‘We are at a tipping point’

MEA’s officers are worried about educators. Yet visits with members across the state have renewed their hope and vigor.

This fall’s travels included visiting students in Gwinn (above), striking workers in Battle Creek (below, left), and support professionals in Traverse City.

MEA President Paula Herbart, Vice President Chandra Madafferi, and Secretary-Treasurer Brett Smith separately have spent time visiting schools and field offices, meeting with members, observing in classrooms, listening. Herbart is convinced the status quo in many districts has become unsustainable.

“We are at a tipping point,” she said. “You can only starve the system so much before it starts to collapse. We can’t continue to say to our educators, ‘We know it’s been the toughest year ever; now here’s four more things for you to do.’”

Herbart has heard similar concerns everywhere. More difficult behaviors from students. Folks stretched thin by unfilled positions and no subs. Bus drivers with extra routes and fuller buses. Paraeducators and teachers filling gaps. Not enough time or resources to address students’ mental health struggles.

“We have amazing educators of all kinds in this state, with phenomenal skills and talents and caring hearts, who give so much and then find ways to keep going. They’re also activists, willing to stand up and say, ‘We can’t do one more thing. This is what we need, right now, or things will not get better.’

MEA staff work with leaders to deliver those messages at bargaining tables across Michigan, Herbart said. “We have to—number one—get more people into this profession. Pay them livable wages. Give them breaks and planning time. And listen when they tell us what they need to do their jobs.”

Herbart is heartened by organizing happening across the state—adding new MEA members and new units in schools, colleges and universities—and by examples of solidarity making the news every day from union workers at Kellogg’s plants and John Deere factories, to hospitals, schools and universities.

Now with an influx of state and federal money to public schools, local unions must demand a seat at the table for educators as decisions are made about how to best spend those dollars.

“I am telling our members’ stories every chance I get. But movements start at the grassroots. We need our members on the ground to speak up, to make connections, to hold informational pickets—to keep raising awareness—and MEA will stand with them and support them.”

Herbart planned to continue school stops and hoped to schedule a joint visit with Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice to hear from Lansing educators. Read more.

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