Former Fraser teacher elected as president of MEA
Posted May 17, 2017
METRO DETROIT — Beginning Sept. 1, Paula Herbart will serve as the new president of the Michigan Education Association.
The decision was made April 22 in Lansing, when 500-plus delegates to the MEA’s Representative Assembly elected Herbart to replace current President Steven Cook, who is retiring Aug. 31 after six years in the position.
Also elected April 22 were Vice President Chandra Madafferi, a high school health teacher and local union president from Novi, and Secretary-Treasurer Brett Smith, a fifth-grade teacher and local union president from Linden in Genesee County.
Herbart declared her candidacy in April 2016, traveling and campaigning in the 18 regions that are affected by the MEA.
“I was thrilled when I found out that I had won,” Herbart said. “It was a very close race, and my opponent was the current secretary treasurer of the MEA. I had worked very hard for that success, due in no small part to the hundreds of women and men who voted for me and believed in my message.
“I had always believed I was meant to be an organizer of people, and this is organizing on steroids. I had always worked to be an inspiration to my sisters and brothers in the union and to be an example, and promoting everything wonderful and sacred to public education.”
Currently, Herbart serves as the president of MEA-NEA Local 1 in Macomb County, where she has been for about 5 1/2 years. She previously taught music at Fraser Public Schools for 20 years, and she is a former president of the Fraser Education Association.
MEA-NEA Local 1, which consists of 4,600 members, involves working collaboratively to create better contracts for teachers, as well as better quality learning for students, in 16 school districts — 14 in Macomb County and two in Wayne County.
She has also served on the Board of Directors for both the MEA and the National Education Association.
Leaving her teaching position in Fraser was a result of former Fraser Education Association President Marty Pichla retiring mid-term. Herbart had worked within the association since her first year in 1992-93, when she started as co-PAC chair.
Herbart’s future is certainly molded from her past.
Her father, Ned Salerno, was the former assistant superintendent at Fraser Public Schools. Her mother, Elaine Salerno, taught for Chippewa Valley Schools until 1987 and was a strong union member. Her sister, Julia Salerno, is a public school teacher in Romulus, and her aunts and uncles worked in public education.
She said her father was a believer in unions, telling teachers to get involved early on so he could understand their collective voices in an effort to promote and protect the workplace.
“My parents were advocates on opposite sides of the table for public education,” she said. “They had incredible integrity and were vigilant advocates of public education. When you grow up in a home like that, you understand it was a call to action. … It made for real interesting dinner conversation.”
She said Cook has done an incredible job of navigating the waters of some of the most difficult times, referring to right-to-work-for-less and the loss of payroll deduction. She said he did everything he could to ensure educators were represented at the highest level, and the union has become stronger because of it.
Herbart’s focus will be on putting public educators back into the narrative of what she deems to be “failing inaccurately” public schools. She encourages grassroots organization for public education issues, as well as social justice initiatives.
“I felt the time was right after seven years of being battered by our Legislature, that it was time for us to start a new movement where we are engaged on every level of telling citizens their public schools aren’t failing, and the people working are of the highest quality and want nothing but to fulfill the public promise for all in public education,” Herbart said.
The election for the next president of MEA-NEA Local 1 took place after press time.
About the author
Nick Mordowanec covers Fraser, Clinton Township, Fraser Public Schools, Clintondale Community Schools and Baker College for the Fraser-Clinton Chronicle. Nick, a graduate of Michigan State University, has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter and the Michigan Press Association. He has slight obsessions with “Seinfeld” and Led Zeppelin.
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