Most of the criticisms against the proposed DCTA Bylaws amendments have focused on restricting members from pursuing elected offices. However, there is another major change that should be just as concerning: diminishing the importance of Rep Council.
The proposed bylaws changes establish new procedures that allow the Board of Directors to take over the policy-making duties of Rep Council when a quorum isn't present at our monthly membership meetings. Under Article 6, Section 2, the bylaws committee has proposed adding the following language: “When a quorum is not present at the Representative Council, recommendations affecting Association policies will be referred to the Board of Directors.”
DCTA's elected leaders have presented these changes as necessary to bring us in line with our current practices, and that does make sense. After all, when was the last time Rep Council had a quorum and conducted any sort of official business?
However, we should question whether or not our current practices are really best practices.
The True Role of Reps
Reps should not merely be people who handle the occasional corrective action meeting or disseminate information to people in their building. DCTA Representatives are to our union what U.S. Representatives are to Congress. As our bylaws state, "The Representative Council shall be the official legislative body of the Association and shall be composed of Association Representatives and members of the Board of Directors."
Reps should be excited to engage in discussions and put forth motions on behalf of their building's members. However, low attendance and the requirement of a quorum to conduct business has mostly prevented this for several years now.
A lot of the blame in the decline of Rep Council should fall upon the politicians and private entities that have worked to strip away due process from some teachers while keeping the rest on their toes. Our members are constantly asked to do more with less – and that makes it difficult to attend meetings and get involved in our union.
The proposed bylaws amendments are proof that DCTA leaders are giving up hope in restoring Rep Council into the democratic body it was intended to be.
We must ask more of our elected officials. It is easy to create workarounds to address low turnout and participation, but it is much harder to change the way we operate and make room for members to participate.
Moving Past Service Unionism
Rep Council meetings have slowly devolved into informational seminars where our elected officials and DCTA staff present information to the membership that they deem important. At these meetings, we often discuss the latest threats of education reform and how we can go back into our individual schools and fight for our members' rights. It's a noble cause, but it's just another example of the top-down service model unionism that DCTA claims to be moving away from.
Perhaps attendance at Rep Council would be higher if there were more opportunities for members to participate. With the exception of an underwhelming discussion about opt-out two years ago, when have Reps had the opportunity to sound off about the issues that impact them everyday?
Sure, there has been the occasional DPS official who comes to hear teachers' concerns about the latest-and-greatest trend, like SLOs, but when do the membership get to bring forward their own vision for our students?
Imagine if our Reps could shape the direction of our union and forge DCTA's positions on class sizes, testing, co-location, and more. This is how our democratic organization was intended to function. It is not an antiquated idea that we should abandon.
Democracy is often messy and contentious, but as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”