Two years later, teachers fighting changes at Crenshaw High
Vanessa Romo | September 11, 2014
A labor board hearing opened yesterday with a dozen LA Unified teachers, including UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, claiming the district used the reorganization of Crenshaw High School in 2012 to rid the campus of active union leaders who posed a threat to Superintendent John Deasy.
The teachers union filed the unfair labor practice charge against the district and Deasy a year ago, after Crenshaw was split into three magnet schools, a restructuring the 12 teachers vehemently and publicly fought against. As a result, they argue, Deasy specifically targeted them for removal from the school, forcing them to find jobs elsewhere in the district.
“This is a case about discrimination and retaliation,” UTLA attorney Dana Martinez said in her opening statement. “As the evidence will reveal, his comments will clearly demonstrate his motivation to get rid of union supporters who challenged him.”
As it happens, the hearing before the state Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, comes as UTLA is trying to win a new labor contract from the district. Caputo-Pearl and Deasy are among the chief strategists in negotiations that have barely progressed despite a handful of meetings.
Caputo-Pearl has linked the PERB hearing to other disputes between the union and Deasy, calling the superintendent’s actions at Crenshaw “Another Autocratic Deasy Decision,” as a headline on the UTLA website says. Caputo-Pearl has also called Deasy’s handing of the district’s iPad program and the student-tracking system (MiSiS) “autocratic.” And then there are the contract negotiations, which have gone nowhere.
Caputo-Pearl, who taught at Crenshaw for 12 years, was among those who were sent packing when Crenshaw was reorganized. During that time Caputo-Pearl, co-founded the Social Justice and Law Academy at the high school, implemented the Extended Learning Cultural Model, and was largely responsible for attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside grant money to the school.
But attorneys representing the district balked at the idea that Deasy would undertake the magnet conversion, which required nearly all employees to reapply for their jobs, just to eliminate a handful of teachers. The district contends that Crenshaw was a failing school making “minuscule and insignificant” progress.
“The notion that this was used as a reason to make staffing changes that somehow retaliated against individuals is a very cynical view,” said attorney Aram Kouyoumdjian, who is representing the district. “Because the alternate view was the district should have let Crenshaw remain a failing school and leave the staffing there and structure there intact.”
Further, he argued, it was school principal Remon Corely and not Deasy who had final say over the hiring process. The teachers behind the complaint were not rehired for a multitude of reasons, completely unrelated to union activity, Kouyoumdjian explained. Those not asked to return demonstrated differences in ideology, opposition to magnet schools, a reluctance to undergo rigorous training or an unwillingness to adapt to the new direction the district was trying to take.
An administrative judge will decide the case. If UTLA wins, teachers want the option of taking their old jobs back, compensation for lost wages and attorneys fees, and an electronic posting from the district to all union bargaining members.
Caputo-Pearl was the first to testify yesterday. Over several hours he meticulously discussed his role as a leading figure at the school, his involvement in organizing protests and rallies against the “magnetization,” and several confrontations with Deasy.
In a meeting about the impending conversion held by the late school board member Marguerite LaMotte, Prinicpal Corely and Deasy, Caputo-Pearl explicitly recalled the superintendent saying, “Those who fit with the program or were a good fit would be accepted back to Crenshaw High School.”
Then, according to Caputo-Pearl, Deasy added, “let’s not have a war at this school.”
Caputo-Pearl will continue his testimony today. A final ruling is expected in two weeks.