Former BTU President weighs in on proposed contract
Sharon Blake, former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union and city teacher of 36 years, shared her views last week on the recently proposed and rejected union contract.
Blake, a longtime rival of current President Marietta English, joined the opposition in challenging the contract's long-term implications and even brought up an interesting point not yet raised in the debate about what will become of the union with all the autonomy and career ownership being presented in the new contract.
Blake and English ran against each other three times for the BTU presidency. Blake defeated incumbent English by two votes when the women first squared off in 2000. Blake was president until 2002, when English won the position back.
English most recently defeated Blake in 2008, when Blake tried to recapture her seat. She's stayed off the radar ever since.
Read below, for her thoughts:
Heading into the vote last week, Blake, a teacher at Frederick Douglass High, joined many of her colleagues in cautioning educators against "signing a blank check."
"I think the proposed contract, on its face, is a good contract," Blake said. "I, on the same token, would caution people, on voting on a contract that is incomplete. The devil is always in the details."
She added that the contract essentially puts teachers in a lose-lose situation by not addressing how they would be evaluated before signing the dotted line. "How do we dismiss the home and the community, and sign on to a contract that says, I am 100 percent responsible for this student's achievement. And then, if we do, as teachers, do we let the home and community off the hook?"
Blake also said the proposed contract--particularly in allowing teachers to navigate their own career path via a new career ladder and allowing 80 percent of teachers to vote on working conditions--could have unintended consequences on the strength of the union.
"The heart and soul, bread and butter of a union is to negotiate wages and working conditions."
She predicted that five to seven years down the road, "teachers could say, what's the use of a union. I can negotiate my own wages and working conditions."
The most that Blake offered that would indicate how she would have presented the contract was to say that teachers needed to be involved in all conversations concerning how to raise student achievement, and that leaders should take as long as necessary to ensure that the details are clearly laid out.
"I certainly think this is a paradigm shift, but it is worth doing right. So, we stay at this until we do it right. So, when we go back to the membership, we say we are going to lead the nation, we are going to revolutionize education in Baltimore City, and this is how we're going to do it."
English and Blake differ in their perspectives on getting ahead of reform.
English has said repeatedly that the spirit of the contract is designed to protect teachers from the unknown, as a storm of reforms will undoubtedly infiltrate the district in the future, and the union is just facilitating a clear path for city educators.
Blake asserts that teachers can't be protected until the unknown is revealed, and asking them to bind themselves to an incomplete contract could put them, and the union, in the middle of a storm they can't get out of.
Who do you agree with?