From the October 2009 CTA Educator, "Democracy in Action":
Two extraordinary CTA political victories 17 years apart helped define the union forever as a major player in California politics and a champion of public education. These successful ballot box battles began as they all do, with the direction given by rank and file delegates elected to CTA's State Council of Education.
Passing Proposition 98 in 1988 to guarantee minimum funding for schools and community colleges put CTA in a league of its own, thanks to the hard work of thousands of members. Defeating Gov. Schwarzenegger's three dangerous initiatives in the 2005 special election inspired younger teachers to get involved, says State Council delegate Terri Jackson, who represents United Teachers of Richmond.
There was a lot on the line in 2005, and Council delegates met the challenge, Jackson says. "The buck really stops with the delegate. This victory was the height of being the ‘relentless political machine' that Pete Wilson called us. People who were not involved until then got fired up because of 2005."
Jackson is one of 755 democratically elected delegates to State Council, which meets four weekends a year in Los Angeles to make vital decisions affecting our 340,000 CTA members.
Delegates serve three-year terms. Elected in their assigned districts across the state by secret ballot, most teacher delegates represent either one larger chapter or several smaller ones. Other delegates represent higher education, education support professionals, Student CTA members and retired educators.
The ratio of members to delegates is 447, so a larger chapter may have more than one delegate. Council delegates elect the CTA president, vice president and secretary-treasurer, the 21 members of the CTA Board of Directors, and the numerous members of Council committees.
CTA policies, election priorities and positions on legislation are brought to the floor of Council for a vote by the body after members on 18 Council committees weigh the issues and make recommendations about new or old business items submitted by the Board of Directors or rank and file members.
"There is always a lot of lively discussion," says Jackson, who is vice chair of the critical Political Involvement Committee (PIC) of Council. She has shared many victories with the PIC chair, Gayle Bilek, over the past nine years. Also involved at Council for nine years before he was termed out in May was Rick McClure, past chair of the vital Financing Public Education Committee.
Since 2000, CTA has beaten back a school voucher initiative, won passage of three statewide school bonds totaling $35.7 billion, and created a $60 million CTA war chest to oppose the governor's three well-funded initiatives in November 2005. These measures would have cut school funding, destroyed teachers' due process rights, and silenced the political voices of all public employees in the state.
"Our union is there to support us as teachers," says Bilek, who is also president of the Templeton Teachers Association in San Luis Obispo. "I have seen it. That's what the whole Council process is about. It really is representational."
Along the way, Council has protected Prop. 98 again and again from attempted raids by the governor and lawmakers, says McClure, who is also president of the Ontario-Montclair Teachers Association.
"I think CTA has been very successful over the years in protecting Prop. 98," he says, noting that this summer's budget agreement includes a restoration over several years of $11.2 billion owed to public schools under Prop. 98.
Lynne Formigli served nine years on Council, sat out one year, and is now back for more union work. She is one of two delegates representing United Teachers of Santa Clara in Silicon Valley and sits on Council's Curriculum and Instruction Committee.
"Council is made up of human beings, so it's not perfect," she says. "But we are a very effective organization."