Monday, July 6, 2009

Notes from Camp, 2009: July 6

Monday, July 6

The last state caucus of the RA always makes for a special morning. There is, of course, a certain amount of business to be transacted, but by this time the elections have been held and we've already established positions on most of the RA's business items. Two items tended to stick out at this year's final caucus.

First, it was time for the delegates to say goodbye to Becky Slaughter, OEA's Manager of Governance Relations, who has been the den mother to many Ohio delegations over the years and will be retiring before the next RA. There is a tradition at the last caucus of auctioning off the state caucus sign, which is usually done on a 4' x 3' piece iof foam board. Proceeds of the auction go to NEA's Fund for Children and Public Education. For this RA, delegates made cash donations--all in official PAC collection envelopes--that were collected by the district leaders. Auctioneer Mike Dossie conducted a sham auction, with the amounts going much higher than they ever have before. Finally, Jerry Oberhaus, chairperson of the District Leaders' Council, stepped forward with a stupendous bid of $4,230. When he went up to claim his prize, Jerry called all the other district presidents to the front of the room, and they then called Becky to the front and presented her with the most expensive piece of posterboard in San Diego!

Second, the NEA Annual Meeting constitutes a sort of victory lap for those who have retired: their membership status is still in effect, and thus this is their last time to serve as representatives of active members. We wished well to some old NEOEA friends today.
  • Jené Wilson, an ACCESS member (Cuyahoga County Board of DD), has been an Association volunteer for many years and is a member of the NEOEA Board of Directors;
  • Warren Hershberger, a member of the Barberton EA, an outgoing member of the OEA and NEOEA Boards of Directors and chairperson of the NEOEA Board's Summer Leadership Subcommittee.
  • Dianne Noice, outgoing president of Independence EA, past chairperson of NEOEA Resolutions and OEA Resolutions, past member of the NEA Resolutions Committee, former NEA Director, and past NEOEA president;
  • Bill Noice, retired from the Hudson EA, also a past NEOEA president and former NEA director, who has not been a delegate for several years but has been the Ohio delegation's unofficial photographer for years.
Once at the RA, business started in earnest.
  • Delegates passed NBI 53, which proved more controversial than might have been expected. The NBI calls for requirements that school facilities be hygienic, and custodial members feared that this would result in an unfunded mandate. The item passed anyway.
  • NBI 61 calls for tighter control over the finances of NEA special-interest caucuses.
  • Delegates replaced a proposed NBI 62 with a more moderate one that calls for examination of national standards and their impact on education.
  • Delegates defeated NBI 66, which would have required NEA officer compensation to be made more readily available. (That information is already available on the Department of Labor website.)
  • NBI 68 puts NEA on record as concerned about an apparently horrendous situation involving the "school committee" (we would say "board of education" of East Providence, RI, which recently unilaterally imposed non-negotiated contract terms on its employees.
  • Delegates passed NBI 69, which puts NEA on records as supporting the unionization of employees of the "new Delta Airlines."
  • NBI 80 puts NEA on record as supporting character education, without very clearly identifying just what the term means.
  • NBI 82 reaffirms NEA's support of the Employee Free Choiice Act, designed to make it easier for employees to unionize.
Perhaps the most interesting dialogue today occurred when President Dennis Van Roekel ruled NBI 72 out of order. NBI 72 would have encouraged schools to become "sanctuaries" for illegal alliens. Dennis ruled it out of order because it would have been in violation of federal law. The maker of the motion appealed the decision of the chair, but delegates overwhelmingly supported Van Roekel's decision on a voice vote.

Delegates honored the 2009 Friend of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond, whose research on teacher quality has made her a powerful force in the education reform movement and helped spark the National Board Certified Teacher system.

Delegates said goodbye to retiring 41-year NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin. During his time as NEA general counsel, Chanin argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court - winning four of them - and filed 25 briefs. The hot item of apparel this week has been a T-shirt with a caricature of Chanin printed on the front and "Show Us Your Amicus Briefs" printed on the back. Chanin, as noted for his dry wit as for his legal prowess, is a popular figure with delegates, who generally cheer when he comes forward to deliver a legal opinion. But in his first and last speech from the center podium, he had a serious message: "Teaching is not akin to the clergy. (and) it is not unprofessional or immoral for teachers to make a living wage," he said.

