members, and the state organization keeps a close watch on attempts to undermine the profession through the weakening of licensing requirements, as well as threats to the fiscal health of the Wisconsin Retirement System.
This year, only six New Business Items were introduced. One failed to pass – a proposal to tie Educator Effective evaluations to National Board Certification licenses; one was referred to the WEAC Board of Directors; and four passed, including one which will encourage the NEA to develop an endorsement process for NEA-PAC that will allow for greater input from the membership as a whole (proof positive that the spirit of “bottom-up” leadership remains alive and well within our organization).
The most hopeful news of all came in connection to the proposed budget. Last year, WEAC reduced its dues in an effort to promote membership, expending roughly half of its unallocated reserves to make that possible. This year, WEAC announced a “no dues increase” budget – but without the need to expend any reserves at all. Why? Because while membership had not increased as dramatically as hoped, anticipated losses came in at less than projected, as new members were recruited from even some of the younger educators across the state. That retention of membership is enough to continue WEAC’s budget at current dues levels.
All the details of the RA cannot be included in this short article. If you have the desire, take the opportunity to contact any of the dedicated members who represented the KEA at this year’s meeting: KEA President Anne Knapp, WEAC Board of Directors Minority Representative Kim George, KEA Board of Director Colleen Robson, and KEA Association Representatives Mindy Duford, Jill Jensen, and Val Ludlow. While you’re at it – thank them for sacrificing the most delightful weekend so far in 2016 to act on your behalf at this important business meeting that sets the course of your state association for the year ahead.