Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Will Miss Tom Mooney

The state education community is still reeling from the sudden death of Ohio Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney earlier this week. Services are scheduled tomorrow in Cincinnati.

I didn't know Tom well, but I've met him a few times and certainly learned of his work and reputation. Tom was a tireless advocate for his organization. Being an effective union advocate and being an effective advocate for the greater good are not necessarily the same thing, but Tom did an admirable job of the latter within the constraints of his duty to represent his members.

His work was marked by a subtlety of thought that unfortunately less than universal in the field. When confronting the challenge of charter schools, he did not to denounce them across the board, but demanded accountability and a level playing field for traditional public schools – a happy confluence of good politics and good policy.

Tom also possessed a generous spirit. Before I gained my semi-player status in the advocacy community, I was just a guy who showed up at things in Columbus. Tom always took the time to talk to me and any other freelancers who happened to be around.

You can read testimonials to Tom on the OFT website -- clearly he was a much beloved figure. But one mark of a man is the level of respect held by his adversaries. The Thomas Fordham Foundation -- a free-market, pro-charters think tank that frequently sparred with Tom -- sent out a moving tribute that is among my favorites. One snip:

    Tom Mooney's passing leaves a void in Ohio's education policy arena--a territory seldom marked by his level of intellect, passion and strategic acumen. He will, of course, be missed greatly by his members, his friends and allies, as well as by his grieving family. But he will also be missed by his opponents. He lived by his beliefs, he conducted himself honorably and he had a serious impact on education, first in Cincinnati and then statewide.
Tom's influence on debates over education can be seen in two stories from the past week. Monday the Beacon published a story about yet another sweetheart deal for David Brennan – this time an exception for Life Skills schools from the proposed Ohio Core requirements. Tom was quoted extensively in a story that went to press before his death became public. The quotes were typical Tom: incisive analysis and razor sharp turns of phrase.

Yesterday the Coalition for Public Education which had litigated the constitutional challenge to the charter school system announced that it was dropping further attempts at litigation to concentrate on legislative efforts. State Senator Kirk Shuring and Representative Scott Oeslager announced that they will introduce companion bills aimed at making charters more accountable. The bills will include tributes to Tom; a fitting tribute to him and his life’s work.

The next year will hopefully be a watershed for Ohio’s education system. Our new governor has pledged to fix the school funding system and the education community has laid much of the groundwork for systemic reform over the past few years. I still have high hopes for the effort, but the task will be more difficult without Tom Mooney.


Anonymous said...

See Michael Charney's post about Mooney at John Ryan's blog.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I heard Tom Mooney speak once and I was very impressed.