Teacher tenure bill defeated in committee

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. (courtesy)

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. (courtesy)

State lawmakers on Wednesday once again failed to amend teacher tenure laws, this time rejecting a bill that would have extended the probationary period from two to three years — even after the bill was stripped of its boldest language.

The bill, AB 934, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was defeated 5-2, with two senators abstaining, in the state Senate Education Committee. It drew the opposition of powerful teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — and education reformers, two sides that seldom agree.

The teachers unions said the bill went too far in taking away teachers’ due process rights, while the reform advocates said the bill didn’t go far enough in making teacher tenure an earned benchmark.

The bill was conceived to address some of the concerns about the state of education in California that were raised in the landmark lawsuit Vergara v. California, which was overturned on appeal in April, and to bring about “the necessary and overdue changes that must be addressed within our education system,” a statement from Bonilla’s office said.

“It is frustrating when two opposing sides are not only unwilling to compromise, but are vehemently reluctant to work together to achieve the mutual goal of providing a high quality education for all California students,” Bonilla said in the statement.

Students Matter, which filed the Vergara lawsuit on behalf of nine students, initially had supported the bill, but the version that was voted on by the committee was heavily amended and Students Matter withdrew its support last week.

Ben Austin, the group’s policy and advocacy director, called the bill “watered down and gutted beyond recognition.”

The issue of teacher tenure was the crux of the Vergara lawsuit. Plaintiff attorneys argued that teacher protection laws perpetuate a cycle of keeping ineffective teachers in low-income classrooms.

Bonilla, a former high school English teacher, said the amendments to the bill, AB 934, were needed to give it a chance of passage.

Other provisions in the bill included more training for new administrators and an additional year of coaching and mentoring for teachers in their third year of teaching.

The bill would have also authorized school districts and local unions to negotiate dismissal procedures.

Bonilla said the current dismissal process takes about seven months and typically costs districts $100,000 to $200,000.

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Supreme Court hears case that threatens finances of teacher unions

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case that could undermine the financial stability of teacher unions in California and 23 other states.

The lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, challenges the right of states to require public sector employees to pay compulsory dues to unions doing collective bargaining on their behalf. Even employees who are not union members must pay these fees, although they are allowed to opt-out of a portion of the fees that go directly toward political activities.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of California teachers who seek to overturn the court’s previous ruling on the issue, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case.

“The current fair share system is a good compromise and common sense solution, and that’s part of the argument we presented to the Supreme Court Justices today,” said CTA President Eric C. Heins, who attended the arguments, according to a CTA press release. “This case is about our students, our public schools and our country’s economic future. Providing a quality public education for every student starts with educators having the ability to come together and make decisions for their students, as well as negotiating fair wages that attract the brightest minds into our profession. Undermining the collective bargaining process undermines the middle class.”

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Garcetti promoting local productions as Cortines shuts them down

school report buzzOne day after LA Unified abruptly announced that it is shutting down all film and TV productions from any of its campuses, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visited the set of American Horror Story: Hotel today to promote how the California Film and TV Tax Credit is helping bring film and TV productions back to the LA area.

The show had filmed for three seasons outside of the state before being lured to LA as one of the first 11 projects to receive allocations under the new credit program.

“We are fighting back against runaway production, and this tax credit is delivering results for the heart and soul of the film and television industry — the people who swing hammers, run cable and serve food on set so they can pay he bills and contribute to our economy,” Garcetti said in a statement. “Our film and television industry is the lifeblood of Los Angeles’ middle class, and now production is coming back to where it belongs.”

Garcetti’s promotional stop comes somewhat ironically for LA Unified, considering Superintendent Ramon Cortines‘ move to shut down all productions on district campuses in the wake of an NBC Los Angeles report that accused the district of lacking proper oversight. (LA School Report has its own opinion on this and questioned the accusations in the story. Click here to read our commentary.)

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Union supporters weigh in with briefs in Vergara appeal

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decision* UPDATED

A group of education experts and organizations supporting the state’s two largest teacher unions’ appeal of the Vergara lawsuit have filed amici curiae, or “friend of the court” briefs with the California Court of Appeals while former California Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger weighed in with their own briefs opposing the unions.

The deadline for any amici curiae filings was yesterday.

Nothing less than the future of California’s teacher employment laws surrounding tenure, seniority and dismissal hang in the balance of the Vergara v. California ruling after Judge Rolf Treu struck down the current laws after ruling in favor of a group of California students. They had contended that the laws deprived them of a quality education by keeping bad teachers in the classrooms. His ruling was stayed pending the appeal, and should it stand would require state lawmakers to draft completely new teacher employment laws.

