A DIVIDED MASSACHUSETTS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION re-elected its firebrand president, Barbara Madeloni, at the organization’s annual meeting on Saturday, ensuring a continuation of the sharp critique of education reform efforts from the top teachers union official in the state.
Delegates to the annual gathering of the 110,000-member organization also voted to spend $9.2 million to defeat a November ballot question that would raise the cap on charter schools.
Madeloni, whose insurgent campaign two years ago knocked off the heir-apparent to the MTA presidency, easily outpolled her two challengers at the union’s annual meeting at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Madeloni won votes from 805 of the 1,575 convention delegates who cast ballots, while the union’s current vice president, Janet Anderson, garnered 479 votes, and former MTA vice president Tim Sullivan, whom Madeloni defeated two years ago, got 291 votes.
Madeloni has called for a moratorium on all high-stakes testing, vigorously opposes charter schools, and has been broadly critical of education reform measures. “My message was about speaking back to the corporate predatory reform that has really worked to undermine public education,” she said two years ago following her election.
Too much of the education agenda for low-performing schools serving children in poverty has been driven by “big money and elitists,” she said at the time. “I think it’s an important conversation to have with the parents of those children, but it’s not a conversation to have with rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.”
Madeloni’s victory was much closer than the numbers might suggest. MTA rules require a candidate to win more than 50 percent of all votes cast to be elected. Otherwise, the top the two finishers in the first round of balloting go head-to-head in a runoff round. Madeloni won with 51 percent of the first-ballot votes.
Not only did nearly half the delegates support another candidate, both Anderson and Sullivan had voiced similar criticisms of Madeloni’s combative, uncompromising approach, and supporters of Sullivan, the third-place finisher, would likely have cast their votes for Anderson in a second round of voting.
Anderson, from her current no. 2 slot in the organization, has been openly critical of Madeloni, just one sign of divisions that have rocked the union under Madeloni’s tenure.
In her candidate statement in the recent MTA newsletter, Anderson wrote that she had been “dismayed to learn” that Madeloni was backing a challenger to her for vice president. Rather than run for re-election as she had planned, Anderson decided instead to challenge Madeloni because “I believe MTA leadership should work to build solidarity, not tear it down.”
Madeloni ran on slate with vice presidential candidate Merrie Najimy, leader of the Concord teachers union. Najimy was defeated by Erik Champy, so Madeloni will face another two-year term with a vice president who is not an ally.
In her speech to delegates on Friday afternoon, Madeloni displayed some of the fiery rhetoric that she rode into office in 2014. Two years ago, we “shocked the political establishment,” Madeloni said. She said some have been “unsettled” by the union’s new, more militant stance. “They want to return to the familiar and predictable,” she said.
Madeloni, who has clashed with state education officials over everything from teacher evaluations to student testing, made it clear that she has no intention of backing off her positions.
“We are saying, ‘none of the above’ to the nonsense from comes from DESE,” she said, referring to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Sullivan, in his speech, said the mood within the union over the last two years has been one of “mistrust, rancor, and division.” He pledged a inclusive leadership style that would “bridge the current divide.”
While the biggest divide is between those favoring Madeloni’s more uncompromising posture and those supporting a more collaborative approach to dealing with state education officials and others, the opposition to Madeloni was itself fractured by an internal rift.
Bad blood developed between Anderson and and Sullivan when they both emerged to challenge Madeloni. Though MTA sources say they each agreed to support the other in a potential runoff contest with Madeloni, some members felt conflicted about publicly showing allegiance to either challenger once they both announced their candidacies. That reluctance to choose sides may have cost the challengers some active campaign support, said one MTA insider.
MTA officers are limited to two two-year terms, so Madeloni will have to give up post in 2018.
The convention approved a proposal to spend $9.2 million to oppose a November ballot question that would raise the cap on charter schools. The decision ensures that both sides will be well-funded in what will be a costly fight over charter school expansion.
Madeloni told the delegates that the state’s other major teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has committed $2.4 million to the ballot effort, meaning there will be at least $11.6 million of teachers union money deployed to defeat the measure.
Backers of the move to raise the charter school cap have said they’re prepared to spend as much as $18 million on the campaign in support of the ballot question.