The executive director of the Virginia Education Association told members of the Prince William chapter Thursday night that the statewide group was stepping in to support the local unit and that a memorandum of understanding agreed to on Monday was “not a takeover.”
In a virtual meeting, Brenda Pike, executive director of the VEA, addressed Prince William Education Association members for the first time since the memorandum was made public. She said that the agreement – which will install a trustee to oversee PWEA finances, bylaws and elections – would in no way hinder progress on collective bargaining for Prince William’s teachers.
Pike also said that the agreement itself was not up for a vote from the chapter’s membership or building representatives because the PWEA’s board of directors voted 7-4 to enter into it.
After the address from Pike, PWEA’s representative assembly (the group of voting members from each school building) approved a plan for training, organizing and voting on collective bargaining rights.
Pike said the trusteeship will “do a very limited number of things to help the local and to help your leadership and your PWEA board thrive, be able to come together and do what unions do in building a high-functioning board with a high-functioning leadership.”
Earlier in the week, PWEA President Maggie Hansford insisted that the memorandum was not legally approved under the association’s bylaws until building representatives voted on it, but Pike refuted that and said the decision wasn’t up to the assembly.
InsideNoVa was provided access to the Zoom call with Pike by a PWEA member. The VEA has not responded to InsideNoVa’s questions about the situation with the Prince William chapter.
PWEA held its regularly scheduled rep assembly after the address from Pike. Hansford said there was a vote on the memorandum of understanding with the VEA and that “our rep assembly overwhelmingly voted … to direct the board to not enter into such an agreement because they do not hold that authority.”
Pike listed a series of factors that led to the VEA’s decision, including dysfunction on the board, disputes about procedural matters and concerns about certain expenses. She also said that a VEA staffer had been working with the board for six months to try to reconcile the divisions, but that the effort was unsuccessful.
Several PWEA board members and a former PWEA president have lodged a number of allegations about Hansford’s tenure, including that she raised her own salary without proper approval and has overspent union funds on things like t-shirts. Hansford’s backers have said that the salary issue was a legitimate mistake due to miscommunication among the PWEA’s board and that she repaid the difference from two pay periods in which her salary was incorrectly inflated.
Pike said the local’s finances were very healthy, saying the PWEA was “probably one of the most healthy organizations financially” in the VEA.
“We want to make sure that all the finances are as they should be. There is no reason for you to believe that there is any funny business going on with your money, with your dues,” Pike told members. “But there have been accusations that some monies were not spent according to the right process for how we should determine how to spend your dues.”
Speaking with InsideNoVa, Hansford said the local’s healthy financial position proves there’s no need for a trusteeship. “That’s exactly why I am adamantly against this trusteeship. I continue to state that the board has no authority to sign into such an agreement.”
Pike also tried to put to bed a rumor that members of the VEA board had been coordinating with members of the Prince William County School Board, which will ultimately have the say in whether the county’s teachers get collective bargaining rights.
Hansford said the PWEA assembly also approved a plan of action for getting teachers in all county school buildings to vote on whether they want collective bargaining. If a majority votes yes, the results will be submitted to the School Board, which will then have 120 days to respond under a state law passed in 2020.
Several School Board members confirmed that they hadn’t been contacted by anyone from the VEA, and Chair Babur Lateef issued a statement Thursday morning backing Hansford.
Potomac School Board member Justin Wilk also released a statement on Facebook, saying he’d been “working directly with President Hansford” on collective bargaining since May and would continue the “partnership moving forward.”
Lateef told InsideNoVa that he was more focused on the school division’s pandemic response than any issues around collective bargaining in the future. But when asked whether the PWEA’s trusteeship would affect collective bargaining discussions, he said wanted to work with Hansford and not the VEA.
“I, personally, am very comfortable dealing with the duly-elected president of the PWEA. I have a hard time dealing with people who are not from this district,” Lateef said. “And I think it’s best for the VEA to retreat to Richmond and let us work with the current elected officials in the PWEA.”