Analysis: Oklahoma Education Association inadvertently reveals lower membership total than leaders assert
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Published: 29-Jan-2012

If the Oklahoma Education Association has 34,886 members as its top executive said last June, why does it state in its annual circulation statement that it only prints about 22,400 copies of its all-member newspaper, the “Education Focus”?

Many indicators, including a credible national analysis, support the notion that the state’s largest teachers’ association has been exaggerating membership numbers.

The OEA newspaper isn’t distributed either to college chapter students or to retirees. Apparently, the newspaper is mailed gratis to members because the union asks members to let it know if they want to “opt out” of receiving it.

Beyond the some 22,400 active members receiving the Education Focus, the question is: who are the other 12,500 members executive director Lela Odom claimed last June that the OEA has?

The breakdown of the OEA’s membership by category has long been a closely-guarded secret. In the past, OEA explained member tallies by saying that it includes college student chapter members and retirees.

But a few months ago, the president of the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association disavowed the retiree notion. He spoke in some detail to a family member of a retiree who was considering joining the OREA. 

That conversation was shared with CapitolBeatOK in great detail, on the condition of anonymity. The conversation lends credibility to the national analysis on OEA membership numbers (see below) as much lower than the claimed figure. 

OREA collects dues from, lobbies for, and prints its own publication for the roughly 15,000 retired members of the union, the source said president Weldon Davis asserted. (Davis is also a past president of the OEA.) A negligible number of OREA members retain OEA membership, but informed sources have put the emphasis on “negligible.”

“OEA only represents active members,” the source said Davis stated flatly.

Additionally, the roughly 22,400 number also falls in line with the Oklahoma active member totals union investigative reporter Mike Antonucci has been reporting from the NEA’s annual Delegate Assembly.

Antonucci is a perennial pain in the neck to the National Education Association because he has numerous sources, including inside the NEA. He is recognized by many in the mainstream media as an expert on union reporting.

CapitolBeatOK did not unearth corroboration of Antonucci’s reporting until publication of the December/January “Education Focus.” The annual Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation is legally required of all paid circulation publications and it must be accurate.

OEA officials have refused to comment on any CapitolBeatOK stories since June, despite repeated requests.

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