With so much at stake, powerful entities have lined up on both sides with friend of the court briefs submitted by individuals or organizations that are not party to a lawsuit but have an interest in its outcome.

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UTLA gearing up for SCOTUS Friederichs decision, whatever it is

supreme courtNow that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, a 2013 case with huge implications for unions’ nationwide in their ability to collect dues, the Los Angeles teachers union, UTLA, is gearing up for whatever the justices decide.

A victory by the plaintiffs would reverse a decades-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that requires non-union members to pay dues under a “fair share” rationale that non-members derive the same benefits as a members.

Friedrichs is challenging California’s largest teachers union on First Amendment grounds, arguing, in part, that mandatory union dues deny individual members the right of free speech through lobbying efforts and campaign contributions that don’t necessarily comport with the views of all union members.

But either way Friedrichs goes, UTLA will be prepared, said Jeff Good, the union’s Executive Director.

“There’s been a concentrated effort and an on-going effort to turn UTLA into an organizing union and an organizing culture,” he told LA School Report, pointing to the union’s mission to bolster a closer, “two-way relationship” with members of the community.

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LAUSD teacher elected as CTA secretary-treasurer

David Goldberg-CTA

David Goldberg (credit: CTA)


LA Unified elementary school teacher David Goldberg has been elected as secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Association.

Goldberg, 43, spent most of his 19 years at Murchison Elementary, where he is a bilingual teacher who is fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language.

He was one of dozens of educators who spent a night in jail in 2011 after participating in civil disobedience at the State Capitol. That demonstration was part of the CTA’s State of Emergency actions to protest funding cuts.

He joins the leadership team representing 325,000 educators statewide, along with Pittsburg elementary teacher Eric C. Heins as president and Cal State Northridge professor Theresa Montaño as vice president.

“What excites me the most about taking on my new role are the opportunities before me to give back to all those students and educators who have made an impact in my life,” Heins said at his induction ceremony on June 26.

“Working together with my fellow officers and colleagues we will focus on what matters most, and that is ensuring that every student has the quality education they need and deserve, and that educators are working with parents and our communities to lead education change in California.”

In the past, Goldberg worked on the budget committee for the State Council of Education and served as a liaison to the Teacher Evaluation and Academic Freedom committee. He leads the CTA Strategic Planning Workgroup, and plans to work with the CTA Budget Committee and State Council to make sure that the fiscal priorities match up with the organization’s strategic plan.

Activism is part of Goldberg’s family history. His aunt is former Los Angeles City Council member and state assembly representative Jackie Goldberg, who also served as chair of the state Assembly Education Committee and as president of the LA Unified school board. As one of the first members of UTLA, his grandmother participated in a strike that helped give birth to the union in the 1970s.

His wife is Karla Alvarado-Goldberg, an LAUSD middle school psychiatric social worker and a member of the State Council of Education.

After a short stint as a professional basketball player, Goldberg earned his teaching credential through an LAUSD intern program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in community studies from University of California, Santa Cruz. He lives with his wife and three children in Echo Park, his home for most of his life.

*Updated to reflect Goldberg was elected to the position, not appointed


Survey: Teachers support changes in state job protection laws

VergaraThe majority of public school teachers who participated in a new survey support changes in state teacher job protection laws that were the focus of last year’s landmark ruling in Vergara v. California.

The findings were somewhat of a surprise in that the poll, conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research for Teach Plus, a national nonprofit that focuses on professional development for teachers, sought responses from only full-time district public school teachers, omitting charter school teachers, private school teachers and part-time teachers.

Under California law, all full-time district public school teachers must be members of the union or pay an agency fee to the union.

The defendants in Vergara — the state, along with its two big public school teachers unions, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — have appealed the ruling. If the lower court ruling stands, the legislature would be compelled to rewrite the laws struck down — on tenure, dismissal and layoffs.

While the 500-plus teachers surveyed were not asked directly about the Vergara ruling, they were polled about their feelings on those three issues.

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Teachers to petition Supreme Court in case vs. CTA over dues

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

Friedrichs vs. CTA plaintiffs Jelena Figuerora, Karen Cuen, Rebecca Friedrichs (Credit: CIR)

In a case that has implications for millions of public employees in more than two dozen states, a group of California teachers is planning to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against the California Teachers Association (CTA) over union dues.

