Michigan union consultant leading recall against two board members because they voted to privatize services

Nov 5, 2013 by

CLAY, Mich. – Parents and taxpayers in St. Clair County’s Algonac school district learned a valuable lesson about union politics this year, and they’re now prepared to ace the test.

Amid the board’s decision this spring to privatize school busing services, an undercover Michigan Education Association (MEA) official tried to bamboozle local residents into recalling school board members who voted in favor of the measure.

The MEA is the state’s largest teachers union and an extremely active and powerful political organization.

Using typical union intimidation tactics like personal attacks and misinformation through social media, MEA officials were initially able to rally many concerned parents behind the recall effort.

But a small handful of more diligent parents decided to dig a little deeper into the debate, and they quickly realized the real reasons behind the recall.

They researched the truth about privatization, looked into the characters pushing the recall effort, and fact-checked claims made by recall proponents. What they learned is the recall campaign is orchestrated by the MEA through its anti-privatization organizing consultant under the guise of a grassroots movement.

As the truth came to light, they risked threats and humiliation to support board members who voted to privatize school busing services, thereby saving the district $1 million over five years and preventing the layoff of numerous teachers.

Now, four months into the 180-day window to collect signatures for the recall effort, those opposed believe the community is realizing the teachers union is the real driver. They feel confident parents and taxpayers are beginning to understand the union’s true motivation has little to do with protecting students and more do to with maintaining union bus driver jobs that provide dues revenue.

Several residents in the community contacted EAGnews to express their outrage over the situation, but none were willing to be identified because of the union’s intimidation tactics in recent months.

“I’m a little fearful to talk about this because of the stuff that has gone on,” one parent in the district told EAGnews. “The MEA rep is absolutely ruthless.”

Regardless, reliable sources contend the union-orchestrated recall is unraveling at the seams as the January deadline to submit the necessary signatures to force a recall election draws closer.

Union shill

 

Sources contend the MEA went to work preparing for a recall long before the move to privatize the district’s bus services was made official. In June, Ron Campbell – treasurer for the recall group Citizens for a Better Algonac Community Schools – attempted to file recall petition language against two school board members who were eligible. Other board members who supported privatization cannot yet be recalled because Michigan law only allows recalls against public officials who have been in office more than a year.

Local election officials rejected the initial petition language, which sought to recall the board members because they “voted in favor of outsourcing district transportation,” which had not yet occurred.

“It said we had voted for privatization but it was for (the) superintendent to pursue a contract,” school board president Andy Goulet told The Voice.

“I think it was a scare tactic,” said a local parent who supports the board.

Eventually, the board officially approved a contract with Dean Transportation Services and the anti-privatization group refiled the recall language, which was approved by local election officials July 1. That’s when things got interesting.

Parents in the district contend a vocal leader, former MEA official Michele Israel, quickly took command of the recall movement. Israel described herself as a “concerned friend of the bus drivers,” who simply felt compelled to help them fight for their jobs. She read tear-jerking poems at school board meetings about the drivers, and fanned fears that children would be less safe with drivers from a contracted company, according to residents.

 

Despite the fact that Israel doesn’t live in the community, many jumped on the anti-privatization bandwagon, and a Facebook page administered by Israel – Citizens for a Better Algonac Community Schools – quickly swelled with “Likes.”

Through the Facebook page, Israel and her supporters taunted board members and attacked those in the community who supported privatization, parents said.

“Michele Israel herself (wrote) there were two school board members who had a drunk driving and a ticket for going 25 mph over the speed limit in a school zone,” one parent said. A picture of the school board president at a local bar also appeared on the site with a message questioning his fitness for office.

In another instance, the group attempted to humiliate a kindergarten teacher who supported the board by posting a picture of the teacher in a bikini and implying she’s an irresponsible hussy, according to residents.

 

“Israel’s defense of the bus drivers seemed like a full-time job. If anyone posted a question on the recall group’s Facebook page, or countered their claims, it was almost immediately dealt with by Israel personally,” a parent wrote in an email to EAGnews. “I did some digging and I was shocked to find out that Israel was listed on the MEA website as the anti-privatization consultant. I was floored. How can someone be trusted to give the facts to our community when their job is to support one side only?”

