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Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as State of Independence

State of Independence

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The rivalry between the two associations can get intense.

The rivalry between the two associations can get intense. Two years ago, the GAE newsletter published a photo of Gov. Zell Miller signing a bill that both had supported: salary increases and fee payments for teachers who earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Christmas' face was expunged with a blob of white--a bit of editing that earned the GAE ridicule in the now-defunct pages of Georgia Times, a weekly that circulated around the capital.

Georgia newspapers again took note last fall when Yancey, who is black, drew attention to the racial composition of PAGE's founders, most of whom were white. The problem, he maintains, is that PAGE's board and staff "are not representative of the diversity of its members, if PAGE, indeed, does have several black members."

PAGE doesn't keep track of the race or ethnicity of its members, but Christmas says she "guarantees" that it's representative of the teaching force. Still, some PAGE supporters understand why black educators might feel special loyalty to the GAE, which was forged in the late 1960s out of a merger of the state's white and black teacher organizations. The National Education Association, notes Franklin Shumake, a longtime Georgia educator and former GAE president who is a consultant to PAGE, has a history of being sensitive to minority educators' concerns. "But there wasn't any effort on the other side of the fence to discourage their involvement at all," he says of PAGE.

In 1983, Shumake got involved with PAGE, attracted by what he describes as its emphasis on professionalism rather than collective bargaining. He also concluded that an organization that united both teachers and administrators was a better fit for Georgia.

To the contrary, the GAE has long complained that PAGE is unduly influenced by its administrator members, whom Yancey says pressure teachers into joining. The GAE also accuses its rival of taking unfair credit for legislation that benefits teachers and students. Yancey doesn't mince words when he calls PAGE a "parasitic organization gaining from GAE's efforts in the legislature."

Tim Callahan says that PAGE's lobbyists log countless hours at the Capitol during the session. But the association makes no apologies for taking what he calls "a team approach" rather than focusing only on teachers.

Yancey accuses PAGE of failing to provide local assistance to teachers. As an example, he cites a recent high-profile controversy in Cherokee County involving a school board member, Tim Moxley, who obtained teachers' W-2 wage and tax statements and kept them for a week. The GAE requested and was granted a hearing by Gov. Miller after complaining about the situation. The GAE last month received a letter from Moxley saying that the board had changed its policies to prevent such occurrences in the future. The hearing was then canceled.

"We went to Cherokee," Yancey says, "and the news media was there, and PAGE was not there. It was on TV, it was in The Atlanta Constitution, and PAGE was not there."

In fact, PAGE filed a lawsuit March 26 on behalf of five members against Moxley, accusing him of violating their privacy. The suit is continuing, Callahan says, but PAGE didn't publicize it.

"We want Mr. Moxley to act appropriately and within the law and guidelines of the district," he says. "But I don't have to shout and stand in front of TV cameras to accomplish that. We think to react in an incendiary fashion is no good for children, gets emotions ruling the day, and leaves scars in the community that take a long time to heal."

As a matter of principle, PAGE rejects confrontational behavior. The association's legal department has set a goal of returning members' phone calls the same day to offer advice. If warranted, cases are referred to a network of 60 lawyers. But PAGE does not hold teachers' hands in their local communities. As General Counsel Jill Boyd Hay puts it: "We don't go marching in the principal's office with them every time there's a problem."

As a matter of principle, PAGE rejects confrontational behavior

The association would prefer to get the word out through its prized Student Teacher Achievement Recognition, or STAR, program, which PAGE co-sponsors with the state education department and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. The program honors the state's highest-achieving students and their teachers. PAGE's foundation, which recently launched a campaign to raise a $3 million endowment, sponsors two other competitions for students: an academic bowl for the middle grades and the Georgia Academic Decathlon for high school students.

Shawn O. Carpenter, a middle school language arts teacher in Houston County who is the president of PAGE, joined the organization in college because of its focus on students and her distaste with teacher unionism. "Children come first," Carpenter says. "They are our business. As a teacher, when I went into this, I felt that the most important thing about my job was the children. I don't see how it can be any other way."

Christmas, who has "a strong missionary bent" to help smaller independent teacher organizations get off the ground, has offered support and advice to educators in Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. She's also on the advisory board of the Association of American Educators, but hasn't been very active. Made up of both individuals and statewide nonunion organizations, the association, based in Mission Viejo, Calif., was founded four years ago. Today, it claims 15,000 members. James C. Dobson, the president of Focus on the Family--the influential conservative Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.--often praises the national association as "a Christian alternative to the NEA and other unions."

Similarly, PAGE representatives have attended the annual meetings of the Coalition of Independent Education Associations, a group of statewide organizations whose directors meet in Washington each spring. But Callahan says frankly that he doesn't go anymore: Most of the talk was just union-bashing, he found, and not very helpful to PAGE. In keeping with its origins as independent from the National Education Association, PAGE doesn't belong to either of the nonunion organizations.

Christmas' primary goal is closer to home: to keep gaining members and to be a voice for strong public education in Georgia.

"We want to lead the reform efforts," she says. "We want to be out front pulling the wagon, not pushing it from behind. And if we didn't do what we say we do, we wouldn't have 44,000 members."

Vol. 17, Issue 40, Pages 40-44

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