Delegates to the National Education Association's Representative Assembly knew the news about their union's loss of membership would be bad, but it isn't clear that they knew it would be this bad.
NEA officials said the union has lost more than 100,000 teachers and education support personnel since 2010, and it projects that it will lose even more in the future. By the end of its 2013-14 budget, NEA expects it will have lost 308,000 members and experienced a decline in revenue projected at some $65 million in all since 2010. (The figures are expressed in full-time equivalents, which means that the actual number of people affected is probably higher.)
There was no sugarcoating these ghastly figures at today's hearing on the NEA's strategic plan and budget.
"As I've said to many of you, it is a trifecta that we could not have imagined," NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle said in opening remarks. "We're living with a recession that just won't end, political attacks that have turned brutal, and societal changes that are impacting us—from stupid education 'reform' to an explosion of technology—all coming together to impact us in ways that we had never anticipated."
The union anticipates the loss of 140,000 certified members and support personnel in 2012-13 next year alone. That amounts to a hole of $27 million.
To plug it, the union plans to cut from a variety of places, with the largest whack, $10.5 million, coming from a reduction of both management and staff personnel and benefits, such as the matching component of a 401(k) program. (Sources tell me that more than 50 staffers at NEA headquarters have taken an early-retirement buyout incentive. A handful of executives have also been dismissed and/or asked to reapply for other positions.)
Other reductions will come in programs for training women and minority leaders, publications, and regional conferences.
Still, some delegates groused that the union didn't propose cutting its executives' compensation in order to preserve some of these programs. One called on those officials to share in the furloughs that have hit a lot of members. "I think fair is fair," he said. "I want it to be equally shared with the NEA here in Washington."
In what's probably the only bright spot in the proposed budget, the NEA will be returning 39 percent of dues money back to state affiliates, up from 37 percent in 2011-12. This money supports things like Uniserv, which provides bargaining aid to local affiliates, and its legal-services program, which has been growing in demand.
Interestingly, the NEA did consider, but ultimately rejected, the idea of holding its Representative Assembly only every two years. That would have saved $13.5 million from national and state affiliates' budgets; it's not clear why it wasn't ultimately adopted.
I'll leave you with this comment from Pringle, which seems to anticipate the major theme of this year's RA.
"There is no question that we have to change. That's already been decided for us," she said. "The question is, are we going to manage our decline, or are we going to find that path forward?"