Local Teachers’ Union Forces Out President

The President of the West De Pere Education Association resigned this week in the face of a “no confidence” vote.  In forcing this one has to wonder if it was the Executive Committee of the Association acting alone or on behalf of the majority of teachers in the district.  Here’s a copy of the letter he sent to union members.

March 15, 2011

Dear Fellow WDPEA Members,

I wanted to write to each of you personally and as soon as possible to let you know that I am no longer the President of the WDPEA. I also wanted you to explain how this came to be.

Late in the school day yesterday, I was approached by a member of the executive committee to tell me that the WDPEA Executive Committee was exploring a move toward a vote of “No Confidence” in my ability to lead our association as President. With the parliamentary procedures set in place by association bylaws I proffered my resignation. I know that there are some teachers in our district that are highly emotional, irrational, and full of anger about all that is happening in our state regarding the Budget Repair Bill. I have worked hard to communicate everything that all of you have needed to know in order to decide for yourselves where you stand, to express yourselves if you wished to, and to know where to seek out more information. When I agreed to be your Union President, it was because I felt strongly about taking care of all of our teachers and being a professional, wise, and respected voice in negotiating, especially for the young teachers. In trying to remain as professional and objective as possible, I did not agree to or endorse local demonstrations or marching on the Capitol.

Those who know me well understand the principles I have stood for my entire life. I have dedicated my life (and risked it, many times) to secure the freedoms of the citizens of this country and I strongly believe in the democratic process. It is not my way to spout hateful rhetoric or make a foolish scene at our state capitol. If that is what you elected me for, you were mistaken. I do not wholeheartedly agree with the manner in which the legislative actions in Madison were choreographed and as a result I have written professional letters to our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Representatives to let them know of my concerns.

I have followed the events in Madison very closely and learned a great deal about WEAC when I discovered that two days into this, they capitulated on the notion of making us pay 12% for our benefits and 5.8% of our pensions without trying to negotiate lower percentages for us. WEAC stated that all they wanted was to retain “collective bargaining rights”. Educate yourselves about whose best interests are truly being served by continuing the current process of “collective bargaining.” WEAC wants to continue to make it mandatory that we pay our union dues – this has always been about the union’s money, not teacher’s “rights”. In order to negotiate salaries and benefits, we are going to be successful only if we are professional, committed to our profession, and reasonable about the conditions of our employment. Aside from those that are trying to sway you in an emotional and political direction, we are employed by the citizens of West DePere School District. We are paid to provide an excellent education to their children, and these citizens are hurting from the beleaguered economy, perhaps even more so than we have been until now. We need to keep this in mind, as we proceed.

I arranged to have the meeting on Monday after school with our superintendent, John Zegers, to try to make sure we at West DePere were able to achieve the best outcome for ourselves in the upcoming contract negotiations. We are not in the same financial situation as some of these other schools, and Mr. Zegers has been and continues to be very, very open about wanting to work with us. He has recognized over and over that we have excellent teachers in our district, and has no plans for sweeping changes in personnel. In contrast, the Green Bay and East DePere teachers gave up pay increases and other stipulations and made the decision to lose these points in order to preserve their mandate to the union which includes dues for the next two years. They did not take the time to analyze their situation and their options thoroughly. As a group of individuals who daily encourage our students to make sound decisions based on fact and reason, I urge you to proceed rationally. (How do you say no contract is a better than a bad contract—tactfully??)

As of today, Brenda May is your Union President. She is an intelligent person with great common sense, and will do a fine job for you if you let her. We have the ability to come through this much better than other teachers in our area if we retain our open minds (“Don’t leave your mind so open that your brain falls out”—William F. Bennett) and think for ourselves.

Thank you to those of you who have maintained a cool head, common sense, and professional composure throughout these past weeks.

Sincerely,

Stu Betts

Forced out for not wanting to take the “radical” approach of demonstrations and protests?  While I disagree with Mr. Betts about how the budget repair bill was passed and quite possibly with what was included in it, I applaud him for wanting to take the “professional” approach in showing his opposition.

It’s very telling though when a “leader” in the teachers’ union points out what WEAC was most concerned about.  It wasn’t about the increase benefits contributions, nope it was about what most supporters of Governor Walker knew.  The collective bargaining privileges and the ability to force collection of union dues from members by having it deducted from paychecks.

In the end Mr. Betts understood what was more important was remembering who teachers are accountable to in the end, the residents of the West De Pere School District.  He also understood the sacrifices residents of the district are making in the current economic situation.  As a graduate of the West De Pere School District I would hope the majority of the teachers in the district feel the same way Mr. Betts does.  But one does have to wonder, considering he was forced to resign because of his approach to and/or position on the recently passed budget repair bill.

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