The case involves a state’s right to require public employees to pay dues to a union, known as “agency shop” laws. California and 25 other states currently require public employees to pay union dues. The teachers, with lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs and co-plaintiff Christian Educators Association International, are arguing that agency shop laws in California violate their freedom of speech.

The plaintiffs were cleared to petition the Supreme Court following a ruling yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found in favor of CTA, based on previous Supreme Court precedent, according to the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing the plaintiffs.

CIR has worked to expedite the proceedings through District Court and the Court of Appeals by asking that they decide the case quickly without trial or oral argument. Essentially, they elected to lose the case in the lower courts and have argued that the only court with the authority to “grant them the relief they request” is the Supreme Court, CIR stated on its website. 

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Vergara witness says state laws governing teachers work

Cal-Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein

Cal-Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein

The battle of the experts continued today in Vergara vs. California as an expert in labor economics and public policy called by the defense provided rationales for keeping in place the state laws governing teachers that are under challenge in the case.

Jesse Rothstein, a professor at Cal-Berkeley and a former senior economist on the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors, testified that the two-year tenure statute was adequate to identify ineffective teachers and still help school districts attract new employees.

He also said a “last-in, first-out” process that favors seniority in times of staff reduction is more fair and objective than so-called “value-added” models that take into account student performance to measure teacher effectiveness.

And he said the dismissal statutes protect teachers against “arbitrary and capricious decisions of employers” who might want to get rid of certain teachers.

These three issues — tenure, dismissal and seniority — are central to the case, which began more than a month ago. The nine student-plaintiffs are trying to show that California’s laws governing the issues combine to deny public education students access to a quality education.

The state and its two big teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — are trying to convince the court that the laws are fine as they are, posing none of the pernicious effects the plaintiffs claim.

Rothstein’s testimony, under direct questioning by Jim Finberg, representing the unions, was largely focused on opinions derived from his own studies and those of others that took general views on the subjects at issue in the case. Rothstein left the strong impression that he believed the laws, as they are, do not impede academic performance because of ineffective teachers.

But later, under cross examination by Marcellus McRae, the plaintiffs lead lawyer, he admitted that he knew little about how the laws play out in California and that none of his own work specifically reflected public education policies in the state.

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Vergara defense lawyers preview their case — if they need it

Martha Sanchez, a parent who is 'sick and tired' of corporate interests in public schools.

Martha Sanchez, a parent who is ‘sick and tired of corporate interests’ in public schools.

As defendants in the Vergara trial were asking the court to dismiss the case, attorneys for the state’s two biggest teachers union met with reporters outside the courthouse to offer a preview of arguments they intend to make if the judge denies their request, and the trial resumes next month with witnesses for the defense.

Jim Finberg, lead counsel for the California Teachers Association said existing teacher tenure protections, “help school districts recruit and retain highly effective teachers.” He said the laws being challenged help keep a stable workforce in schools which is vital to student learning.

Finberg added, “Without job security, teachers would have to worry about teaching evolution or Islam.”

Pasadena teacher Christine McLaughlin, who will be testifying on behalf of the state, said plaintiffs have offered no alternatives.

McLaughlin, who was honored a teacher of the year by the county, teaches at Webster Elementary School in Pasadena Unified School District, one of the schools that has been identified as “ineffective” in the case.

“The anecdotes plaintiffs have tried to use as evidence have no connection to these laws and could have been given by students in any other state with widely different laws governing teacher employment,” she said.

Dean Vogel, president of the state’s other big teachers union, the California Teachers Association, called the lawsuit, which is financed by Students Matter, “an ideological red herring, financed by billionaires to pit parents against teachers.”

That sentiment was echoed by parent and community activist Martha Sanchez.

“I am sick and tired of private companies using parents to advance their own agenda,” she said.

Defense lawyers were expected to file their motion to dismiss this afternoon.


Vergara suit on teacher dismissal opens, courtroom packed

Gavel2A lawsuit that could lead to a seismic shift in teacher tenure and dismissal methods is underway today in a packed Los Angeles courtroom.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is expected to take the stand.

Courtroom seats are being assigned by lottery – with limited press seating available. We will do our best to update our readers as the trial unfolds.

The case, Vergara vs CA is brought by a group of students who claim they have a civil right to an education and that state law that protects teachers and pushes them into lower income areas is discriminatory. The families of the plaintiffs are in full force today in the courtroom.

The case has gotten attention in editorials: Both The LA Times (Protect good teachers, fire bad ones) and The San Jose Mercury News (Teacher tenure, seniority, due process rights will get much-needed scrutiny in court) printed pieces.

