By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martha Coakley spent part of her weekend trying to patch up her campaign’s relationship with a key constituency after her recent comments about charter schools left members of the state’s largest teachers union feeling “deep anger and disappointment” with their candidate .
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has endorsed Coakley in the race for governor, but their alliance began to show signs of strain after Coakley reacted last week to the state’s disqualification of two proposed charter schools in Fitchburg and Brockton.
Coakley, who said she supports lifting the cap on charter schools, called on the Department of Education to reconsider, and issued a statement saying, “Families and children in Brockton and Fitchburg deserved better. We shouldn’t let a technicality get in the way of offering increased opportunities to our children in school districts across the state.”
That statement, according to MTA President Barbara Madeloni, left members of the teachers union who could be critical to Coakley’s get-out-the-vote effort angry and confused by their candidate’s position.
“While MTA members across the state have been hard at work to get out the vote for Martha Coakley, MTA’s recommended candidate for governor, the candidate herself has made a very troubling statement about the rejection of proposals for charter schools in Brockton and Fitchburg,” Madeloni wrote in an email obtained by the News Service to union members on Friday.
Charter school proponents have asserted that long waiting lists are proof of the demand for more charters while detractors, including teachers unions, have insisted that lawmakers address the funding concerns of traditional charter schools if more charter schools are allowed. The House this session agreed to a limited charter cap lift but the effort fizzled in the Senate where a similar measure failed.
Madeloni said she had spoken directly to Coakley about her concerns, and indicated the MTA board would be meeting on Friday and Saturday in Sturbridge where Madeloni planned to initiate a discussion about how to respond. Madeloni also met with leaders of the union’s large locals on Thursday night to discuss Coakley’s comments.
“Coakley’s statement shows that she needs to listen more attentively and responsively to what educators are saying,” Madeloni wrote.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, with more than 110,000 members, is one of the more politically active and influential unions in the state. This cycle the union has donated over $1 million to a pro-Coakley super PAC that has been airing ads in support of the attorney general for governor, as well as criticizing Republican Charlie Baker.
A spokeswoman for Coakley on Sunday said the candidate has spoken with union leaders about the concerns raised in their email.
“Martha believes our teachers are one of our greatest resources and give our children the chance to find a dream and follow it. She has spoken with them about the issues raised in the email, and while she doesn’t agree on every issue, she believes strongly in their core mission and has put forward a strong plan that will support our public schools for children in every part of the Commonwealth,” spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said.