This includes its opposition to collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten, virtual classes and charter schools, all of which might improve the chances of low achievers and help retain a crucial cadre of students from higher-income families. Virtual classes would allow the district to expand its offerings beyond its traditional curriculum, helping everyone from teen parents to those seeking high-level math and science courses. But the union has fought the district's attempts to offer classes that are not led by MTI teachers.
As for charter schools, MTI has long opposed them and lobbied behind the scenes last year to kill the Studio School, an arts and technology charter that the school board rejected by a 4-3 vote. (Many have also speculated that Winston's last minute flip-flop was partly to appease the union.)
"There have become these huge blind spots in a system where the superintendent doesn't raise certain issues because it will upset the union," Robarts says. "Everyone ends up being subject to the one big political player in the system, and that's the teachers union."
MTI's opposition was a major factor in Rainwater's decision to kill a 4-year-old kindergarten proposal in 2003, a city official told Isthmus last year (See "How can we help poor students achieve more?" 3/22/07).
Matthews' major problem with a collaborative proposal is that district money would support daycare workers who are not MTI members. "The basic union concept gets shot," he says. "And if you shoot it there, where else are you going to shoot it?"
At times, Matthews can appear downright callous. He says he has no problem with the district opening up its own 4K program, which would cost more and require significant physical space that the district doesn't have. It would also devastate the city's accredited non-profit daycare providers by siphoning off older kids whose enrollment offsets costs associated with infants and toddlers.
"Not my problem," Matthews retorts.
Everything within the union, nothing outside the union.