Written by Roger Busbice, Louisiana Historian
In 1976, an effort was made to unify the Louisiana Teachers’ Association and the Louisiana Education Association. This act of unification was generally considered to be long overdue, and it had considerable support among educators throughout the state. The LTA/LEA leadership, however, insisted that the members of the "Louisiana Association of Educators” must also be members of the union known as the National Education Association. Many Louisiana Teachers resented the attempt by LAE to compel them to become adherents of the NEA. In defense of the individual’s right to join a local or state organization without having to become part of a national union, many Louisiana educators, led by J.P. Johnston of Bossier Parish and Roger Busbice of St. Mary Parish, broke with the LAE in 1977-78.
Shortly thereafter, the Bossier Parish Teachers’ Association, under Johnston’s guidance, arranged to purchase its own tort liability insurance coverage and established contact with teachers in Texas who had also rejected the NEA and were in the process of building an independent organization. These initial actions brought about the creation of Professional Educators of Louisiana in 1978 with J.P. Johnston as the first state president. PEL, in contrast to the unions, would be a truly professional organization uniting teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals from diverse backgrounds in support of academic excellence. There were soon several hundred members drawn chiefly from Bossier and St. Mary Parishes.
In 1982, in a separate development, ten teachers at Wedgewood Elementary School in Baton Rouge met to discuss the possibility of an alternative to the LAE. A few months later, approximately twenty-five teachers from East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, Livingston, and Acadia Parishes gathered at Louisiana State University to establish the Association of Professional Educators in Louisiana (APEL). The name itself and a provisional constitution were formally approved in subsequent meetings. Blanche Hamilton of East Baton Rouge Parish was elected president, and Dr. Fred Smith of LSU was appointed executive director. A state charter was issued to the organization in June, 1983. In the fall of 1983, the first issue of The Professional Teacher was printed and distributed. In November, APEL’s first annual meeting was held at the Lafayette Hilton. Membership stood at 304 at that time. During the course of the annual meeting, Roger Busbice of PEL met with Blanche Hamilton and Dr. Fred Smith to discuss the feasibility of merging the two organizations.
In 1984, almost 2000 educators belonged to PEL, while APEL’s membership had risen to 600. J.P. Johnston and Blanche Hamilton were re-elected to the presidencies of their organizations. The following year, John Sandel of Sabine Parish was chosen president of APEL at the annual meeting in New Orleans. PEL’s J.P. Johnston conferred with APEL Executive Council on the movement toward a merger. Roger Busbice, PEL state president, continued the discussions with APEL’s Joyce Many and Addie Byrd at a March 1986 national conference in South Carolina.
In the fall of 1986, Edith Sirmon, St. Charles Parish, became APEL president, while Joyce Many of Ouachita Parish was selected as president-elect. PEL and APEL agreed to undertake final preparations for combining forces. On April 11, 1987, representatives of the two organizations met at LSU to review the proposed new constitutions and specific details in regard to the merger. The name Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL), was suggested by Roger Busbice and Polly Broussard for the new association and approved a short time later. It was decided during a meeting at Wedgewood Elementary School that Dr. Smith would serve as Executive Director, J.P. Johnston would be Insurance Director, and Shirleen Louviere, PEL state president, would follow Lowell McManus of A+PEL as presiding officer of the new association. In November, 1987, the first annual meeting or convention of A+PEL was held in Baton Rouge. It was proudly announced that statewide membership totaled 4000.