The decision by the state’s largest teachers organization, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), to alter its stands on teacher evaluation and advocate breaking from the traditional method of paying teachers was not such a huge surprise for those who had been following statements from union leaders in recent months. The educational and political landscapes have changed, and the union wants to play a role in big decisions coming soon.
But the WEAC stand in favor of breaking up Milwaukee Public Schools into “smaller, more manageable districts” caught people (count me in) off guard. It’s just not something to which the union had shown previous inclination. And the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, WEAC’s largest affiliate, strongly opposes such ideas.
There were clear indications in the way things happened this week that the gap between leaders of WEAC and the MTEA is now wide and sharp, and communication among them is not friendly.
Consider what the MTEA said Tuesday on its Web site (www.mtea.org):
“The first time WEAC provided MTEA leaders with any information about their proposals was through a phone call Monday. WEAC had already informed legislators of its proposals.
“MTEA President Mike Langyel told WEAC that our union absolutely opposed breaking up our district and asked WEAC to cancel the news conference. WEAC refused.”
This doesn’t sound like one of the verses of “Solidarity Forever.” And telling legislators before telling the local union that would be affected shows where WEAC’s feelings are about the MTEA. History and the dynamics of the current situation both suggest this gap will have a significant life span, and it may have a bearing on issues that go well beyond whether MPS should be broken into pieces.
I need to look back into history a bit, but I know there was a rupture between WEAC and the MTEA in, I believe, the 1970s and ‘80s. The MTEA withdrew from WEAC and held its own teachers’ convention each fall, among other things. Eventually the two re-united, but relations have been uneasy. In addition, relations between WEAC and the Madison teachers’ union have a long history of rockiness.
Some regard WEAC as primarily identifying with teachers in the out-state districts, while the MTEA, of course, is all about Milwaukee and MPS. One of the unspoken messages in the WEAC announcement Tuesday is how little sympathy there is for MPS and the MTEA outside of Milwaukee, even from fellow unionists. That is almost certain to be a relevant dynamic at a time when Milwaukee has so little political clout in Madison and so many big issues about education are going to be decided in Madison.