While American Federation of Teachers affiliates are holding a “National Day of Action” today, UTLA is planning four vigils in support of “housed” LA Unified teachers, those caught between allegations of misconduct and final rulings on their employment status.
Currently 260 such teachers are caught in so-called “teacher jails,” the consequence of what UTLA President Warren Fletcher describes as a “broken” teacher dismissal process. He blames Superintendent John Deasy.
“In recent years, since Deasy became superintendent, we have lots of people who just languish for weeks and months without any idea of what they’re accused of,” Fletcher told LA School Report. “It’s kafka-esque, it really is.”
Housed teachers aren’t actually in jail. They are paid to sit in district holding facilities during school hours and can return home at the end of the day.
Fletcher said he was hopeful a board resolution passed in April would address concerns that teachers are held in limbo for too long without adequate information on allegations against them. Sponsored by Tamar Galatzan, Monica Garcia, and Bennett Kayser, the resolution sought to require the district to notify teachers of the reason for their reassignment unless otherwise directed by law enforcement. It also resolved to create a separate team of professionally trained investigators to look into issues of misconduct.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher
If Warren Fletcher is reelected president of the LA Unified teachers union, UTLA, it won’t be easy.
At yesterday’s filing deadline, the union announced that eight others – all men — are challenging him for a three-year term that begins next year.
The size of the field, which includes one current UTLA officer, Secondary Vice President Greg Solkovits, and one who also ran for president in 2011, Leonard Segal, suggests an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Fletcher’s policies, leadership style or both.
The other candidates are David R. Garcia, Alex Caputo-Pearl, Kevin Mottus, Saul Lankster, Marcos Ortega and Bill Gaffney. Fletcher defeated seven other candidates and prevailed in a runoff when he won in 2011, succeeding A.J. Duffy.
“The upcoming UTLA election is about the fundamental direction of the union,” said Mike Stryer, a former union chapter chairman and now a Teach Plus vice president. “Teachers are essentially being asked whether the union should be driven primarily by bread and butter issues, broader social justice issues, or professionalization of teaching.”
With the filing deadline tomorrow, a new candidate has emerged to challenge Warren Fletcher as president of UTLA.
Kevin Mottus, who frequently appears at LA Unified school board meetings to warn of adverse health effects of wireless digital devices, is the latest among three challengers to file for running, according to the union’s most recent list of candidates.
The others are David R. Garcia and Alex Caputo-Pearl.
Mottus has worked as a psychiatric social worker at the School Mental Health Department of LA Unified, focusing on students with behavioral problems. He is also a registered coach for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and helps children and adults with learning disabilities and dyslexia.
He was recently profiled in the USC newspaper, Neon Tommy.
UTLA elections for president, six other executive officer positions and the UTLA Board of Directors will be conducted during the first quarter of 2014.
Previous Posts: Caputo-Pearl Kicks Off Money Drive for Union Presidency; Another Candidate Emerges to Challenge for UTLA Presidency.
A 26-year old candidate with more experience in policy than politics is heading into tomorrow’s special election for a westside state Assembly seat with something few candidates can claim: support from both sides of the education reform debate.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has proved to be both a prolific fundraiser and endorsement magnet in his race for the open seat in Assembly District 54.
United Teachers of Los Angeles voted to endorse Ridley-Thomas on Nov. 20th and was planning to circulate a letter of support to its members in District 54 today. In it the union says:
“Ridley-Thomas will advocate for jobs creation, improved traffic, health care access, increased public safety, education funding, and getting our fair share from Sacramento.” The letter is signed by UTLA President Warren Fletcher and Mary Jan Roberts, the UTLA political officer.
The social welfare arm of the California Charter School Association is also backing the young candidate.
“We are really excited about the energy Sebastian will bring to the legislature and the continued accessibility that he will provide to all stake holders in the education community,” CCSA Advocates political director, Carlos Marquez, told LA School Report. “He shares a strong commitment to making sure that our schools are producing quality programs for our students and being held accountable to very high standards.”
Brent Smiley, an officer of UTLA’s political action committee, known as PACE, told LA School Report, Ridley-Thomas is “a real stand-up guy as far as education, and he’d be a great representative in Sacramento.”
UTLA is planning a rally outside LA Unified headquarters at 4 p.m. tomorrow to demand pay raises. The protest comes on the one-year anniversary of Prop 30, a measure that raised state taxes to avert nearly $6 billion in cuts to public education.
