F or years, the MTA’s New Member Committee has organized a Just For New Teachers conference — a successful annual event that
provided guidance and professional development for
preK- 12 teachers in the early stages of their careers.
This school year, however, committee members
tried something new. They shelved Just For New
Teachers and created the Early Career Educators
Conference, which was held on Nov. 17 at Worcester
Technical High School.
To appeal to a broader range of new and aspiring
educators, conference organizers threw open the
doors to all educators within their first 900 days —
or five school years — in the profession. Attendees
included education support professionals, higher
education members, and students nearing completion
of an education degree, as well as new teachers.
One important topic of discussion was the Fund
Our Future campaign, a coalition effort backed by
the MTA to win increases totaling more than $1.5
billion a year for Massachusetts public schools,
colleges and universities.
New Member Committee Chair Erinne Silver
introduced participants to the campaign during an
opening panel discussion that allowed committee
members to tackle a wide range of issues, including
teaching strategies, union organizing and the need
for more resources.
The emphasis of the discussion was on how
those issues converge.
“Our union represents all types of people in the
field of education,” Silver said, “and all of our voices
must be heard as we work to fully fund our public
schools and colleges.”
Yahaira Rodriguez, a committee member and
an ESP in the Worcester Public Schools, described
how members of her local union routinely confront
impediments as they seek to meet students’ needs.
Solidarity is often the key, Rodriguez said. “Just
being able to schedule breaks for the paras was a big
problem,” she said, “but we were able to solve it as
Another panelist, Amherst special education
teacher Danielle Seltzer, said she was attracted to the
union as a vehicle for achieving social justice.
“I always believed that a union stands up for
rights and democracy,” she said. “And our union is a
product of the people in it. So it is important to talk
to people and encourage them to belong to the union
and to be active.
“A lot of people don’t understand how the union
works or what it does, but when we talk to each
other, we understand that we share a lot of the same
values,” she added.
Seltzer encouraged educators — and students
working toward degrees in education — to forge
Panelist Gene Reiber, a teacher in Hanover, said
the MTA’s student members are strong advocates. “I
encourage students, even though they are pre-service,
to go to school committee and other meetings where
education issues are decided. You can speak up as
someone coming into the profession,” he said.
The participants, who numbered more than 200,
spent the morning and afternoon in professional
But the committee emphasizes the importance
of networking, so plenty of time was built in
for socializing and creatively connecting with
colleagues. The day included themed small-group
discussions at lunch, as well as opportunities for
participants to win gift cards and other prizes
provided by MTA Benefits.
MTA President Merrie Najimy, Vice President
Max Page, Executive Director-Treasurer Ann Clarke
and members of the MTA Executive Committee
joined the participants for lunch, after which the
leaders elaborated on the importance of the Fund Our
“There are fighters in this room who love
teaching,” Najimy said. “Let’s organize and reclaim
our public schools.”
MTA calls for disclosure of higher ed donor agreements
T he MTA is calling for full public disclosure of agreements made between donors and public institutions of higher education in the
At the 2018 Annual Meeting of Delegates,
educators approved a new business item directing
the association to publicize the need for transparency
on donor agreements when foundations, centers and
other education programs are funded at colleges and
“Public disclosure is essential to the public
trust,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “When
colleges and universities allow corporations and
private donors to call the shots, academic research
and the hiring process can be heavily compromised.”
The MTA believes that keeping colleges
and universities academically independent of
the influence of foundations such as the ones
run by the Koch brothers is imperative. Some
watchdog websites — such as
UnKochMyCampus.org — include information
about the ties between large donors and academic
institutions, but the MTA believes a comprehensive
public list is needed.
“We strongly believe the state should keep all
of this information in one place and make it readily
available,” said MTA Vice President Max Page.
“Secrecy and privatization are taking a toll on our
public colleges and universities, and that should not
A message addressing the issue is being sent to
members of the Board of Higher Education and the
UMass Board of Trustees.
Private agreements between institutions of
higher education and donors were thrust into the
spotlight last year when it was disclosed that George
Mason University, a public research university in
Northern Virginia, had ties with the Charles Koch
Foundation that did not meet the university’s own
standards for academic independence.
Between 2003 and 2011, the university
accepted funding that supported faculty positions
and research, especially in economics. A review by
The Washington Post showed that in some cases,
committees that helped select professors “included
members designated by a donor.”
Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have
poured millions of dollars into universities across the
nation. GMU has been one of the largest recipients of
Koch largesse, collecting $48 million from 2011 to
2014, according to The Associated Press. In 2016 the
Koch Foundation gave $10 million to rename George
Mason’s law school in memory of U.S. Supreme
Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died that year.
A handful of Massachusetts institutions are
included among the Koch Foundation’s list of
the focus of a
workshop at the
which was held
in Worcester in
drew a crowd of
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was open to all
in their first five
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Photo by Scott McLennan
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