(For a colleague's view--quite funny, actually--of Bob's career at NEA, see the article online at

The Louisiana delegation invited delegates to New Orleans, site of next year's RA, and showed a video. Newly-elect officers accepted their positions and expressed their thanks, and finally Bob Chanin consulted his watch as he has for many years and announced that the adjournment time (subject of many pools within delegations) would be recorded officially as 6:53 PM. (This was a welcome development: some delegates remember RAs that went beyond midnight on the last day.)


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to


Notes from Camp, 2009: July 5

Sunday, July 5

Some years ago, NEA delegates--frustrated by a perception that not enough time was devoted to business items--set up rules that require a certain amount of time to be set aside in each session for various kinds of business. One result was that today's session was pretty heavy on business items.

Delegates considered some 26 amendments to NEA's legislative program. Of those, half were passed, four were referred to various committees, and nine were defeated outright. Many of those defeated had been introduced by one delegate from Hawaii, and most of those were opposed by Ohio's delegates.

The RA also continued to slog through New Business Items. The deadline for submitting NBIs has passed, and we now know the work that awaits: delegates have submitted 87 NBIs. Together with the five submitted earlier by the Board of Directors, that makes 92 to be dealt with. President Van Roekel is doing a pretty smooth job of handling the parliamentary discussion, and the pace is actually much faster than in some previous years: by the end of the day delegates had considered NBIs through #48, leaving 39 to be dealt with tomorrow, the last day of the RA.

Delegates also honored the national Teacher of the Year, as they do every year. This year's winner is Anthony Mullen, who retired as a New York City policeman and became a teacher at an alternative high school where a major focus of his work is keeping kids in school. "Every day I's given a chance to save one child and prevent another dropout," he said. "These are the riches we are given as teachers and educators."

Dennis has been announcing an estimate of the time the RA will adjourn each day.Delegates are finding this very helpful, especially since his predictions have been pretty accurate. Today he announced an anticipated adjournment time of 6:00, and the actual adjournment came at 6:03.

Since this was a Sunday and yesterday was the Independence Day holiday, today was the time set for delegate religious services. About 470 delegates attended either a Mass or an interdenominational service, both of which started a few minutes after adjournment in rooms at the Conference Center reserved for the purpose by NEA.

After that it was time for NEOEA delegates to head onto the water for this year's NEOEA Night, a three-hour cruise of San Diego Bay. Our boat returned about 10:30, just in time for delegates to fall into their beds to get ready for another 7:00 caucus tomorrow morning.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Notes from Camp, 2009: July 4

Saturday, July 4

Ohio's caucus began today a few minutes past 7:00. NEA delegates have been busy: as of Friday afternoon, delegates had submitted 46 New Business Items. (The deadline for submitting NBI's is noon today, so there will undoubtedly be more.) Evidently The Screening Committee had been busy too, because they had developed recommended positions on NBIs up to #26. The caucus considered those recommendations and reached decisions on its positions on those NBIs. OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks ran a pretty expeditious caucus, and we finished our work for the day about 8:30.

At the RA, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel indicated that he planned to start the morning session with 90 minutes of New Business Item consideration and hold another 90 minutes in the afternoon. So we were barely in our seats when the parliamentary fur started to fly. This year's NBIs seem particularly pithy; I won't reflect all of them here, but you can get more information at the link provided below.

Delegates passed the following:
  • NBI E, which puts NEA on record as supporting equal access for same-sex couples to rights of medical decisions, taxes, inheritance, adoption, and immigration. NEA remains neutral on the question of what these relationships should be called.
  • NBI 2 calls on the federal government to commission a definitive study to determine the risks associated with parents' decisions whether or not to vaccinate children.
  • NBI 10 re-establishes the Men's Issues program as part of the Annual Meeting. (The Men's Issues Conference was suspended several years ago.)
  • NBI 14 reinstates GPO-WEP reform to its previous place as a high-priority legislative objective. (For more information on GPO-WEP, see
  • NBI 15 sets forth a strategy to promote reform of GPO-WEP. (For more information on GPO-WEP, see
  • NBI 17 establishes a program to organize NEA's estimated one-million Republican members to advance "a pro-public education agenda within the Republican Party."
  • NBI 18 calls for publication of an NEA guide to parliamentary procedure for use by members and affiliates. (As the world's largest deliberative assembly, the RA should know something about this.)
  • NBI 19 calls for RA planners to provide space for AA meetings at the RA site.
  • NBI 21 calls for NEA to use its communications vehicles to inform members about laws regarding military recruiter access to students.
RA actions made it clear that delegates have serious misgivings about misuse of charter schools: they passed some NBIs dealing with charter schools and defeated others. Some state affiliates are organizing charter school employees; others (including Ohio) have rejected that idea; but the debate makes it clear that the term "charter school" has such various meanings in different states that it is difficult to use the same term to describe them all.