“We cannot allow the Superintendent to squander Prop 30 funds on pet projects, while we continue to suffer,” UTLA told its members on the union website. “We have earned a pay raise and the money is there.”
From the looks of the slide show above, the union is not entirely happy with LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy‘s position on the matter.
A slight plurality of LA Unified teachers said they would favor continuing the iPad program, according to a new UTLA survey that produced mixed results in a district contemplating the next phase of a billion dollar digital device program.
The union poll was conducted over a week in late October, with 255 teachers from the 47 district schools that received iPads in Phase 1 of the program responding. Not all the teachers responded to all the questions, but taken together, the ambiguous results may undermine the value of the survey as a credible resource for policy.
Even the number who favored continuing the program, 62, was barely more than those who would stop it, 57, with another 54 saying they were unsure what to do. The district is planning to give iPads to all 650,000 students by the end of 2015.
The survey was conducted at the request of Monica Ratliff, the LA Unified board member who serves as chair of the Common Core Technology Project committee. She has been in favor of district students’ receiving digital devices beyond Phase 1 but not necessarily iPads. At the board’s meeting two days ago, she proposed holding off further distribution until officials could evaluate the instructional effectiveness of all digital devices used in the district.
The issue could be voted on at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, but as further evidence of differing views, Ratliff’s colleague, Monica Garcia, is introducing a resolution that asks the board to approve Phase 2 tablets for her district.
Over the past week Cynthia Van Houten, principal at Granada Elementary Charter Community, has been scrambling to get students in the right classrooms. Tomorrow is the deadline for principals and teachers throughout LA Unified to comply with a district policy that mandates all English learners be grouped by fluency, above all other criteria.
Van Houten has been doing everything she can to comply with the district’s rules, and come tomorrow morning, all Kindergarten through fifth grade EL students at the school will be pulled out of mainstream classes and sorted by their ability to speak English.
“It’s been hard,” said Van Houten’s administrative assistant.
The policy is not new one. It was established in 2000, but it wasn’t until the district settled a suit with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights last year that LA Unified decided to enforce having segregated classrooms for non-English speakers. The lawsuit accused the district of failing to provide adequate services to EL students.
Could a teacher strike be on the horizon?
In ratcheting up pressure on LA Unified to negotiate for salary increases for its members, UTLA President Warren Fletcher is raising the specter of a strike as a way to force the issue.
He writes in the latest issue of the union’s monthly, United Teacher, “In any escalating series of labor actions, the final step, the ultimate weapon, is a strike. This is a step that is never taken lightly, and that, of course, is never entered into without overwhelming member support.”
It’s not the first time he raised the possibility.
In advocating for a union initiative back earlier this year that called for an array of changes, he cited for the same “escalating actions” for teacher raises as well as rehiring recession-RIFed teachers.
But the “single focus” of a union-planned rally at LA Unified headquarters on Nov. 13, as he wrote in United Teacher and in his President’s Perspective on the UTLA website, is to press for salary increases this year. There was no mention of rehiring teachers, which is an issue that has the support of Superintendent John Deasy while the school board favors bringing back teachers.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher
The governing body of the LA teachers union last night voted to seek out a state lawmaker to sponsor legislation that rewrites California’s parent trigger law, which allows for wholesale changes at a school if a majority of parents want them.
The state law, passed in 2010, was used for the first time this year in a handful of Los Angeles area schools, but in describing the rationale of the union’s House of Representatives vote, UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the current law pits parent groups against each other, a “balkanization” that does not serve the interest of all parents at the school.
“The current law is premised on the idea that someone has to be blamed and we have to go after the culprit,” Fletcher told LA School Report today. “We believe collaboration goes a lot farther than balkanization.”
Fletcher said it’s usually UTLA’s statewide affiliates, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association, that lobby for new laws. But because “so much of the effect” of the parent trigger law can come in LA Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, he said, “we feel the need to take the lead in pursuing it.”
UTLA President Warren Fletcher
The Los Angeles teachers union will ask the LA Unified Board of Education to temporarily suspend the two most recent rounds of teacher dismissals, which the board approved in closed sessions this month and last month.
“Teachers want to make sure that if there are any bad guys in the classroom, that they stop being in the classroom,” union President Warren Fletcher, said in an interview. “But this system leads to many innocent educators being scooped up in the dragnet.”
Every time a teacher is fired in California, local school boards meet behind closed doors to review the dismissals. These meetings are often pro forma; the LAUSD board routinely votes unanimously to approve all of the recommended firings.
