ATF Leadership Encouraging Members NOT to Chime In On $1.34 Billion APS Budget

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, March 16th, 2018

What's going on with Albuquerque Teacher's Federation (ATF) leadership?

On Thursday afternoon, Ellen Bernstein, president of ATF, sent an email to members titled "APS Budget Survey - Ellen Asks That You Do Not Fill It Out!"


Take APS's survey:


This should be surprising on two fronts. First, that Ellen includes "asks" instead of "commands from on high" stands out. I suppose maintaining some semblance of members having an option is helpful.

And, second, Ellen is already on the record discussing "the importance of teacher input." Plus, in what world is it helpful for staffers to not provide input into their employer's programs, finances, and priorities?

Rather than being "inappropriate—and perhaps destructive to our collective bargaining relationship—for the District to ask employees represented by a Union to identify their budget priorities" (her capitalization not mine), this is a best practice and common sense.


In fact, as the Gallup Employee Engagement Center (one of the world's foremost thought leaders on organizational well-being, tells us, "Employee engagement and its impact on outcomes [are what] matter most."

In other words, if one cares about outcomes (such as student learning, effective budgeting, strong school leadership, etc.) gathering employee feedback is perhaps the most crucial measure to consider. IF one does.


Ellen Bernstein - 22-year president of ATF


Ellen goes on: "It is clear the survey lacks anything that is actually inefficient. Providing educational programs with the blood, sweat and tears of underpaid employees in underfunded programs should never appear on a list of possible inefficiencies unless the goal is to further demoralize employees."

We know that's not quite true. These are programs paid for with our blood, sweat, and taxes. And figuring out which programs are most effective, which aren't, and reallocating resources and people to get the most out of all 1.34 BILLION dollars is what smart, modern organizations do. To stay relevant requires agility and self reflection.

Why is there more allegiance to specific programs than our students who are the supposed beneficiaries? I acknowledge this is a somewhat "inappropriate" assessment as it's not Ellen's highly compensated job ($90,000+ a year per 2015 documents) to advocate for students.

Even I, the eternal APS critic, applaud the district's effort to better understand their spending, from the very people running programs. Imagine the backlash against APS for reorganizing programs and funding without the input of teachers.


Let's be clear here, Ellen's goal is twofold: One, discredit the survey results before they've even come in. What better way to undermine the survey from the start than ensuring teachers aren't represented in the results?

And, two, making sure APS doesn't speak to teachers without her intervention. There is a reason she connects the survey back to collective bargaining. Her position only matters in so much as it remains a wall between teachers and the district. However, as we already know, teachers are no monolith, even within the same school district. In fact, I received this text after the email went out:

It’s as though she [Ellen] doesn’t believe we should advocate for ourselves and that we have to go through her. We are constantly teaching our students to stand up for what they believe.
— APS Veteran Teacher

We get it. Being head of the ATF is a powerful position, and one Ellen has held for going on 22 years. This is, in part, the explanation behind the mystifying actions of union leadership at the expense of its members. With union membership nationwide on the decline and the anticipated ruling in Janus, you'd think ATF would be more forward thinking.

However, that's hard with leadership that hasn't changed perspectives in over two decades. I frequently talk to teachers in Albuquerque and across the state. What I hear is increasing frustration with union leadership hellbent on the status quo - determined to keep things as they've been for the past 50 years, mostly at membership's expense.

Well, the world is rapidly changing around us and, unless leadership turns over, my fear is unions (and collective bargaining) will go the way of taxis, who also willfully refused to see Uber and Lyft coming.