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State Journal: Public relations; Agenda setting

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In the wake of high-profile losses at the polls and in the state legislature, the Michigan Education Association plans to fund an image-improvement campaign by charging each of its full-time members $90.

The fees, to be paid over three years, would go into an "Image/Crisis Fund,'' used for "media, polling, mailings ... and other assistance directly related to legislative attacks and improving the image of the association and its members,'' according to information sent to members last month.

In less than a year, the union has been hit with a new state law mandating fines for illegal strikes and limiting the scope of teachers' collective-bargaining rights, attacks on a pension fund run by the union, and voters' rejection of an income-tax hike favored by the M.E.A. Voters instead opted to raise sales taxes, which the union sees as a less reliable option.

The Mackinac Center, a public-policy organization with Republican ties that has regularly attacked the union's policies, issued a statement urging teachers to resign from the union to avoid paying the public-relations fee. It noted a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that unions cannot force nonmembers to pay for activities not directly related to collective bargaining.

Leslie Carbone, the director of communications for the center, said it was alerted by M.E.A. members. Its statement quotes an anonymous member as saying: "People like me don't have an image problem, but the ones who run the union at the top sure do. Let them pay to clean up their own problem with their own money.''

An M.E.A. spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina brought a guest to last month's National Governors' Association meeting in Boston: Megan Lawson, an 8th-grade English teacher who talked about the benefits of voluntary board certification for teachers.

Meanwhile, the Governor said in media interviews that education deserved as much attention as health care, the meeting's primary topic.

Governor Hunt happens to be the chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards--a fact that may also explain why the North Carolina legislature recently approved a budget that includes a 4 percent raise for teachers who receive board certification. It is the first state to extend that carrot.
JULIE A.MILLER & DREW LINDSAY

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