Today was Independence Day, so the RA held an Independence Day celebration. Also, in keeping with the significance of the day, the first round of elections took place. Ohio-endorsed Joyce Powell of New Jersey was elected to the NEA Executive Committee; a runoff vote will be held tomorrow between four other candidates, including Oklahoma's Greg Johnson, whom Ohio delegates have endorsed. Delegates elected all of the three Ohio-endorsed candidates for ESP (Education Support Professional) Director-at-large.

In the evening, delegates dispersed around San Diego, some watching the fireworks from their hotel windows, others from ships in the harbor, and some from piers and the walkway outside.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Notes from Camp, 2009: July 3

Friday, July 3

After days onsite and plenty of anticipation, the RA officially convened today.

First, though, Ohio delegates met at their third caucus. This was the second in the host city, but the first to begin at 7:00. Grumblling about the early time was mitigated by the realization that the lucky folks appointed to the Steering Committee had begun their work at 5:45 AM, reviewing the items scheduled for consideration today and developing recommended positions for the caucus to take. The caucus took positions on the first sixteen New Business Items.

(You could be confused by numbered references to NBIs. NBIs submitted by NEA's Board of Directors are lettered; those submitted at the RA are numbered. NEA's Board submitted five NBIs, and so far the delegates have submitted eleven. So the last numbered item is number 11, but the caucus has considered positions on sixteen.)

Not unusually, the caucus ran over a bit beyond its scheduled adjournment time of 9:00. Fortunately today, its first day, the RA begins at 11:00, an hour later than the later start time of 10:00; and our hotel is right next door to the San Diego Convention Center, so delegates didn't have too much difficulty getting over to the floor of the RA.

As usual, those arriving in the assembly hall found their seats with music blaring and beach balls bouncing around the hall. The RA began on time with the usual presentation of colors, Pledge of Allegiance, and singing of the National Anthem.

(Sometimes you'll hear people say that schools aren't reciting the Pledge of Allegiance any more; with a few exceptions, this doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, these simple opening ceremonies served once again to remind me that our delegates--who cover the political spectrum from far right to far left--share a powerful patriotism. And, for any who may read this and wonder, NEA is on record as supporting the Pledge and the use of the words "under God," and that's how the delegates recite it.)

As usual, business started out pretty deliberately; that won't be the case later! Delegates considered just three NBIs today, and passed all three of them.
  • NBI A spells out items that NEA will work to "inform and influence" President Obama's $5 billion, 5-year plan to turn around troubled schools.
  • NBI B specifies NEA's position on the renewal of ESEA. (ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is the federal government's main piece of preK-12 education legislation; it must be reauthorized every two years. It was the 2002 reauthorization that became known by the risible title of "No Child Left Behind.")
  • NBI C officially places NEA in record as supporting "national health care . . . advocacy [that] that will stress the urgency of quality, comprehensive, affordable health care for all that includes a public health care plan option and does not tax employer- or government-provided benefits for active and retired residents." The debate featured delegates on both the right and the left, and in the end delegates turned down appeals from those for whom this approach goes too far and those for whom it doesn't go far enough.
Ohio delegates had earlier voted to support all three NBIs, and some were actively involved in the floor strategy aimed at passing the proposals.

Tonight had been designated as Friendship Night, an annual social event open to all delegates. This year's Friendship Night event was a Padres game at Petco Field against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers. Forty NEOEA delegates had purchased tickets in our block, and another dozen or so had purchased tickets in a block provided by OEA. It was a fine night at the ballpark, featuring two teams playing in the same division and separated by only about a one-and-a-half-hour drive. The fans were about evenly divided between supporters of the hometown Padres and visiting Dodgers, the latter energized by the return of Manny Ramirez after a suspension. The Dodgers shelled Padres pitcher Chad Gaudin for five runs in the first inning and went on to win, 6-3.