That’s a good question.

Those opposed to the recall have been met with repeated incidents of property damage and rumors of extramarital affairs with board members, according to several residents. There have also been accusations of secret deals and kickbacks among board members, they said.

“The intimidation tactics used by the MEA were absolutely shocking,” a parent said. “A lot of it was directed toward the board president. It was really unbelievable.”

“There were probably four or five of us who were targeted,” another parent said, adding that the victims of the vandalism could never tie it conclusively to the MEA-backed recall effort.

The union’s underhanded ways may be shocking to some, but they are actually quite common and well-documented. In school districts across Michigan and other states union officials routinely seek to overthrow local school boards to gain control of a district, or to retaliate against decisions they don’t like.

In fact, the practice is so common that the MEA has written a handbook on elections and school board recalls titled “Electing Your Employer.” The MEA’s advice for recall elections:

“Form a coalition with credible community members and get commitments of support. Let the coalition be the lead on the recall campaign. It is best for school employee unions to work behind the scenes on a recall campaign.

“Determine if you want to run a stealth election plan or a full campaign.”

Fighting back

 

Despite the intimidation, several parents persisted in questioning the motivations for the recall, and highlighting Israel’s involvement. They seem to be making a difference.

Over the summer it appeared as though the union recall effort was gaining steam. Supporters held a signature drive with prizes for those who could collect the most. Israel successfully convinced many parents their children would be in danger because of the decision to privatize, sources contend.

But as the summer wore on parents in support of the board fact-checked and debunked Israel’s claims. They exposed her position with the MEA, and called her character into question. They talked with their neighbors and friends, and the truth has gradually come to light.

“We’ve been talking to people one-on-one and explaining what’s going on,” a parent said. “It has changed a lot of people’s minds.”

“I can’t really articulate how satisfying it was to find out and bring to light the true motives of the MEA anti-privatization consultant disguised as a humble and concerned citizen,” another parent wrote in an email. “I truly believe we need to question the MEA’s involvement in school board recalls and elections.”

Some parents believe the union’s tactics are proving to be self-destructive.

“I think the attacks on the school board looked bad for them and it started to go the other way,” a parent said. “I don’t think (the public) appreciated someone from outside the community … saying the board is corrupt.”

When school started, many students were greeted by the same familiar faces when they boarded the bus because many former district drivers were rehired by Dean Transportation. Some parents had concerns with the new bus service, but “the company … quickly made changes to address what the concerns were,” a source said.

“The recall signs, there are only a few left now,” a parent said. “I think people are happy with the new company so they are putting (the recall) in the back of their minds.”

Citizens for a Better Algonac Community Schools recently posted on its Facebook page that recall proponents have decided to change focus, according to a parent.

St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer said local election officials approved the recall language July 1, and Citizens for a Better Algonac Community Schools has 180 days to collect signatures from registered voters equal to 25 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. DeBoyer said the signatures also must be collected within a 60-day window, and the county has yet to receive any signatures.

In other words, if Israel hasn’t yet collected enough signatures, she’s quickly running out of time.

Some in the community, however, believe the anti-privatization group may try again in January, when the time limit expires for the current recall effort, and the school board president becomes eligible for recall.

However it turns out, board supporters said they’re ready and waiting to counter the next misinformation campaign.

“I think she’ll start building the frenzy back up around Christmas time,” one parent said. “We have signs we are going to put out in support of the board.”

Board supporters hope the lesson they learned over the summer will help other communities that find themselves in the grips of an MEA-backed recall. The overarching lesson, they said, is even well-financed professional union operatives are no match for diligent parents bent on uncovering the truth.

“The MEA failed, I believe, because of a small group of people willing to stick their necks out and challenge the information and ‘facts’ the MEA was providing,” a parent said. “They risked public humiliation and really stood up to a powerful and well-trained union.”

Michigan union consultant leading recall against two board members because they voted to privatize services – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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