National teachers' unions see opportunity in Hillsborough
TAMPA -- It was a strange sight yesterday at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association union hall.
The president of the nation's largest teachers' union had come to lend his support to his local members. And sprinkled among the labor crowd was, yes, management -- school board members, deputy superintendent and district negotiator Dan Valdez, and even superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
"I am so honored that you were here," National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel told her afterward, as they exchanged a quiet word.
Deservedly or not, his union has earned a reputation for foot-dragging over recent national reform efforts like performance-based pay, tougher teacher evaluation, and tenure reform. It was Randi Weingarten, president of the smaller American Federation of Teachers, who came to Hillsborough last spring to help celebrate the launch of the district's seven year, $202 million reform effort with the Gates Foundation.
And yet there Van Roekel was on Thursday, praising Hillsborough's plans for performance pay, tougher evaluation and tenure reform. He said the district's collaborative approach with its union -- plus plenty of support systems for teachers, like the new peer mentoring system -- makes all the difference.
"Where do you find the school board and superintendent listening to a union president?" asked HCTA president Jean Clements, whose local chapter is affiliated with both national unions. "Not many places."
And that's the issue. Can such district-union partnerships flourish outside Hillsborough? At last summer's AFT convention, keynote speaker Bill Gates said they must. NEA keynoter Diane Ravitch called the latest wave of reforms an attack on teachers and public schools. Straw poll: who was more persuasive?
-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer