GRAND RAPIDS -- Grand Rapids Board of Education President Catherine Mueller today accused the city's teachers union of manipulating the media and seeking to undermine the school board.
In a statement released today, Mueller was reacting to audio files posted online in which the head of the Grand Rapids Education Association, Paul Helder, says only a few board members are "capable of independent thought"and calls Superintendent Bernard Taylor the "stuperintendent." The remarks were recorded at a Michigan Education Association Conference held earlier this month and were posted by the Education Action Group. EAG bills itself as a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting local school boards to balance efforts of the MEA.
In direct response to the recordings, Mueller said the board had contacted legal counsel and planned to meet this afternoon in a closed session.
In her statement today, Mueller called the recordings an indication of the GREA's "bad faith bargaining." In addition, Mueller said union leadership is manipulating the media, specifically through a Grand Rapids Press reporter. In the recordings, Helder tells of how he frequently calls the reporter just before deadline and assures him of exclusives.
Third, Mueller claimed the union "seems intent on undermining the board and attacking our schools by planning a strike for the fall using bus drivers employed by Dean Transportation."
In the posted recordings, Helder says the union will soon begin bargaining with Dean Transportation, a development that is "in our favor."
Someone is heard chuckling on the recording, and Helder is heard saying "they (the bus drivers) could walk out."
The school board sent a letter to the community on Monday demanding an apology:
An Open Letter to the Community,
As members of the Grand Rapids Board of Education, we are committed to providing a quality education for the children and families of our community. To that end, we want to update you on a number of matters related to our ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers' union, the Grand Rapids Education Association (GREA), an affiliated group of the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
As a Board, we are committed to working with the Grand Rapids Education Association to reach a contract settlement. We are committed to finding collaborative solutions to our financial and educational challenges. We support the teachers and staff members of our district as they create a positive classroom environment to enhance and encourage learning in both creative and systematic ways.
Currently, both the GREA and the administration are working with a mediator to find common ground on difficult economic issues. This week we will begin working through a fact-finding process with that mediator. This process will hopefully generate additional solutions to the dire financial situation that we, like most school districts, face today.
At the same time, we have been confronted with disheartening news. An audio file was recently released by the Education Action Group that revealed the GREA leadership discussing negotiations. The training session appears to indicate a pattern of bad faith bargaining by the GREA leadership. Before we have gone to fact finding or received the mediator's response, the union leadership is vocal about undermining the Board and our school leadership with numerous examples.
The audio tape demonstrates that the union leadership is:
a). Seeking to "take out the board" in the upcoming election for union control and financial gain;
b). Manipulating the media using a
c). Intent on planning a strike for the fall using bus drivers employed by Dean Transportation, because the District's teachers properly refused to engage in illegal strikes
On the tape, GREA leaders clearly state that in the last election and in the coming election, they will "take out the Board." As a Board we want to be on record, as noting that it is reprehensible to manipulate the public to accomplish the express purpose of financial gain through union control of the Board.
The tape indicates that the union leadership realizes their membership is not interested in an illegal strike. As a result, the GREA leaders are planning to risk the jobs of bus drivers employed by Dean Transportation, thus interfering with Dean's contract with the Board. The union leadership appears to be so intent on the fight that they are willing to do an end run around their members to force the district and community to accept their demands.
We are unanimous in our call for the GREA president to publicly apologize to our Superintendent, this Board, this community, and most importantly, the students of Grand Rapids Public Schools. It is one thing to publicly disagree with civility, it is quite another to act with disregard for the values of our district and community with public statements that are indisputably disrespectful.
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Open Letter to Community
We recognize that the GREA leadership statements during this training session do not represent or reflect the dedicated and talented work of our teachers within the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Our teachers reflect professionalism and high ethical standards on a daily basis. The teachers and staff members of the Grand Rapids Public Schools are both competent and talented and these comments do not do justice to the talent that they share with District students on an ongoing basis.
Finally, be assured that this Board will not be distracted from three things:
1. Like our teachers and staff members, we are committed to classroom
excellence and a quality education for every child in a
2. We are committed to responsible fiscal management: In spite of public threats to "take out the board," we will safeguard the district's financial health with responsible financial decision-making.
3. We remain committed to seeking collaborative solutions with the GREA: We are committed to using the funds entrusted to us to keep teachers employed and programs viable.
Please do not hesitate to contact us via the district office. Please do not hesitate to contact our Superintendent, Dr. Bernard Taylor. If you have not yet had a chance to listen to his inspiring and visionary State of the Schools address, please go to the GRPS Youtube web site and view it.
As a District, we have an exciting future with children that will do amazing things in our global society. Thank you for your continued support.
Catherine Mueller Lisa
Hinkel Kenneth W.
President Vice President Treasurer
Arnie Smithalexander David Allen Tony Baker Ph.D.
Tony Campbell Jane Gietzen Amy McGlynn
We'll hear more from both sides, tonight on Fox 17 News at Ten.
(Click the video player for Mueller's statements in a news conference held today.)