NEA to “Reorganize” Amid Unprecedented Membership Losses, Budget Shortfalls
posted at 5:41 pm on May 29, 2012 by Mike Antonucci
A year after declaring “we are at war” the National Education Association appears to be setting up camp in Valley Forge, with a long, hard winter ahead.
With five weeks to go before the union’s annual representative assembly, NEA is painting a financial and membership picture that delegates could scarcely imagine just a few short years ago. Last year, NEA secretary-treasurer Becky Pringle warned the assemblage, “We have to assume we haven’t hit bottom yet.” Having constructed the union’s budget for the next two years, she will be able to repeat that warning.
According to multiple sources within the NEA leadership, the union is reporting a loss of 150,000 members over the past two years, and is projecting a further loss of more than 200,000 members over the next two years. The total reduction in revenue to the national union over the years 2010-2014 amounts to $65 million – about one-sixth of its original budget.
NEA’s dues level is set by a formula tied to the average teacher salary, so additional revenues for the general fund can only be raised through a change in the by-laws, which would require approval by the representative assembly. To EIA’s knowledge, no one has yet suggested this remedy, so NEA must cover the budgetary shortfalls with the small programmed increase in dues ($2 per member this year) and spending cuts.
The union’s regional leadership conferences will be canceled for 2012-13, and thereafter will be replaced by two annual “summits.” Additionally, the December board of directors meeting will be eliminated, reducing the number of times the board meets annually to four. Conferences for various constituency groups (retirees, ESPs, minorities, et al.) will continue in 2012-13, but will be folded into the summits thereafter.
Up until now, the union has managed to avoid staff layoffs. Fifty-six staffers accepted early retirement this year, bringing the number of national employees down to 439, a reduction of more than 100 from historic peaks. NEA froze executive pay, and eliminated its voluntary matching 401(k) plan (the primary defined benefit pension plan is unaffected).
Borrowing a page from the Oregon Education Association, NEA presented these cuts in staff and revenues in the form of a “reorganization,” complete with a new set of “strategic goals” and “core services.” The key elements of the reorganization are: 1) a greater percentage of NEA’s funds will be passed back down to its state affiliates; and 2) the creation of a Center for Organizing.
There has already been pushback to the proposed measures, with a number of attempts to restore funding to various line-items voted down by the board of directors earlier this month. But the biggest fly in the ointment may be that the budget makes assumptions about the outcome of contract negotiations with NEA’s staff union. The staff contract expires midnight Thursday and there is no telling how that will unfold.
There will be opportunity in the coming weeks to examine what these internal issues will mean for NEA’s external operations in the short term, but it would be an understatement to say that events are not trending in the union’s favor.