Jul 24, 2009

Editorial and letter on HPS recall attempt misses the point

The Livingston County Press & Argus has a catchy headline for its editorial blasting those fighting off the illegitimate recall of three members of the Howell Public Schools Board of education – “School board antics mirror 'Spy vs. Spy.'” But, it misses the point of what this illegitimate recall is really about and why the targets of it should be fighting it.

As you know, there is a misguided effort underway to recall three of the four school board members who voted to fire Superintendent Theodore Gardella after just a year on the job last month. Apparently, the organizers and the newspaper are making big deal out of the fact that the spouses of two of the board members targeted in the recall sat in the parking lot of the Baymont Inn on July 9 when the organizational meeting was held.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and they should be dong that. What they should have done was walk in and take a seat. In fact, they should be doing everything legally possible to fight the recall, and although they have not done that, they certainly have done nothing illegal.

Another issue causing some flack are intercepted emails between Jeannine Pratt and retired teacher and former teacher union president Doug Norton where they joke they should “infiltrate” the meeting. The only thing the recall targets are guilty of are a few ill-advised words, like war and infiltration. The fact is they should have been at that meeting.

The editorial makes light of a line by Norton where he says, that he was “bummed we didn’t have someone inside” the meeting. Then he talks about shadowing those who circulate the petitions.
“We can put this down,” he said.

Put this down?


The simple fact is, if the recall effort gets enough signatures and gets on the ballot, the fight is essentially over, and the paper should know that. School board elections traditionally have a low voter turnout, and the turnout for recalls are even less, meaning the people most motivated to vote are those ticked off. Plus, very few people will ever cast a vote to save a politician’s job, and that’s basically what elected officials at all levels are.

Opponents of this power grab need to be shadowing the people collecting signatures to ensure people get both sides of the story and to ensure they are not putting out false info.

The news editor at the P & A needs to do some research and take a look at some back issues of his own newspaper when he talks about the anti-gay hate group known as the “Love” PAC - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) in the future.

“Some on the Howell board, including Pratt, seem to feel that the recall is an extension of LOVE — the Livingston Organization for Values in Education, a citizens’ group of undetermined size that frequently criticizes the board. Such thinking borders on paranoia, overstates the power of LOVE and disregards those folks who genuinely are angry over the way Gardella was fired.”

There is no doubt they are involved. The “LOVE” group has an extremist rightwing agenda and is very anti-union. The law allowing recalls is perhaps the most abused law on the books, and most recalls are simply a way to circumvent the election process. This one certainly is.

The editor is right when he says “LOVE” is of “undetermined size,” because they are so secretive. It probably only consists of co-founders Vicky Fyke and extreme right-winger Wendy Day, who, unfortunately, also happens to a member of the school board.

Voters soundly rejected them back in 2007 when the two-“LOVE” backed candidate were defeated by, ironically, Edwin Literski and Jeannine Pratt, who are two of the three board members targeted for recall. There may be no conspiracy, but we know a few things about this recall attempt: we have no idea who the “LOVE” members are, the ones who we know are “LOVE” member are pushing hard for it and this is just an attempt to negate the election.

The editorial ends with this tidbit, “In the last two years, this district has built a $70 million high school it can’t afford to run, fired or forced out two superintendents and been embroiled in countless public controversies.”

The fact is, two of three board members targeted were not on the board when that happened, and Day and Fyke were responsible for hounding the last Superintendent out who spent nine years here.

We already know about Day’s extreme anti-teacher and anti-union views, and that is becoming a theme in this recall attempt. In the same edition of the paper that the editorial appeared in, is an anti-union letter from Green Oak Township Republican Beverly Chiasson called “Howell district's woes rooted in past.” In it, the teacher’s union and unions in general are the enemy, and she uses false stereotypes to try and make her point.

She writes, “Why the Howell school district is such a mess:
Howell Public Schools parents are not old enough to remember or know the 40-plus-year history of Michigan public education.”

Perhaps she made a mistake and meant to say what went on in the last 40 years because public education has been around since the 19th century. In fact, The Michigan Education Association (MEA) was founded in 1852 as the Michigan State Teachers Association, becoming the Michigan Education Association in 1926.

But Ms. Chiasson quickly lays the blame at the feet of the union, writing, “When education associations (unions) began, and a school election was coming up, all those interested in running for school board were interviewed by the union leaders. If the candidates gave the right answers, the unions would publicly support them and required all school employees to vote for their choices.”
How is this any different than a political action committee interviewing a candidate and then making an endorsement and making a recommendation to its members, whether it’s the NRA, the chamber of commerce or Right to Life? It’s a legal and accepted practice.

There is no way union leaders can require “all school employees to vote for their choices.” They make a recommendation just like every other PAC and the ballot is secret.

She claims, “After an election, the union leaders would check the records to make sure every employee in the district voted. The good teachers, not wanting to rock the boat, would go along to get along.”

Voter registrations are public record, and what they are doing is what every group does: it’s called get out the vote. I have no idea why a teacher would need to be prodded to vote in an election that will have more of a direct effect on them than the Presidential election.

Then she goes after the left-wing PTA and PTO, saying “the PTAs and PTOs were school-supportive young parents used by the administration as the nucleus for promoting bond issues, millages and school board elections.”

The Parent Teacher Association has been an important part of education since 1897, and it began when two women from Washington, DC decided that the children of America needed a voice. PTO’s are simply unaffiliated PTAs, but the basic mission of both is simply to improve education for the children.

But her real criticism is reserved for the unions.
“Once upon a time, I attended a union ratification meeting long enough to hear comments like (referring to parents), “We’re baby-sitting their kids all day and they can pay for it.” I have never been able to understand the union mentality.”

The first and last sentences are the most telling. It was a union ratification meeting, meaning there is no more democratic group in the workplace than unions. Her last sentence sums up her feelings, “I have never been able to understand the union mentality.” You think?

The letter ends with what the recall is really all about:
“If the recall organizers are successful, they must be prepared to have and work for replacements for a board majority.”

Prepared? Hell, the very reason for the recall is to get a “board majority.”

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