Chase Beats Monahan in Hard-Fought Battle for NEA Reins
Robert F. Chase, the vice president of the National Education Association, last week was elected president of the 2.2 million-member organization, taking roughly 60 percent of the delegate votes.
Mr. Chase defeated Marilyn Monahan, the NEA's secretary-treasurer, to succeed Keith B. Geiger, who will step down next month after seven years as president. He won 5,377 votes to Ms. Monahan's 3,642 to serve a three-year term.
The race between the two members of the union's inner circle was widely viewed as a personality contest. Both candidates stressed that their top priority would be preserving the future of public education, although they differed subtly in their prescriptions for strengthening schools. (See Education Week, June 19, 1996.)
Mr. Chase, 53, who had served as vice president since 1989, earned a reputation as a thoughtful educator supportive of the union's recent attempts to highlight professional issues in teaching.
He called for the association to build strong new partnerships with its state and local affiliates, for the NEA to take more leadership in education reform, for an era of "new unionism" that would attend to members' professional needs as much as to their salaries and benefits, and for a reaffirmation of the association's commitment to human and civil rights.
"They were both pretty good candidates, but Bob has the edge on experience, having served as vice president," said Roberto Cruz, a delegate from the El Monte (Calif.) Elementary Teachers Association who voted for Mr. Chase.
On the Stump
Reg Weaver, a junior high school science teacher in Harvey, Ill., and a former member of the NEA's executive committee, won 70 percent of the vote to serve a three-year term as vice president. He defeated Susie Jablinske, an Annapolis, Md., elementary teacher and executive-committee member.
The candidates for president spent several days before the July 3 election making early-morning stump speeches to the state delegations lodged in hotels citywide.
Although Mr. Chase garnered the lion's share of state endorsements, the race was close enough that several large states--including Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania--did not endorse either candidate.
Mr. Chase urged delegates to get out in front on education reform or risk seeing proposals developed by people who are out of touch with the realities of classroom teaching.
"We've got to reform the reformers," he said to repeated rounds of applause during his addresses to state caucuses. "Many of them care more about media and money than they do about change and children."
Ms. Monahan, 48, who had served as secretary-treasurer since 1990, took a combative, head-on stance toward NEA critics, arguing that defending the union against attacks would be one of its next president's major challenges.
"This is not the time for quiet leadership," she said in her remarks to the state delegations. "Now is the time for dynamic leadership to counter the assault on public education."
That message appealed to Christie A. Bumgardner, a delegate from the River Rouge (Mich.) Education Association who voted for Ms. Monahan.
"I liked her vitality," Ms. Bumgardner said. "There's a toughness and a real depth to her."
In his July 2 keynote address to the more than 9,000 registered delegates, Mr. Geiger urged the membership to use collective bargaining as a "sledgehammer" to knock down the "Berlin Wall blocking change and reform."
Although unions have sometimes been prohibited from negotiating issues of school quality, Mr. Geiger said, they need to reach out to school boards and administrators to create shared interest in revitalizing education.
"That means replacing contracts that restrict and restrain with contracts that empower and enable," he said.
Also last week, the NEA and the 900,000-member American Federation of Teachers announced that they had reached a no-raid agreement. The 17-month pact, which must be approved by AFT members at their convention in Cincinnati next month, would go into effect next January.
The agreement would allow the unions to move forward in their merger discussions without fighting over the right to represent teachers.
The delegates also were scheduled to debate a proposed resolution on racism, sexism, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The language was proposed by the NEA's resolutions committee to address a controversy that arose last fall when gay-rights opponents blasted the union's decision to support the celebration of Lesbian and Gay History Month.
Supporters of the new language argued it would be more palatable to outside critics and to the members of some local and state affiliates who were offended at the union's support of gay rights.
Opponents, however, voiced concern that the association not be seen as backing away from a commitment to civil rights.
The union also presented President Clinton with its 1996 "Friend of Education" award. Addressing the delegates on July 3, Mr. Clinton highlighted the differences between his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. He also announced that the Department of Education has mailed every school district in the country a guide to combating truancy.