Rumor has it that sometime within the next ten days or so, the Grafton Teachers Association will call for a vote of no confidence from its members against Superintendent Jay Cummings or the entire Grafton School Committee or both. What does this mean and what would happen after that?
A vote of no confidence is a symbolic, non-binding vote taken by the membership of a union, usually against an administrator, expressing a collective lack of faith in that individual’s ability to perform basic job functions usually as a result of some malfeasance, or perceived failing.
The goal of such a vote is often to express to a decision maker that changes need to be made within an organization, and to pressure that decision maker to make such a change.
Are these votes effective? They can be, but of course context is important. And given that these votes are non-binding, they can be ignored. Further, the more often teachers unions in Massachusetts call for these votes, the less impact each such vote has. The boy can cry wolf only so many times.
In 2008, Swampscott’s teachers’ union called for a vote of no confidence in their Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Malone for spending funds on “expensive trips to seminars and conferences” and other expenses, as well as keeping “more administrative staff than necessary.” Citing communications and leadership issues, Northbridge teachers voted in 2011 no confidence in their Superintendent, Susan Gorky. In 2016, the Framingham teachers union voted no confidence in their Superintendent, Stacy Scott, for his failure to keep a valid Superintendents license. In 2010, the Stoughton teachers association voted no confidence in Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi during protracted contract negotiations. In 2014, the Chelmsford teachers’ union actually commended their Superintendent, Frank Tiano, for addressing class size issues before voting no confidence in him due to a looming budget deficit. In 2014, the New Bedford teachers’ union voted no confidence in Superintendent Pia Durkin, a vote widely criticized in the press as being reactionary to that superintendent making changes to turn around a troubled school district.
It is the opinion of this space that as Massachusetts cities and towns continue to grapple with decreased state aid, rising costs from healthcare and unfunded state mandates, and the downward pressure on income that Proposition 2.5 causes, you will see the number of votes of no confidence rise from increasingly militant teachers unions whose tactics are inarguably being affected by a more aggressive Massachusetts Teachers Association.
And if that happens, what of the votes of no confidence? It’s one thing if you have a superintendent practicing without a license, and whose poor leadership is negatively affecting leadership and moral. It’s another thing if a superintendent is simply grappling with fewer resources and he has to tell people “no,” resulting in a vote of no confidence from a disappointed union.
What will be the ultimate effect of the GTA’s no confidence vote? Well, it certainly won’t help Jay Cummings’s career. He’ll have to explain the situation at every job interview he ever has. But then again, once the MTA has encouraged each and every district in the Commonwealth to pursue this strategy, who will really care?
The GTA’s tactic also could backfire. Not only has Dr. Cummings performed admirably in Grafton, he’s incredibly well liked. Conversely, it’s been a rough week for the GTA’s vaunted PR campaign designed to bring the School Committee to its collective knees. Its credibility is in shambles after The Grafton News effectively debunked many of the claims that it has made concerning administrator salaries, school expenses, and town spending. If the GTA again overreaches with their vote, they could be ignored – or worse.
The no confidence vote is the last arrow in their quiver before the matter is taken to fact finding. They should think twice before letting it fly.