A group of UTLA activists is up in arms over the Sept. 17 board meeting, when, according to Fletcher, the dismissal of over 30 teachers was approved. UTLA activists have taken to calling the day “Black Tuesday.”
“The teachers did not know that their names were coming up,” said, Scott Mandel, a member of the UTLA board. ”None of them had gotten previous notification at all. And the board accepted their dismissal recommendation without comment, and nobody questioned anything. They didn’t see the other side, they didn’t see any defense.”
Caputo-Pearl, left, phone-banking for Steve Zimmer in March
The first step of running for office is raising money, and the UTLA Presidential election is no exception. In an email to would-be supporters this week, candidate Alex Caputo-Pearl set a fundraising goal of $100,000 by the end of the year for his slate of seven candidates, dubbed “Union Power.”
“The Union Power slate has the kind of broad-based support that gives us a real opportunity to win this election,” he said in the email. “It is, however, going to take major funding to do it.”
The email was sharply critical of the current wave of “school reform” thinking, or what Caputo-Pearl calls the “run schools like businesses” approach, “with test scores being viewed as the bottom line.” The email makes no mention of his chief rival and incumbent, Warren Fletcher, viewed by many as the slight favorite to be re-elected for a second three-year term.
Outsider candidate David Garcia said in a recent interview that he will not raise or spend any money. He contends that spending $100,000 has become typical in recent UTLA elections, and that, ”for last five cycles, the slate that has spent the most amount of money has won.”
Anyone can contribute to a candidate for UTLA office, although only UTLA members vote. The elections are set to take place in February.
Previous posts: Another Candidate Emerges to Challenge for UTLA Presidency; UTLA Factions Lining Up to Oust Fletcher as President; ‘Political Season’ Starting with UTLA Leadership Conference; Union President Likely Faces 2014 Challengers; Union President Volunteers for Pay Cut
Superintendent John Deasy, left, UTLA President Warren Fletcher, right
The Los Angeles teachers union said today that LA Unified’s application for a federal Race to the Top grant had “so many glaring problems” that the union could not support it.
This was the second straight year the union refused to sign off on the district’s application, which was unanimously approved by the school board. Union participation is a federal requirement for submission.
Tamar Galatzan, an LA Unified Board member, called the union’s decision “a travesty,” adding: ”This district is still woefully short of funds,” she said in a statement. “To turn down millions in funding for our neediest and most at-risk students at a time like this is inexcusable. Our mission is to serve students above all else, and this action did not do that.”
Board member Monica Garcia agreed, saying, “Children lose when leadership stands in opposition rather than finding solutions to work together for the benefit of our children and communities.”
A statement from the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, said union officials last month expressed concerns with the district about the grant proposal and said the district “did not collaborate” with union president Warren Fletcher, who was only presented the proposal a day before the deadline.
The election campaign for president of the teachers union, UTLA, has expanded with a third candidate entering the race, joining the incumbent, Warren Fletcher, and a previously-announced challenger, Alex Caputo-Pearl, a member of the Progressive Educators for Action caucus within the union.
The new candidate, David Garcia, is a former Navy corpsman and veteran of the first Gulf War who was a high school art teacher until he was laid off in 2010 because of budget cuts.
Now a substitute teacher, Garcia has begun sending emailing flyers with a 14-point campaign plank, which includes promises to lower union dues, to make all officer and board meetings open to the public and to prohibit consecutive terms for UTLA officers.
He’s also pledging to do the job for only $10 an hour, which calculates to about $18,200 a year, about a fifth of Fletcher’s annual salary.
As a frequent speaker at school board meetings, wearing black wraparound sunglasses, Garcia has been deeply critical of LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy. And now he’s taking shots at his campaign opponents.
“Everyone knows that LAUSD is wanting to privatize the school district,” Garcia told LA School Report. ”That’s fine, it’s phenomenon that’s going nationwide. Everyone wants to vilify LAUSD, but it takes two to tango. The union hasn’t been doing a good job defending our teachers.”
A proposal to require the Los Angeles teachers union (UTLA) to adopt an online voting system for electing its leaders has qualified as a ballot measure (see petition wording here), LA School Report has learned. It must now be taken to the rank and file for a vote.
Megan Markevich, a middle school English teacher who has been a key sponsor of the initiative, said the proposal’s backers are aiming to “eliminate a lot of hurdles” to teacher participation and low turnout that plagues union elections. “Not enough voices are being heard from our dues paying members,” she said in an interview.