A high profile team of lawyers including Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to strike down the same sex marriage ban, will argue on behalf of the students.

Defendants include the State of California and the two largest teachers unions in the state, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT).


Teachers Unions Chagrin: Waiver Process Left Them Out

Sad-TeacherThe two biggest statewide teachers unions — California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — have problems with the waivers granted to eight school districts from the federal program, No Child Left Behind. The objections, however, are more about how they came about than what they mean.

“My guess is that there are probably some elements in there that we would embrace, but I think the process itself is flawed,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “Somehow, the women and men who are actually in the classrooms doing the day-to-day teaching were left out of the process of improving our schools. It’s just not going to work.”

The waiver request was put together by superintendents from eight school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, who received guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and other third parties. Elected school boards were not asked to sign off.

Pechthalt added: “It’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all reform.”

The CTA expressed similar objections to the waiver agreement, blaming Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“By approving this waiver, Secretary Duncan once again demonstrates how his rhetoric that educators be actively involved in education change is just that – rhetoric,” CTA President Dean Vogel said in a statement. “Not one of the local teachers’ associations in the eight school districts was included in the discussion or signed the waiver application.”

UTLA President Warren Fletcher declined to comment.

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Mixed Reactions to New Teacher Dismissal Bill

Assemblymember Joan Buchanan

AB 375, a new bill meant to streamline teacher dismissals, could be headed for quick passage after clearing the State Assembly’s Education Committee with a 7 – 0 vote Thursday.

The bill’s chance at passing is undoubtedly aided by the announcement last week that the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, was joining forces with Assemblymember Joan Buchanan and Senator Alex Padilla to support AB 375.

But the alliance of Padilla and Buchanan and the quick pace of action in the statehouse have left some observers confused and concerned. Is AB 375 a watered-down teacher dismissal bill? Or have the unions, legislators, and education advocates finally come to a working compromise that will help streamline the teacher dismissal process?

Edgar Zazueta, the director of government relations for LAUSD, praised AB 375 as a “step in the right direction.”

But he also expressed reservations.

“I think we’d argue that there’s more consideration to be done here. We thank [Buchanan] for moving in the right direction, but we think we could push envelope a little further,” Zazueta said.

LAUSD, StudentsFirst, EdVoice, and Democrats for Education Reform have expressed a mix of praise and concern.

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Morning Read: CTA Backs New Teacher Dismissal Bill

In Meeting of the Minds, CTA Also Backs Teacher Dismissal Bill
With unusual speed, the California Teachers Association endorsed a bill Assemblymember Joan Buchanan introduced last week that would quicken the process for dismissing teachers. The teachers association joins Sen. Alex Padilla, thus creating a consensus among opposite sides of one of the most contentious issues last year in the Legislature. EdSource

The Secret to Fixing School Discipline? Change the Behavior of Adults
A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. New American Media

Poll Finds the Less You Make, the More You Like Brown’s School Finance Reform
An even 50 percent of respondents told pollsters they favored – while 39 percent opposed – the idea of having “some money diverted from middle and upper class children to low income children and English language learners.” EdSource

Lockyer Widens Request for Legal Opinion on School Bond Campaigns
California Treasurer Bill Lockyer on Monday expanded his request for a legal opinion to determine if some local education officials and the financial underwriters they hire are violating state law by campaigning for school bond measures. LA Times

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Morning Read: Union Wants Reduced Class Sizes

CTA Targets Class-Size Waivers
The almost automatic approval that school districts have received for class-size waivers from the California State Board of Education during the past four years may be facing serious opposition from the state’s powerful teachers lobby. SI&A Cabinet Report

Rockers Help Students Roll on Toward Understanding
Members of Ozomatli visit Hawthorne High for a discussion of immigration reform, capitalism, equal rights and community development. A teacher had set the Bill of Rights to one of the group’s melodies. LA Times

Charters Adjusting to Common-Core Demands
Charter schools throughout the country are coping with myriad challenges in preparing for the Common Core State Standards, an effort that could force them to make adjustments from how they train their teachers to the types of curriculum they use to the technology they need to administer online tests. EdWeek

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Report: CA Teachers 6th Most Powerful

The California Teachers Association is the 6th most powerful state teachers union in the nation, according to a new report from a pair of East Coast nonprofits. California teachers are #1 in terms of scope of bargaining and perceived influence, according to the state profile (PDF here), and #18 and #20 in its level of political involvement and its resource management.

