By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/Y8s30m
3/23/2013 01:43:12 PM PDT :: Los Angeles Unified's 40,000 teachers will be polled next month on their confidence in Superintendent John Deasy and whether they want their union to ratchet up demands for higher pay, smaller classes and an end to many of the district's reforms.
Teachers will be asked to vote yes or no on two questions: Do they have confidence in Deasy's leadership of LAUSD? And should UTLA adopt the "Initiative for the Schools LA Students Deserve?" a plan submitted by a breakaway faction of about 1,100 union members demanding more aggressive negotiations on disputed issues.
Ballots were distributed last week to United Teachers Los Angeles representatives. Voting will take place on local campuses from April 2-10, with the results announced on April 11.
To view the UTLA's "Initiative for the Schools L.A. Students Deserve" plan, visit utla.net/initiative
Backed by the signatures of some 1,130 members, the initiative demands that union leaders negotiate with the district on a slate of issues, rather than tackling the topics one at a time. It also calls for mobilizing members to "a series of escalating actions, including preparing to strike if necessary, to fight for the demands of the campaign."
In addition, the plan says UTLA should collaborate with parents, students and education advocates as a "force for positive school change."
While some view the initiative as being critical of UTLA President Warren Fletcher, the head of the 40,000-member union has endorsed the plan. Fletcher did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but posted a statement on the UTLA website recommending a "yes" vote.
"We must now mobilize together to force the district to restore class sizes, to restore our RIF'd colleagues to their jobs, and (of course) to increases certificated salaries," Fletcher wrote.
Tim Delia, who sits on UTLA's the board of directors, posted an argument saying the plan should be defeated because some portions are too vague, while others simply underscore existing policy.
UTLA will also vote on their opinion of Deasy, whose aggressive efforts to reform the district have divided union membership.
The confidence vote on Deasy was originally scheduled for January, when it was billed as an opportunity to rate the superintendent's performance. The vote was cancellened shortly before March 8 school board election, which became a referendum on Deasy and his agenda.
Now, results of the balloting will be released about five weeks before a May 21 runoff between two candidates to represent the East San Fernando Valley.
While the union hasn't said publicly what it intends to do with the results, it's very clear how leaders want their members to vote.
"Who has Deasy's ear?" the union asks on its website. "Is it the parents, teachers and health and human services professionals who are in schools every day ... or is it his billionaire businessmen mentors?"
UTLA also asks members to send in examples of "how Deasy's decisions have hurt our schools."
Deasy said he had no comment on the confidence poll.
School board member Steve Zimmer - the UTLA-backed incumbent who held off a challenge by a reform candidate whose campaign spent $2 million to defeat him - questioned whether years-long financial crisis may skew the election results.
"Certainly, the prerogative of any labor organization is to poll its members on the most important and salient issues facing the membership," said Zimmer, a former high school teacher and counselor.
"My concern is that the poll is too close to the crisis and the layoffs that resulted for there to be any substantive analysis."
Still, Zimmer said, it's important for the school board to understand teachers' concerns and their lack of confidence in the administration.
"While I am supportive of the superindency and the superintendent, I absolutely reserve the right to dissent, disagree or even organize against certain policies," Zimmer said. "Having information about the overall confidence of the teaching corps is important for any board."
The two candidates for the District 6 runoff, who each have a UTLA endorsement, said they'll be keeping a close eye on the union vote.
"I hope the message gets through that as many teachers as possible should vote," said candidate Monica Ratliff, who teaches at San Pedro Elementary and sits on UTLA's House of Representatives.
"The board should have a sense of teacher morale and what's important to teachers. But In order for the poll to have validity, a large number of teachers need to vote."
Ratliff said she supports the initiative's goal of collaboration, and hopes UTLA and the district can find common ground.
"As a (school) board member, I'm never going to say that a strike would be beneficial to students," she said. "My hope would be that UTLA would attempt to negotiate in a manner that would not require a strike."
District 6 opponent Antonio Sanchez said he hopes results of the UTLA poll will pave the way for constructive conversations.
"I'm obviously interested in what the teachers have to say," said Sanchez, who also has the support of the well-funded Coalition for School Reform. "The superintendent's actions should be evaluated as to his effectiveness in helping children get a good education.
"I hope this results in positive dialogue and takes out the political back and forth. The infighting just gets in the way of our progress."
Deasy took the helm of Los Angeles Unified nearly two years ago, at the height of the budget crisis. In November 2011, he and Fletcher announced an "unprecedented" initiative that empowered teachers to help turn around struggling schools.
At the time, Deasy and Fletcher each said they hoped to build a collaborative working relationship.
Since then, however, the two have been at odds over Deasy's efforts to link student test scores and teacher performance, and to take over struggling campuses.