Leaders at the Renton Education Association, an educators union within Renton School District, are out after a union vote.
The REA leadership was recently investigated by the National Education Association, which found years of issues with election security, financial accountability and transparency, including ballots tabulated in secret and financial irregularities with no oversight for the union or the union president.
The president, vice president and executive board were all removed, according to Washington Education Association (WEA) spokesperson Dale Folkerts, who has been working with REA following the investigation.
A recently elected member of the executive board and Renton educator, Lani Nickell, told Renton Reporter that the leadership was already planning to resign and some, including herself, had already sent emails tendering their resignation the day of the vote. Nickell said from her perspective, it had gotten to the point where there was no way the leadership could move forward after the animosity caused by the investigation.
The REA Representative Council, which includes representatives from each building the union has members at in Renton Schools, voted “overwhelmingly” Monday, Jan. 13 in favor of the move to remove, according to Folkerts. Miriam Hogley, a building representative from Bryn Mawr Elementary School, is now acting as president pro-tem, according to documents on the Renton Education Association website.
The REA Representative Council consists of about 75 union representatives from the 29 buildings throughout Renton Schools and programs. The executive board consists of seven elected union representatives, the union president and the union vice president.
The investigation of the union concluded in fall 2019 and the findings were released to members. When Renton Reporter reported on the investigation on Jan. 2, the president and other members of the executive board were still in office. WEA had the authority to take over the union and remove leadership via trusteeship. But it chose not to do that, instead leaving the voting and overhaul of the union to its local Renton members, and appointing someone from WEA to oversee the executives during the process.
“WEA has been providing oversight to guarantee open debate and decision-making within REA, and this week’s vote is evidence that the process is working,” Folkerts stated in an email.
Members of the representative council debated the topic at the Monday meeting. Folkerts stated in the email there was also speculation that some REA leaders now had intentions of resigning. Rather than wait for that to happen, the council moved to remove the president, vice president and executive board.
Folkerts stated in an email that the board “decided it was time to end the uncertainty.”
Nickell said that the board was voted out, but also intended to resign. She said it was unfortunate boardmembers weren’t present to offer their resignations and answer any questions from the council. She said due to a series of things, it didn’t work out for them to attend, including members of leadership being sick.
The vote from the members of removing the existing officers will create an “open, transparent path to elect new officers” Folkerts stated, adding that this confirmed members were taking back control of the union. The NEA investigation had found that over the years REA leadership had concentrated authority away from union members, as previously reported in Renton Reporter.
The REA also has an upcoming election, now being handled electronically to improve ballot security, and more changes planned for the union’s bylaws and Constitution.
“WEA’s goal is to ensure that Renton’s teacher union can regain its footing after its local leaders appear to have stumbled,” Folkerts stated in an email.