“California has the most union-friendly bargaining laws in the nation,” according to the report.  “The state requires collective bargaining in education, lets its unions automatically deduct agency fees from non-member teachers, and permits teacher strikes. Further, of the twenty-one items examined in this metric, California mandates that eleven are bargained (only Nevada requires more). The remaining ten provisions are implicitly within the scope of bargaining, as state law is silent on them.”

Written by a New York City advocacy group and a Washington DC think tank, the new report ranks state teachers union according to membership, revenues, scope of bargaining, and other measures of influence. While some union officials have mocked the report’s findings, union watchdog Mike Antonucci describes it as extremely useful.

Morning Read: Teachers Delaying, Deasy Says

Deasy: Teachers Delaying LAUSD Bid for $40M in Federal Grants
Officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District raced on Monday to meet a fast-approaching deadline to apply for up to $40 million in federal grants. But Superintendent John Deasy said United Teachers Los Angeles has yet to sign off on the bid because it “requires within two years to have a new, robust teacher evaluation program.” CBS

CTA’s Big Push, Winning Hearts and Minds, One Voter at a Time
Instead of meeting in Los Angeles, as they usually do this time of year, the 800 state council delegates of the California Teachers Association, along with hundreds of others, mobilized over the weekend in their local districts, making phone calls and house calls urging voters to say yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 32 by capitalizing on what they consider their best asset: themselves. Ed Source

‘Choices’ Opens New Doors for Students at Failing LAUSD Schools
Most of the parents who sign up for LAUSD’s Choices program hope to send their child to a specialty magnet – a performing arts program for an aspiring actor, perhaps, or a medical academy for a would-be doctor. Daily News

Jerry Brown Accuses Anti-Tax Group of Illegal Money Laundering
Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday accused opponents of his Nov. 6 ballot measure to raise taxes of illegal money laundering, saying the committee that accepted an $11 million donation from an out-of-state group is shielding the identities of its donors because it is ashamed of them. Sac Bee

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Mike Antonucci: Follow the Money

You’ve probably never heard of Mike Antonucci, but you might be glad — or angry — that there’s someone like him around. Described by Education Week as “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates,” Antonucci writes an insider blog called Education Intelligence Agency that tracks teachers union revenues, membership, campaign spending, and the occasional scandal.

On the strength of his research, he’s been published in the Wall Street JournalEducation Next, and quoted as an expert in a long list of mainstream publications.  (Even when he’s not quoted by name, you can be reasonably sure that a reporter writing about union spending spent heaps of time talking to Antonucci.)

Not surprisingly, what Antonucci has to say isn’t always uplifting:  “At the rate we are going, California will soon consist solely of public employee unions, politicians, industries that service ballot initiative campaigns, and Disneyland,” he wrote in a recent blog post (see California Unions Hate All Hedge Fund Managers… Almost).

Read below for some of Antonucci’s thoughts about how to track union (and others’) spending on campaigns and candidates, and whether LA’s relatively stringent disclosure rules really capture the full extent of what’s being spent to help union candidates win elections.  Spoiler alert — he doesn’t.

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Morning Read: Deasy Pushes Tablets

LAUSD’s Plan to Fund New Technology LAUSD:  Noting that within three years the State is scheduled to administer its tests electronically – no more paper and pencil – Deasy said the time is now for the District to greatly expand its digital access and capabilities.

Calif. Poised to Spotlight ELLs Stalled in Schools EdWeek: California is poised to become the first state to unmask the extent to which English-language learners languish in public schools for years without ever reaching fluency.

Teacher Evaluations At Center Of Chicago Strike NPR: In California, after the state legislature mandated the use of student progress benchmarks to rate teachers, an education reform group sued the Los Angeles Unified School District to force the issue.

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Zimmer Alienating Both Sides

Board Member Steve Zimmer

Just about everyone who watches LAUSD is scratching their heads wondering just what board member Steve Zimmer is doing — lately more than ever.

He’s introduced two incredibly polarizing motions recently– one to reject the use of Academic Growth Over Time in teacher evaluations, and one to provide greater oversight for charter schools and, more importantly, place a moratorium on new charters. (See: Big Moves From Zimmer)

“I’ve know Steve for 20 years,” says David Tokofsky, a former LAUSD board member and current strategist for Associated Administrators Los Angeles. “He’s always trying to bring people together to discuss issues, and somehow, he’s gotten both the unions and the charters to issue fatwas against him.”

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