Michael Lerner, 72, educator and union leader

Posted: July 17, 2012

THE GUY behind the catcher's mask in an educators' softball league was just taking a break from his main gig as a prominent Philadelphia educator and union leader.

However, Michael A. Lerner's prowess on the ball field was a reflection of his drive to succeed in whatever he undertook.

"He would catch a doubleheader every Sunday for Educators' White," said longtime friend and colleague Bruce Rachild. "He may not have been the best player in the league, but he just enjoyed the camaraderie, competition and exercise."

What he proved to himself on the ball field, Michael Lerner put into practice as a highly regarded educator and union leader, always devoted to his students, whom he revered, and his union members, for whom he always went to bat and won many concessions.

Michael Lerner, retired president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, Teamsters Local 502, former principal and administrator for the Philadelphia School District, and a man known for his wit and positive outlook on life, died Saturday after a brief illness. He was 72 and lived in Queen Village.

"Michael cared about students," said Rachild, retired assistant school superintendent in Bensalem. "He didn't concern himself about how they looked, what color their hair, eyes or skin. He fought hard for those students. He treated all of them with respect and in turn was respected back.

“He wanted those children to succeed in school, as well as life. He wanted them to be happy. He was happiest telling positive stories about the students that he affected. Michael was a protector. He made sure that those whom he represented received a fair shake. In Michael's eyes, the glass was always half-filled and everyone had value."

Michael was born in Philadelphia to Anne and Joseph Lerner. He graduated from Central High School, and received bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from the University of Buffalo, and a doctorate of education from Temple University in 1972.

He began his career with the school district in 1970 as a research assistant and later administrative assistant to then-Superintendent Richard D. Hanusey, in the former District 5, until 1981. He became director of special education under Superintendent George D. Pilato, and served as principal of Stephen A. Douglas High School, in Port Richmond, until 2003.

He was appointed business agent of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents school principals and other administrators. In October 2005, he became president, the position he held until his retirement in 2010.

"Michael was a problem-solver who deeply cared about people," said Jerry T. Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "He was a highly respected educator and union leader. We will all miss Michael's quick wit and wisdom."

"He was my friend and mentor," said Robert E. McGrogan, president of CASA. "He was so cerebral. His knowledge of school law, education and pedagogy was extraordinary. He leaves quite a legacy and very big shoes to fill."

Ted Hirsch, Pennsylvania president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "I've known Michael since 1972 in a variety of jobs. He had a talent for working with people and always remained focused on doing the right thing for students, the community and his union's members."

"Michael was a fun person to be around," said Bruce Rachild. "Always had a joke, always had a story and always told them in dialect. That's why we loved him and will remember him that way."

He was a big fan of Temple Owls football.

Michael is survived by his wife, Candy; three daughters, Cheryl and Liza Lerner and Ashley Govberg; and two grandchildren.

Services: 3 p.m. Tuesday at Goldstein's, 6410 N. Broad St. Doors will open at 2:20 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, 855 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19123.

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.

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