Specht, Burnham, Rowe win officer elections; convention work aims to keep union strong

More than 540 delegates attended the 2019 Education Minnesota Representative Convention, which included the election of the union’s statewide officers.

President Denise Specht and Secretary-Treasurer Rodney Rowe were reelected at the Education Minnesota Representative Convention after running unopposed. Bernie Burnham, an elementary teacher and president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, was elected vice president after a historic nine candidates ran for the open position.

The new officer team will take office July 1.

Burnham has served as president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers for the last five years. Before that, she was an elementary teacher for 19 years.

“When I became a teacher, I knew right away I wanted to be involved in the union,” she said. “I believe in speaking up for our students, speaking up for my colleagues and making sure our voices are heard.”

Burnham, a Pacific-Islander, is the first person of color to serve on Education Minnesota’s officer team.

“I was the first woman leader in my local, first person of color leader,” she said. “It’s important that our students see that there are possibilities for all of them.”

Also elected were two National Education Association Directors, Marty Fridgen of South Washington County, and Heather Bakke from Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop.

The convention serves as the union’s annual business meeting. 

Delegates took action on constitution and bylaw amendments, action items, changes to the union’s statements of principle and legislative positions. 

One action item reaffirmed the commitment to union strength through regional connections with intermediate organization support programs.

“We have a new, invigorated IO because of this support system,” said Bob Zahler, St. Micheal-Albertville teacher and leader of the Northwest Metro Area Council intermediate organization. 

The delegates also voted to reconvene the dues task and review the union’s dues structure, support a robust funding system for public education, promote collaborative union mentorship between local unions and aspiring educators, and promote and educate locals that aim to recruit teachers of color.

Education support professional members rose to ask delegates to support an ESP Bill of Rights, which will become a statewide movement to support living wages, dedicated training and more for ESPs. A petition will be available in the coming weeks on www.educationminnesota.org.

Another ESP-focused action item aims to help ESP locals create contracts to hold employees harmless for days the district declines to hold school and to created equal paycheck language to cover planned school breaks.

Delegates passed an amendment to Education Minnesota’s legislative positions to support a statewide moratorium on charter schools. Makers of the motion discussed the impact on public schools from charter schools, whether it’s lost funding, shifting of students midyear and setting up a competitive system of education.

Another amendment to the legislative positions passed, which supports the state board of investment divesting pension funds from fossil fuels.

Delegates also heard from special guests Gov. Tim Walz, State Auditor Julie Blaha, Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Education Minnesota’s Community Outreach Committee also raised more than $2,000 in monetary and food and toiletry donations for food shelves around the state.