Tomorrow may be Independence Day, but for us it's a work day; and what's more, the "regular" time schedule returns: a 7:00-9:00 caucus and RA sessions begin at 10:00.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to


Friday, July 3, 2009

Notes from Camp, 2009: July 2

Thursday, July 2

Most delegates arrived by the end of the day yesterday, and for many this was their first full day in the host city.

Ohio's delegates had held a caucus in Columbus early in June, but today the state held its second caucus. To ease delegates into the RA work schedule, today's caucus started at 7:30 rather than at 7:00 as it will for the rest of the RA. Ohio delegates heard a report from one of its screening committees and voted to endorse three candidates for at-large seats on NEA's Board of Directors. (Nominations will be made tomorrow, and the elections take place on Saturday.)

Since the biennial Ohio budget expires at the end of June, it has been common for the NEA RA to occur at a time when last-minute negotiations are occuring in Columbus. That didn't happen in 2007, when newly-elected Governor Ted Strickland managed to get nearly-unanimous approval of a budget out of both houses of the Ohio General Assembly; but it is happning this year, with one of the toughest budget fights in recent memory still unresolved as the delegates left home. Since this group includes many of the leaders of OEA, its district associations llike NEOEA, and many of the locals, delegates received a telephone briefing from Governmental Services representatives working in Columbus. (For the latest on the budget issues, see the OEA website at

After the caucus ended at 9:30, Northeastern Ohio delegates met in a short caucus before being dismissed for the rest of the day.

A lot of delegates call this "hearing day" because it features an open hearing on the budget and strategic plan, and another open hearing on NEA's legislative program. (There actually was an open hearing on resolutions yesterday, so this isn't the only day with open hearings.)

As important as they were, those hearings may have been upstaged by three special presentations making up a program billed as "A Day of Hope and Change." In the morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a town hall conversation, the last stop on his "Listening Tour across America." Alan Blankstein, founder and president of the HOPE Foundation (, spoke at a luncheon, and in the afternoon the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson moderated a discussion on race, education, and culture in America.

This was the last evening before the four long days of the Representative Assembly, so many observed an early evening in order to get a good night's sleep before tomorrow's caucus, the first of four starting at 7:00 AM.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Notes from Camp, 2009: July 1

Years ago, when I attended the NEA Annual Meeting as a local delegate, I began sending "Notes from Camp." These were reports back to friends and colleagues who had expressed an interest in keeping up-to-date with events occurring there. I attend now as a staff member and not a local delegate, but the reaction from various associates continues to be positive. So here's a report on this year's NEA Annual Meeting in San Diego. Delegates should feel free to add their own comments: there's a link to allow you to do that.--Bill Lavezzi, executive director

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It isn't like annual meeting events actually began today: NEA has been holding various conferences since last week, and some leaders have been in town for a week. But the way NEA counts the days, today was the first day of the Annual Meeting. By the evening tonight, probably 95% of Ohio's delegates had arrived, and most of those had registered in the Ohio delegation headquarters in the Green Room on the third floor.

Registration and exhibits opened at the San Diego Convention Center this morning, so many delegates headed there to register and to pick up literature and assorted freebies from the various exhibitors. Leaders of state delegations were interviewing candidates for NEA positions that will be elected on Saturday.

For many delegates, this is a good day to see the host city. They don't have a lot of responsibilities yet: the RA itself won't start until Friday, and states like Ohio won't hold their first caucuses in the host city until tomorrow. A lot of delegates spent some time today exploring Coronado Island, the Gaslamp District, Balboa Park, the USS Midway Museum, or other local attractions. Others hung out by the pool, and many visited the Ralph's Supermarket just a half mile up First Street to pick up items that don't ship too well.

The big event of this evening is always Ohio Night, which is OEA's welcome of delegates to the host city. While Ohio Night doesn't offer dinner, it does feature some heavy hors d'oeuvres, refreshments, and plenty of desserts. But it's just a brief celebration to start a long conference, and all of us need to rest up for tomorrow's first caucus.


For a look online at the work of the Annual Meeting, check out
For NEA's Annual Meeting Blog, go to