The initiative marks only the third time that members have used an obscure provision in the UTLA constitution that allows a petition with 500 verified signatures to be brought directly before the union membership for approval. Most decisions are reached through UTLA’s elected governing bodies, the House of Representatives, the Board of Directors and Board Officers.
An informal conference to discuss a possible settlement in one of the teachers union’s unfair labor practice charges against the LA Unified School District has been postponed; it was supposed to have taken place Thursday. It’s not clear when the sides will meet.
The union filed the action in June with the Public Employee Relations Board (or PERB), objecting to the new teacher evaluation system set up by Superintendent John Deasy, which will, in part, use student test scores. (Of course, there may not be any test scores this year, but that’s a different story.) If the two sides don’t reach a settlement, the case will move to a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The teachers union filed two other unfair labor practice charges in September, over teachers that were separated from their classrooms at Crenshaw High School and City of Angels Independent Study School.
Previous posts: UTLA Files Action Against District Over Teacher Evaluations*; Teachers Union Files Two More Unfair Labor Practice Charges*; District Urges Board to Dismiss Union’s Unfair Practice Charge
The LA Unified school board voted, again, to delay its final decision on crafting and approving the $113 million Common Core budget for at least another week. The money comes from the state and is intended to help school districts transition over the next two years to the new curriculum.
It appeared to be a poke in the eye to Superintendent John Deasy, who had presented the Common Core budget at last month’s Board meeting, with roughly 75 percent of it allocated for teacher training. With input from board members, Deasy’s staff radically altered the plan to give individual schools greater control over the money — under the new version of the budget, each school would receive $70 per student.
“The feedback we got from last board meeting was a desire to have more school-based allocation,” said Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino.
Meeting tomorrow for thesecond time in the new school year, the LA Unified school board will plunge back into a thorny debate over how to spend millions of new dollars flowing into the district from the state.
It might not be pretty.
Superintendent John Deasy is expected to respond to the board’s June directive to draw up a spending plan that focuses on rehiring, specifically to return the district to pre-recession school staffing levels. But Deasy’s recommendations (see powerpoint here) may not be what the board is looking for.
He is expected argue that new money should be used, instead, to close a sizable budget gap, with any leftovers going to schools with high concentrations of low-income and English learning students, and that the board’s demand to add staff and lengthen the school year could cost more than $1 billion.
Michelle Rhee, last night in Los Angeles
Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools and a lightning rod for education reform, played to her audience of LA area teachers during a panel discussion last night at the Los Angeles Central Library, telling them that teachers need to be part of any debate about reform.
“I definitely think that teachers have felt excluded from the [reform] conversation,” said Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst, a reform group. “Most of the teachers that I’ve talked to say that they feel like the reforms are being done to them instead of with them. And I think that’s why we had to elevate the teacher voice and bring them into these policy debates.”
Just how might that happen?
Another panelist, former Washington, D.C. teachers’ union president George Parker, urged reform-minded teachers to “get active,” chiding union teachers who support reform mandates for not participating in the process and making their voices heard.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher
The teachers union has filed two unfair labor practice charges with the Public Employment Relations Board (or PERB) against the Los Angeles Unified School District over 12 teachers who have been removed from two different schools – one at City of Angels and 11 at Crenshaw High. UTLA president Warren Fletcher said at a press conference today that the teachers were reassigned because of their advocacy work on behalf of the union.
“Teachers were exiled from their school for their advocacy,” Fletcher said. “We cannot stand idly by. We need to make sure that advocacy is celebrated, not punished.
Jeff Pott, a teacher and UTLA’s chapter chair at City of Angels Independent Study School in Downtown LA, an alternative school for at-risk youth, claims he was targeted by the newly appointed principal of the school in 2012.
“I was removed specifically for my union activity,” he said.
Will teachers soon be voting on their district-bought iPads?
An initiative that would move voting by the LA teachers union from paper ballots to online has gathered enough signatures to put the change to a full membership vote, according to the architects of the proposal, Marisa Crabtree and Megan Markevich, both teachers and Teach Plus fellows.
“Our goal is to make sure that our union is representing as many people as possible,” said Crabtree, an English teacher at Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights, referring to UTLA. “It’s not about a power struggle or a political movement. It’s about making the union more receptive to the common teacher’s every day needs.”
The organizers said they collected 650 signatures, well above the 500 required to seek membership approval. Once the signatures are verified, the union has 60 days to put the measure to a vote.