I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Campbell Brown, Meet Mike Mignone: The Whistle-blowing Teacher Whose Job Was Saved By Tenure

UPDATE: See below.

I have a wish:

I wish that every time Campbell Brown made one of her many, many incoherent media appearances where she bad-mouths teachers unions and insists teachers don't need tenure...

She would be forced to sit next to Mike Mignone.

As I've reported before, Mignone -- a veteran middle school math teacher in Belleville, NJ -- has been the targeted by members of his school board and his superintendent for daring to stand up for the taxpayers, students and parents of his town. The president of his local teachers union, Mignone dared to question an outrageous abuse of power that cost the taxpayers of Belleville millions and compromised the rights of his fellow teachers.

Here's a quick recap of the story:

In the wake of Sandy Hook, Belleville's Board of Education approved the installation of a surveillance system -- not a security system, but a surveillance system -- that wound up costing $2 million (keep in mind, Belleville got a state-appointed fiscal monitor  last year because it's finances have been managed so poorly).

This system put a camera and a microphone in every room in every school -- including the teachers lounge! It also required every staff member and every student to carry an ID that included an electronic chip that allowed their movements to be tracked. All of this was done without the benefit of negotiation with the teachers, and without the consent of parents.

Furthermore, the entire deal reeked of cronyism:
After it obtained the job, Clarity also hired relatives of two key people at the school district, the brother of school board attorney Alfonse DeMeo, who approved the contract and first introduced Clarity to board members; and the son of Board of Education Trustee Joe Longo, who spearheaded the security upgrade. Longo insists he never asked for special treatment for his son and Kreeger denies that politics were involved in either hire. Kreeger also says he eventually terminated Longo's son because of public criticism, even though he was a model employee. [emphasis mine]
As all of this came to light, Mike Mignone did what a teachers union president and dedicated teacher is supposed to do: he spoke out. As I wrote earlier this year:
As Mignone's lawyer puts it: in October, he found out; in November, he spoke out; in December, tenure charges were filed against him. Mignone, who had always had excellent reviews, suddenly found out he would be up on charges that included (get ready for this one) answering students' questions about the surveillance system. According to Mignone, his students asked him questions about whether they were being monitored; he took a few minutes out of class and gave them some honest answers. That, in this board's and this superintendent's minds, counts as a fireable offense.

Golly, I wonder how the board knew Mignone had talked to his students about whether someone was listening in on their classroom conversations...
Mignone was suspended without pay. The only reason he wasn't fired on the spot was that he was entitled to a tenure hearing. Last night, the results of that hearing were announced at the New Jersey Education Association's annual summer meeting: Mignone was cleared of all most changes, reinstated, and has been awarded all of his back pay*.

I can think of no better example of why teachers need tenure than Mike Mignone. This courageous teacher and labor leader stood up for the rights of students and teachers, all while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. But the only reason he has a job today is because he had earned the right to a fair hearing -- the very definition of tenure.

I wish I could make Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan and Joel Klein and all these other reformy folks who want to gut teacher workplace protections look Mike Mignone dead in the eye and tell him he really didn't need tenure.

I wish I could force them to tell Mike, to his face, exactly how they would have protected him without having tenure in place. And I don't mean spout a bunch of boilerplate about "due process" -- I mean, tell him exactly how they would set up a system to protect teachers, like Mignone, who are victims of powerful political forces.

And I really wish I could compel the media to sit Mike Mignone right next to TV celebrity and non-educator Campbell Brown every time she goes on the tube to spew her illogical, union-bashing nonsense.

A good man and a good teacher was saved by tenure. Is Campbell Brown willing to hear and respond to the story of Mike Mignone? Does she have even a fraction of his guts and integrity? Or will she continue to hide her funders and evade the most basic policy questions about teacher workplace rights?

Sometime, the good guys win! I am proud to be Mike Mignone's fellow teacher and fellow union member.

* UPDATED: I've been emailing with some NJEA folks who sent me a clarification: apparently, Mignone was reinstated with backpay, but one charge out of the twelve brought was upheld, so it may not be with all of his backpay. I'll try to get more details, but this much is, according to NJEA, clear: Mignone will be teaching again in September, and he is getting backpay.

As always: I am a citizen-journalist, but I hold myself to a high standard; I always strive to get this stuff precisely correct. When I don't, you have my apologies, but you also have my assurance I will do whatever I can to correct the record.

Also: several NJEA officials have confirmed to me that the superintendent who oversaw all this has been fired. As I reported earlier, she cut her administrative teeth in the administration of Joel Klein's NYCDOE -- I know, you're just so surprised... 

More details soon.


Giuseppe said...

Thanks for the update on this vital story. Finally, a win for the good guys. Mike Mignone is an incredibly brave and ethical teacher; without tenure, he would have been fired into oblivion for his honesty and forthrightness. His only option would have been to sue the school district and he probably would have gone bankrupt from all the legal expenses and the time it takes to sue a school district.

Unknown said...

Important and excellent post; thank you for reporting on this.

Anon said...

I just posted this link to Campbell Brown's FB page, since I think she should read it, and she reported me to FB for "spam". I have now been blocked from making public comments on FB.

jujututu said...

Great story to read! I agree "win for the good guys"
Brown would not want to have Mike next to her where everyone could question what would have happened without tenure. It is a protection against this type of politics! Keep up the fight!

Unknown said...

What charge was upheld?