Opinion

WEA humming same song under new leadership | JERRY CORNFIELD

Those quietly hoping a new lead singer would change the sound of the state's largest union of public school teachers are in for a disappointment.

It hasn't and it won't.

Kim Mead assumed the presidency of the Washington Education Association Saturday [JULY 6], making her the new front woman for an 82,000-person band of classroom teachers, administrative staff and community college instructors

On Tuesday, she was belting out many familiar refrains of her predecessor Mary Lindquist when talking about lawmakers' performance for public schools in the just-completed marathon session.

"They didn't do their job," said Mead who took office following nearly 13 years guiding the Everett Education Association.

Lawmakers paid scant attention to the two primary concerns of the union, teacher pay and class size.

While lawmakers boast of putting an additional $1 billion into public schools, she said, none went toward a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers which voters endorsed when they passed Initiative 732. She said that means it will be six years without a state-funded COLA.

And they put only a small portion of money into reducing the number of students in classes. That's an authenticated way of improving student achievement which lawmakers continually insist is their primary goal, she said.

"If that hope (for a new tune) was out there they were mistaken," Mead said. "The person who sits in this seat doesn't speak for themselves. They speak for the 82,000 members. The last time I looked they're waiting for a public school system that is not just adequately funded but amply funded."

Mead, 53, started teaching in the Everett School District in 1985. She stopped being a regular fixture in the classroom in 2000 when she was elected president of the union's affiliation in Everett. That's been a full-time, union-paid gig.

Everett schools Superintendent Gary Cohn heaped high praise on Mead for her "forward-thinking leadership in the work we have been doing in Everett."

Following Mead's election, Cohn said: "She is a champion of good teaching, of teachers, and of students and families, and of a school system focused clearly on the needs of students through the eyes of classroom teachers."

Now Mead's talents will be tested as she becomes a key figure in the statewide education debate.

Right away, she'll be in front of the debate about charter schools. Last week, a coalition led by the WEA sued to block the voter-approved law legalizing the publicly funded, alternatively run campuses.

"If private enterprises are going to be allowed to run them and receive public money, that's not fair," she said. "That's something we continue to fight for every year."

This fall, the WEA will certainly get involved in trying to elect people to school boards and to a couple of contested legislative seats.

When it comes to the Legislature, Mead must adjust from working with a superintendent and five-member school board to dealing with 147 elected officials each convinced they know best how Washington's public school system should be run.

She already knows she will be pressing lawmakers in 2014 to comply with the court mandate to fully fund basic education, which includes teacher pay and smaller class sizes.

There will be leaders of other interest groups in the education debate pushing those same lawmakers to enact reforms before spending too much more in those areas.

This is not a new fight. So it's no surprise the WEA's song will remain the same.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield's blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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