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Markey, Teacher of the Year Kathleen Turner enthuse and inspire MTA delegates

U.S. Representative Ed Markey, outgoing Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Kathleen Turner, state Senator Ken Donnelly and former Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville energized the 168th MTA Meeting of Delegates, held May 10 and 11 at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston. Just over 1,000 elected delegates attended the meeting, which is the MTA’s highest decision-making body.

For the first time, delegates voted to amend the bylaws to allow the MTA to organize Commonwealth Charter School employees. They also approved the MTA’s fiscal 2014 budget and filled seats on the Executive Board, the Board of Directors and the Retired Members Committee.

See photos from the Annual Meeting of Delegates here.

Markey, the MTA- and NEA-recommended candidate in the special U.S. Senate election, drew enthusiastic and sustained applause as educators reached out to shake his hand as he made his way to the podium to speak. On the day before Mother’s Day, he talked touchingly of his own mother, decried “mindless” sequestration cuts to education and called for an end to gun violence in schools, reminding the delegates that dozens of children die tragically every week due to gun violence. Markey thanked educators and praised them as “an incredible asset” to society. Markey is running against Republican Gabriel Gomez in the election, which will be held June 25.

Because she was unable to attend in person, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed the delegates by video. The senator thanked educators for doing the “powerfully important work” of educating our children. Once a special-needs teacher herself, Warren said policymakers need to make the investments necessary to give all children access to early-childhood education, and she said politicians need to be responsive to the realities that educators “experience on the ground every day.”

Delegates also heard leadership reports from MTA President Paul Toner, Vice President Tim Sullivan and Executive Director-Treasurer Ann Clarke and engaged in policy debates concerning some important issues facing educators.

The delegates approved a New Business Item requiring the MTA to “work to modify legislation that would adversely affect MTA members’ health care coverage upon retirement” and to communicate to members and legislators about this issue in specified ways. That communication will be done in the near future. This NBI was in reference to a bill filed by Governor Deval Patrick on Other Post-Employment Benefits – OPEB – that seeks to reduce the unfunded liability in retiree health insurance in part by reducing benefits for certain public employees who work less than 30 years. Current retirees and long-term employees who are nearing retirement are not affected by the bill.

The delegates later defeated a second NBI to require the MTA to spearhead an initiative petition for the 2014 ballot to increase the state income tax.

Kathleen Turner, a high school French teacher in Sharon who was the 2013 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates. She spoke of the “mysterious” origin of her love for all things French, recalling that she decided what she would do with her life on the “first day of French class” when she was in eighth grade. “Monsieur Cormier bounded enthusiastically around the classroom spouting strings of beautiful words that were completely foreign yet somehow magical,” she explained. She felt a spark ignite, realizing then and there that she would become a teacher. She graduated from Harvard, then stepped into the shoes of Monsieur Cormier. As she closes out her year as Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, she reminded educators that, although “sometimes it may feel like we’re not making a difference, our kind words, tough love, encouragement and guidance have more of an impact than we will ever know.”

To read Kathleen Turner’s full speech click here.

The keynote address, on digital learning, was delivered by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Wise said unions will have an important role to play as digital learning becomes more prevalent. West Virginia has become the nation’s first state to implement a program called Project 24, which will help school districts plan for and effectively use technology and digital learning to ensure that students graduate from high school ready for college and a career.

The Friend of Education Award went to Paul Reville, who recently completed nearly five years as Massachusetts’ secretary of education. As Governor Deval Patrick’s top education advisor, Reville established the Executive Office of Education and oversaw the public education system in Massachusetts, which has become the nation’s highest-ranked state for student achievement.

MTA’s Friend of Labor Award recognized Massachusetts Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington). As a senator, Donnelly has focused on protecting public employee pensions, municipal health insurance and collective bargaining, as well as improving “middle-skills” training for jobs in expanding sectors of the Massachusetts economy.

Tom Gosnell, president of AFT Massachusetts, also addressed the delegates, focusing on challenges faced in Lawrence. Lawrence, the state’s only Level 5 “chronically underperforming” district, is facing significant changes in its salary structure and other collectively bargained rights.

The largest union in the state, the MTA has more than 110,000 members, including preK-12 teachers, education support professionals, public higher education faculty and staff, and public education retirees. The MTA is the state affiliate of the 3-million-member NEA.