Does your Madison public school teacher get ‘down and dirty’?

In the past several days, I have found an enormous wellspring of pent-up resentment toward the teachers union here in Madison. That disdain can’t help but contaminate the entire school district. There is the perception — accurate, in my opinion — that the teachers union comes first to a school board largely elected by the teachers union. Everyone else — students, parents, and taxpayers — wait in back of the line.

That sentiment is especially true among the minority community I’ve spoken to in recent days. “The teachers union has never done anything for my people,” a politically active black man told me this week. “We’re with you 100%.”

I wrote in May 2013, “Madison’s minority community is in open revolt against a long-dominant, white, liberal political machine it sees as being more beholden to the teachers union than to teaching their children.”

They were miffed that leftist community organizer (and John Nichols protégé) Sarah Manski was encouraged — if not actually recruited — by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and teachers union boss John Matthews to enter the race after Latina immigrant Ananda Mirilli had announced her candidacy. Two days after knocking Mirilli out of a three-way primary, Manski withdrew from the race and headed for the Los Angeles area, leaving union-backed T.J. Mertz the sole name on the general election ballot.

“If [Manski and Mertz] had been two Republicans placing first and second in this primary with a Democrat finishing third under the same circumstances, progressives would be storming the Capitol right now,” black community commentator Derrell Connor observed at the time.

The Madison Times, a minority-oriented weekly newspaper, editorialized on Feb. 27, 2013:

The MMSD School Board race that came crashing down pretty much typifies the status of race relations … White elite liberals dictating to, condescending to, and manipulating Madison’s communities of color. … Madison’s minority population has always felt disrespected, ignored, talked down to, condescended, misunderstood, and lied about by the greater white liberal elite power structure … that anger is growing louder. Believe it.

In the second race last year, school board veteran Ed Hughes wrote at the time that the only time he witnessed any interest in K-12 from teachers union-backed candidate Dean Loumos was in an email “urging us to reopen our union contracts and increase pay for school staff.” Loumos defeated retired police lieutenant Wayne Strong, a paragon of Madison’s south side black community.

Loumos, Mertz, and Manski got critical teachers union money and labor by opposing charter schools in the aftermath of the proposal from then-Urban League head Kaleem Caire to address Madison’s yawning minority student achievement gap with a public charter school. Its teachers would have to go above and beyond in longer school days and a longer school year — all outside MTI’s union contract. Madison Prep would have been non-union.

“Almost anyone … who supported Madison Prep has been labeled the enemy because communities of color are asking for a better future for their children,” Connor said.

‘Whatever it takes’

The same partisans who condemn Gov. Walker for “divide and conquer” give the executive director of the Madison teachers union, John A. Matthews, a get-out-of-jail-free card.

In its story “MTI head: Time to get ‘down and dirty’,” the Wisconsin State Journal on June 7, 2011, captured the essence of Madison Teachers Inc.’s war on the community:

During a [early 2011] Madison School Board meeting, with more than 300 of his members packing the auditorium, union leader John Matthews felt a twinge of exhilaration.

The issue — unhappiness about a reduction in personal planning time in exchange for school-wide staff development in the new teacher contract — mobilized the kind of teacher turnout not seen at board meetings since the mid-1990s when labor strife was more common. Teachers reminded the board that planning time was a key issue during a 1976 strike, which Matthews helped organize.

“They’re ready,” Matthews said afterward, “to do whatever it takes. It’s going to get down and dirty.”

Are you getting this? MTI was ready to get “down and dirty” over a reduction in personal planning time in exchange for school-wide staff development! THE HORROR!                     



‘Resisting things that make education better’

Madison misses journalist Jason Shepard, who captured “John Matthews of MTI: A Lion in Winter” for the Isthmus weekly of March 27, 2008:

But while Matthews laments the failures of government to improve teaching and learning, he glosses over his own pivotal role in local educational leadership. That role includes standing in the way of programs like 4-year-old kindergarten that could help the district meet its educational objectives.

Matthews is no shrinking violet. He drops the f-bomb nearly a dozen times and sprinkles his more entertaining stories with other verbiage from George Carlin’s famous “seven dirty words” satire.

… “John has his peculiarities, and there are certain things that he expects,” says [former school board member Carol] Carstensen, herself once a victim of what she calls Matthews’ “little tricks.” She attributes some of this to gender bias.

‘Do not discuss accountability or innovation’

Media producer John Roach, in Madison Magazine on March 24, 2013, declared that “Madison Teachers Inc. head John Matthews should step down”:

His $300K per annum package at the helm of Madison Teachers Inc. has placed him among the very one percent many of his followers revile. … He now prowls his mansion at night, toying with the local Democratic Party he has purchased, fighting enemies that do not exist, in battles that need not be waged.

In Madison, at this time in history, there is no room on the justice agenda for black and brown people. Scotty Walker has spooked the progressive herd. White folks with college degrees, a 175-page contract, pensions, limited accountability, three months of summer vacation and unassailable job security have bum rushed their way to the head of the Justice Line.

What is worse, they have rewritten the language of productive political discussion. “Support our public schools” has become code for “blind allegiance to John Matthews and MTI.” “Privatization of our schools” is Pig Latin for “Do not discuss change, accountability or innovation.”

Liberal Madison won’t impose sweatshops

“The union draws support from conveying the impression that it’s only the efforts of the union and the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement that protect teachers from the predations of a ‘hostile’ school board intent on imposing ‘inhumane’ changes in working conditions,” school board member Ed Hughes wrote in his May 9, 2011 blog:

If the collective bargaining agreement were to disappear, the school district wouldn’t immediately resort to a management equivalent of pillaging the countryside. Instead, the district would seek out alternative ways of achieving the ends currently served by the collective bargaining process, because the district, like nearly all employers, values its employees and understands the benefits of being perceived as a good place to work.

But when employers aren’t interested in running sweat-shops, organizations set up to prevent sweat-shop conditions aren’t all that necessary. It may be that John Matthews’ ramped-up rhetoric is best understood not as a protest against school district over-reaching in bargaining, since that did not happen, but as a cry against the possibility of his own impending irrelevance.

That irrelevance just got a little closer with the filing Wednesday of Blaska v. Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and its union.

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