ARLENE VIOLET - Obvious conflicts seem unclear in R.I.

ARLENE VIOLET - Obvious conflicts seem unclear in R.I.

Sometimes I think that too many folks have lost their moral compass. It is particularly disturbing when the people involved are supposed to be role models for children. When those very children are the “alibi” for the distorted actions by the adults then their behavior becomes even more egregious.

Right now in South Kingstown, where the National Education Association (teachers union, or NEA) represents 95 percent of the teachers and school personnel, one of its top union organizers got elected to the School Committee. Her running for office smacks of self-dealing for the retention of her union position and union colleagues. Here’s why:

• Background: South Kingstown has lost more than 1,200 students – from 4,200 to about 3,000. The then-leaders in 2017 studied and decided to close Wakefield Elementary School because of this attrition. Enter Sarah Markey, the union honcho, who actively spearheaded the opposition to the closing. In fact, she tried to get herself appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board so she could further the union agenda of preserving the NEA jobs in the school. She solicited the assistance of fellow Democrat, Bryant Da Cruz, who refused the endorsement because he saw the apparent conflict of interest. He noted that there would be a direct correlation to keeping the school open and Markey’s job as the union organizer to do so and her potential role on the School Committee to rule on such matters. Undeterred, Markey ran for the School Committee and was elected last month. She is now its vice-chair. She is obviously myopic as to her conflicts since she brags, instead, of her expertise on school matters as a result of her NEA position, which fetches her $166,000 per year.

As of this writing she has refused to seek an advisory opinion as to her ethical responsibilities since she claims she knows it all. Her union colleagues have rubber-stamped her running for this position. In fact, over the years, the NEA has had a stealth campaign of supporting candidates for school committees around the state who belong to the union precisely to increase their bargaining power. After all, it makes it quite easy to negotiate contracts when you are on both sides of the table. All Rhode Island communities should beware!

• The current situation: Ms. Markey has received not one but two legal opinions from School Committee lawyers to seek an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission as to what she can or cannot vote on. Instead, it would appear that she is threatening the present lawyer, Sarah Rapport, by raising the issue of the appointment of counsel by the new School Committee. In any event, as bad as the failure to seek any guidance, the reality is that she should not have run for office in the first place. Even were it legal it is immoral to game the system as she and the NEA have done.

She will sit in on the School Committee contract negotiations with teachers. She has espoused the view that she can at least comment on school closings, the budget, personnel etc. She probably feels that the voters have spoken so she is entitled to be in that position. I would counter that not everything legal is necessarily moral. As somebody in her field of education she and her union are deficient. It’s a shame.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.

Comments

The NEA used to just get School committees to use the New England School Development Council ( NESDEC )population projections that tend to exceed the population projections of Rhode Island's own Division of Statewide Planning.

Now with Sarah Markey they are getting much more flagrant
in how they influence school committee decisions.

Rhode Island tax payers should hold onto their wallets and pocket books.