Around election time, we tend to hear a lot about teachers unions. It can be hard to sort fact from fiction. During teacher appreciation week, Together for Public Schools decided to go straight to the source and learn more about our local WCASD teachers union.
Scott deLone is a beloved physics teacher at West Chester Henderson High School and a leader within the local WCASD union, more formally known as the West Chester Area Education Association (WCAEA). When we reached out to Scott with questions about the union, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for a lengthy discussion.
We approached Scott right in the middle of AP Exam prep and the end-of-year crunch, so his willingness to answer our questions underscores his dedication to both community and education, which you'll find is a theme throughout our discussion with him. You won't want to miss the full interview below.
Note: One of the first things we learned from Scott is that "teachers union" is a misnomer, because the union actually includes not just teachers, but also school counselors, school psychologists, speech therapists, librarians, case workers, nurses, athletic trainers, and more. From here on out, we'll use the more accurate term "educators union."
TPS: Scott, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we get started, Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Why did you decide to become a teacher and what do you find most rewarding about your job?
Scott: Thank you! I became a teacher because of 2 teachers that had a big impact on my life. The first was my calculus teacher, Mr. Bondi, who challenged me and really instilled a strong work ethic in me. The second was my physics teacher, Mrs. Quinlan, who opened my eyes to the world of physics and encouraged me to pursue physics as a career.
TPS: Today we’re hoping to learn more about the educators union. Before we get into those details, what is your position in the union? What led you to pursue a leadership role?
Scott: I wear a few hats for the union. I serve as the coordinated bargaining and benefits chair in addition to being the executive secretary. I was also the lead negotiator during our last round of negotiations.
TPS: Let's cover some basics. What is a educators union and what purpose does it serve?
Scott: The union is a group of educators composed of teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, speech therapists, librarians, case workers, nurses, and athletic trainers. Anyone is welcome to join the union. The purpose of the union is to have an organized and united voice to advocate for teachers, students, and public education in West Chester as well as around the state and country. We serve as a liaison between our educators and the district administration, the school board, and the other unions in the district (the support staff and educational support staff).
TPS: In the news, we hear about multiple different educators unions at multiple levels. It can get confusing. Which union do WCASD educators belong to?
Scott: West Chester educators belong to our local union, the West Chester Area Education Association (WCAEA). WCAEA falls under the umbrella of the statewide Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) which is a part of the National Education Association (NEA).
TPS: Who are the people behind the educators union? How are decisions made?
Scott: The union is comprised of our general membership, our representative council, and the officers. Each school elects representatives annually based on the size of the school and officers are elected by the general membership every two years. Certain decisions are made by the officers while others are voted on by the representative council at our monthly meeting.
TPS: Why do you encourage educators to join the union?
Scott: Being a part of the union means supporting your fellow educators and supporting public education. In many fields, co-workers support each other – the union is just an organized way of doing that. Collectively, our voices are more powerful than they are individually, and this allows us to better advocate for educators, students, and public education.
TPS: Educators must pay dues to be part of the union, is that right? Why do educators pay dues and how are dues used?
Scott: Yes, educators must pay dues to join the union. The dues are used in a variety of ways. There are basic things such as office supplies, stipends for our representatives and officers as well as paying the PSEA staff that supports our union leadership. We also use it for things such as professional development opportunities for our educators and gifts to honor our retirees. I do want to clarify though, that union dues are never used for any political campaigns. Union members - like any supporters of public education - have the option to donate to a political action committee (PACE) which advocates in support of public education, students, and educators, but PACE is a completely separate organization and donations are 100% voluntary and separate from union dues. Unfortunately it is a common misconception that union dues are used for political campaigns but that's not true.
TPS: What do people get wrong about the educators union?
Scott: I think the biggest misconception is that unions exist solely to negotiate and managing the contract. While that is a part of what the union does, there is a lot more to our role. We spend most of our time working collaboratively with administration to address issues, working on initiatives that support and celebrate our students (such as the Spellman Humanitarian awards), mediating conflicts and serving as a resource for our members.
TPS: What is something that people might be surprised to learn about the union?
Scott: The union gives back a lot of money to the community at large. Each year, the union gives around $25,000 to charities in the district. This includes organizations like the foodbank and little league teams.
TPS: Educators unions tend to receive criticism from politicians, especially around election time. Why do you think that is? What is a common criticism and how would you respond to it?
Scott: The union is often the target of criticism from politicians. I think this criticism stems from people’s frustration with aspects of public education today. Educators are the on the front line when it comes to public education and that makes educators and their unions an easy scapegoat. The reality is that the union is also frustrated with aspects of public education today and we want to see improvements too. We just believe that those improvements come from working together rather than looking for someone to blame. The union allows educators to work together towards a goal while also collaborating with administration, support staff, students, and the community to improve public education.
TPS: What is the biggest challenge facing WCASD educators? How can the community help?
Scott: I think the biggest challenge facing educators right now is attracting and keeping quality educators in the profession. The number of college graduates becoming certified has decreased by almost 70% over the past decade and I personally have seen several teachers leave the field in the past few years for other opportunities. Part of it is for financial reasons, but I also believe an even bigger piece is that educators feel burnt-out and unsupported in today’s world.
The community can help by being a voice of support for our educators. We know that many community members support us, but the voices we often hear are from the minority that is not as supportive. The other way the community can support us is to maintain open lines of communications with educators. We are on the same team in this endeavor. We both want what is best for our students and while we may see things from different vantage points, we have the same goal in the end.
TPS: Same question, but in regard to students. What is the biggest challenge facing WCASD students? How can the community help?
Scott: Students today have more pressure than ever before. A part of this was the pandemic of course, but a bigger piece is the prevalence of technology and social media. Students are connected 24/7 and for students who feel like they don’t fit in for a variety of reasons, that means they are reminded of it constantly. Students can’t disconnect as easily as we could when we were growing up. Our community needs to first recognize this and listen to our students. On top of that, I think we need to set a good example for our students. For better or worse, social media is here to stay, but we can change how we as parents, educators, and community members act on social media. If students see us treating each other with respect and accepting others despite their differences, it has an impact on how they treat each other.
TPS: Sometimes we hear people say that they “support teachers, but not the teachers’ union.” What is your reaction to that sentiment and what would you say in response?
Scott: There is no difference between the teachers and the teacher’s union. We are the union, and the union is us.
TPS: We all know being a teacher isn’t easy. What keeps you coming to work every day? What are you most optimistic about when it comes to public education?
Scott: For me, it's the relationships with my students. It’s been a difficult few years for everyone in public education – educators and students alike – but I’ve been lucky to have an amazing group of students this year and working with them every day has reinvigorated me this year.
TPS: We are so appreciative of your time. Any final thoughts for our readers?
Scott: Last thing I would add is that I truly believe that the best way forward is for us all to work together to improve public education. We are at our best when educators, administrators, school boards, parents and community members are working together towards a common goal.