As campaigning begins in earnest at United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the second-largest teachers union in the country, the election for the presidency could be as much about ideology as which candidate has more foot-soldiers.
The union has shown signs of deep fracture lately, and with just 20 percent of the union’s 35,000 members expected to vote, the winner’s message will have to capture the votes of just a couple thousand teachers, in a long and drawn out process that begins on Feb. 25, and might not end until spring.
At the same time, with the union facing declining enrollment and revenue, the race is set to highlight a debate raging about its role, goals and tactics: should it stick to bread and butter issues of pay and contracts, or expand its mission to tackle race and equity? How confrontational should it be?
At this early juncture, 10 candidates, all of them men, are vying for attention in the first round of balloting (see ballot order here). Here’s a snapshot look at them:
As current president of UTLA, Fletcher has both the advantages and disadvantages of the incumbency. He’s become the target of left-leaning activists who see him as too moderate and unwilling use tactics like strikes and protests.
But at the first presidential candidate forum, Fletcher defended his leadership, saying that members are better off today than they were when he took office. As achievements, he pointed to furlough days being eliminated, the district’s putting a stop to annual RIF cycles, and that both Adult and Early Education were saved from complete elimination. He also pointed to the cap placed on the Public School Choice program (which allowed failing schools to be reconstituted as charters), and how he campaigned on behalf of two school board members – Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff – against reform backed candidates. He’s advocated for a pay hike and pressed the district to rehire teachers.
In 2011, Fletcher defeated seven other candidates and prevailed in a runoff, succeeding A.J. Duffy. Previously he has served on UTLA’s Board of Directors and in the House of Representatives. He started with LAUSD in 1978 as a teachers’ assistant and became a classroom teacher in 1983.
Well positioned as a formidable Fletcher opponent, Alex Caputo-Pearl is running at the top of a slate called “Union Power” – that includes seven colleagues running for other down-ballot positions.
Caputo-Pearl represents a faction within UTLA that is clamoring to push the union to the left. The platform includes social equity issues, creating a “credible threat of a strike”; a pushback on Breakfast in the Classroom; and a double digit salary increase. Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report last year that current leadership is “overwhelmingly defensive and reactive … taking things issue by issue,” and that’s not “going to help build quality schools.”
To strengthen UTLA’s leverage, Caputo-Pearl says he will develop a coalition branch and a communications department and will cultivate a team of researchers and experts “to frame the debate” on big issues like the Common Core.
Caputo-Pearl is currently a member of the UTLA Board of Directors and a teacher at Frida Kahlo High School. He spent more than half of his 22 years of teaching at Crenshaw High School, where he started the Coalition for Educational Justice. As a vocal opponent of reconstituting Crenshaw after it was found to be failing by the district, he was not rehired by the new administration. Website: unionpower2014.org
Now in his second term as UTLA Secondary Vice-President, Solkovits is well known figure within the union – his mother served as UTLA president starting in 1979, and he has held numerous leadership roles within UTLA.
Solkovits is seen as a moderate, and talks about trying to find new voices and ideas from union membership. “There are a lot of younger teachers, people with divergent points of view,” he tells LA School Report. “We need to listen to them.” On his website he says he will “appoint a diverse body of activists to propose changes to position UTLA for the fights of the future.”
At the first candidate forum, Solkovits argued it’s time to update UTLA’s governing structures and constitution. “The constitution was written in 1969 . . . and it sets up a system where there are a lot of chiefs without much input from average members.”
“I would get rid of it, rewrite it, and make it easier to pass motions.”
The position Solkovits is vacating to run for president will be the only open seat. Solkovits has been an LA Unified high school teacher for 28 years.