by J.C. Bowman
The Tennessee teachers' union replaced Jerry Winters with Jim Wrye as manager of their government relations. In the process they bypassed a highly intelligent African-American woman with considerable experience in the Tennessee General Assembly. Not one media outlet reported this fact, despite the readily accessible information.
In Nashville, one of the worst-kept secrets is that Wrye is a former Alabama Democratic Party leader. Tommy Stevenson of the Tuscaloosa News called Wrye an "all-around cheerleader for the state Democratic Party."
Wrye was also a staff member for Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Why would the teachers' union in Tennessee bring in a partisan from Alabama with no obvious connection to the state?
Wrye also worked for the Alabama union. In a press report it is claimed that Wrye was a leader in the "successful fight to stop charter schools in the state." Obviously Mr. Wyre is unaware the charter schools battle has already been fought in Tennessee. We are educating children in our state in charter schools supported by many legislators and the governor.
"I've told legislators that for TEA today, it is not about âR' or âD.' It is about who will stand up for our public schools," said Wrye. The problem with Wrye's comments is that they are focused on an approach that is "top down," not "bottom up." The teachers' union dictates what the best interest of public education is and too many journalists decide what is best for public education based upon what the union tells them.
Most of the supposed "war on teachers" promoted by the union was caused by two issues: 1) Race to the Top, which ushered in many of the reforms teachers opposed; and 2) The attempt by legislators to remove "special privileges" granted almost exclusively to the teachers' union.
In Tennessee, Wrye's selection seems surprising for a union with rapidly declining membership and in a state with a supermajority of Republican legislators. It certainly bodes well for continued partisanship from the union.
However, Democrats have more to fear from a biased partisan union. It is never good for any political party to be dominated by one interest group.
Despite political differences, both Republicans and Democrats love our state and our children. By working together in a non-partisan manner we can solve any educational challenges. It is time we stand together for integrity in the political and public school systems. Teachers deserve to belong to an education organization with integrity — one that helps educators not only to have more but to be more.
J. C. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.