Sunlight learned some interesting facts from the NJEA’s interview with incoming Executive Director Kevin Kelleher: NJEA headquarters staff has shrunk dramatically; Kelleher and the NJEA’s first priority is boosting membership; and, relatedly, a continued focus on member’s values and priorities. All arrows point to declining NJEA membership.
- NJEA Headquarters staff cut by -27%: The NJEA’s 2017 IRS Form 990 listed 552 employees at NJEA headquarters. By 2019, that had dropped to 513. In the interview, Kelleher spoke of 254 full-time employees and 150 part-time employees. That’s a total of 404, or a decline of -27%. In other words, NJEA headquarters has cut over a quarter of its staff over the past six years. This looks like some serious belt-tightening for the NJEA.
- Membership is the #1 issue for the NJEA. Note that Kelleher says “membership” not “members” here, and talks about the Janus Supreme Court decision, which ruled that teachers cannot be forced to join the NJEA. Kelleher speaks of boosting membership by building up the new teacher pipeline. The NJEA’s website claims 200,000 members (down from 203,520 before the 2021 revamp of the website), but Sunlight has recordings of NJEA officials telling a local association that membership was “nearly 200,000.” So it’s less than 200,000. Sunlight’s analysis of dues revenues suggests a membership level of 195,786. It sure looks like the NJEA is losing members and Kelleher knows it.
- New Focus on Members continues. This of course ties into #2 above, but Sunlight noticed a distinct change in tone when the NJEA revamped its website in 2021. Prior to that, the NJEA website was all politics, all the time. The new website is all about members and students. Here’s Kelleher:
“[W]e need to be a union that understands what members value and that keeps members’ priorities at the center of everything we do.”
What does Kelleher want to say to NJEA members? “I see you, and I hear you.”
Belt-tightening at headquarters, boosting membership as the #1 issue and a laser-focus on members’ values and priorities all point to a loss of members.
Maybe that’s why arch-political operators Ed Richardson and Steve Swetsky were out after shortened tenures as executive director, and Kelleher was brought in. Perhaps the NJEA was all about politics and teachers didn’t like it, so the NJEA was forced to adjust — at least optically. But before we get too carried away, Kelleher did list politics as the NJEA’s #3 priority, and a veteran political operator, Denise Policastro, was named Deputy Executive Director.
Again, we urge some intrepid reporter to ask Kelleher: how many members does the NJEA have?