Advocacy Partners: Merced College faculty, Dos Palos K-12 teachers
By Cynthia Menzel
Merced College Faculty Association (MCFA) President Patrick Mitchell and Dos Palos Oro Loma Teachers Association (DPOLTA) President Marty Thompson understand the importance of electing quality citizens to local boards of education. Their two unions are linked by geography and by necessity, and they share resources, such as their CTA staff person, Paul Chambers. They discovered some of their school board members and trustee candidates overlap and are now working together. The Advocate asked them about the college–K-12 partnership.
We understand community college and K-12 leaders are working together and sharing information heading into the June primaries.
Mitchell: Yes, our plans call for exchanging information about candidates and issues to help educate members about who to vote for and why. We look forward to working with our local K-12 brothers and sisters in the 2018 elections.
Thompson: We are sharing with our members which candidate the community college chapter endorsed, and asking them to support MCFA efforts.
Why is it important for K-12 members to care about who is on the community college board?
Mitchell: The issues that affect K-12 students eventually become our issues when students come to community college after they graduate high school. We serve many of the same students at the same time, as many students take classes at the community college while they are still in high school.
Thompson: We help students choose a career path, whether that is a trade school, community college or four-year college. Here in Merced, many of our students are from families that are in the low socioeconomic percentage, so the community college is a great option. They can still live at home while attending school. We need to make sure that the community college is meeting the needs of our students and is a viable option for them.
How do you support each other?
Thompson: One way is by voting for college board members who understand the value of offering our students a chance to receive a college education. We need people who understand our students and the needs of the community, and who support the beliefs and values we have as K-12 educators. The college board makes decisions that determine what classes are offered, who teaches those classes, how many classes will be offered, and what the cost will be to attend the college. We want all our students to have opportunities to pursue their dreams, and we need the right people in positions to help make that happen.
Mitchell: This is still new, but information sharing is a great start. In 2016 Merced College had serious leadership issues, and frankly, our campus was in crisis. When two of our board members drew challengers in the 2016 election, our political action committee (PAC) interviewed all the candidates, including incumbents, and in each case unanimously voted to endorse a challenger who we felt would effect positive change at Merced College. These challengers were energetic, motivated and well-liked in the community, and our faculty were active in supporting them by attending fundraisers, putting up signs, precinct walking, etc. Much of the credit for our success in the 2016 elections goes to Charlie Schlinger, our PAC chair, who was recognized for his efforts with a CTA Member-in-Politics Award in 2017.
It sounds like you each have a similar process when it comes to determining which candidates to support.
Thompson: I believe so. We meet with our members and discuss the issues we are facing and why it is important to get involved as a chapter in electing good school board members. We form a five-member PAC team to interview the candidates and score their answers to choose one we would endorse. We then let our members know who we choose and why, and ask for their support and help getting them elected.
Mitchell: It’s like a job interview. Our list of questions is based on the climate and issues at the time. Sometimes questions relate to recommendations from the accreditation report, or their understanding of the role of board and honoring the expertise of faculty. Many of our members don’t attend board meetings, and they put a lot of trust in those of us who do pay attention. The committee’s recommendation about who to endorse is voted on at a membership meeting.
And then what?
Mitchell: Our PAC consists of three officers and eight to 10 volunteers from different departments, full- and part-time faculty. They come up with a plan, and then ask for volunteers to help post signs, go to fundraisers. Now, we’ll have a system of sharing our endorsements with our K-12 colleagues.
Thompson: We applied for donations from the Merced/Mariposa UniServ PAC fund to help our candidate. We walk door-to-door in neighborhoods on Saturdays, and get help printing door hangers and postcards that promote our candidate. We have after-school mailing parties where our members meet at a local pizza place and write short messages supporting our candidate on postcards, which are mailed out to registered voters in our community. This has been very successful for us. Not only did we get our candidate elected, but we got a longtime incumbent who did not support teachers voted off.
Any advice for those forming similar partnerships?
Mitchell: It’s important for members to know no dues dollars are used for our political activities. Funds are volunteer donations, not dues dollars. Not a single penny comes out of our general fund to subsidize PAC activities for elections and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities.
Thompson: My advice is this: Educate your members on why we need to be involved. Take the time to meet with your members and ask for their help. Give them choices like making phone calls, writing postcards, walking districts. Find simple ways they can get involved. And finally, hard work will pay off in many ways. All you need to do is get started.