Our strategy to autocracy: shared decision-making
By Alex Caputo-Pearl; The Presidents’ Perspective from United Teacher / United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA) | http://bit.ly/1smsbu5
19 September 2014 :: My wife comes home sometimes from her shifts as a labor-and-delivery nurse in downtown L.A. with stories of how our work lives intersect — former students of mine from Crenshaw High spending the day with her as they prepare to give birth, laughing through the pain about how any “Caputo-Pearls” they find must be related to each other. We always smile about these interactions.
There’s another way our work intersects. Over years in schools and hospitals, my wife and I find ourselves under similarly autocratic, corporate-style management. This is ironic because you can’t find two things that should be more collaboration-based than education and child birth.
Here at UTLA, in our first 11 weeks, working with a great team of officers, directors, and members like you across the city, we’ve highlighted John Deasy’s autocratic management that does damage to students, communities, and educators. We’ve highlighted this through demanding that he place himself in “teacher jail” while he is under investigation, among other things. But, in order to win our demands in the Schools L.A. Students Deserve campaign, highlighting autocracy must be embedded within a broader strategy.
<<UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl
The strategy must highlight an alternative to autocracy: shared decision-making. Even if John Deasy leaves Los Angeles, the Broad Foundation and other anti-union, privatizing entities will have other superintendents lined up to continue the autocracy and continue pushing the well-funded national agenda that is behind the Vergara suit, the corporate charter movement, and more. To push for shared decision-making in this context, no matter who the superintendent is, our broader strategy must include member organizing, public relations, bargaining, political action, and, critically, parent/community organizing.
Building confidence among members
We started simple on our broader strategy. Over the course of a thrilling 19-day School Site Visit Blitz, UTLA officers, board members, and staff visited almost 500 schools. We immersed ourselves in what is the key to building power: member-to-member dialogue and organizing at work sites. Heather Vibbert, a dynamic leader at Marina Del Rey Middle School, said in a blitz visit, “I’m glad we’re fighting to reduce class size. It’s unbelievable that the District wanted us to be quiet about contractual class-size violations—we won’t be quiet.” Lorena Santos, a UTLA and social justice activist from Marina Del Rey, summed it up this way: “Educators are feeling a level of excitement and confidence I’ve simply not seen before.”
Framing the public debate
John Deasy’s autocratic behavior reflects a pattern. He singularly defended the iPad project against charges that he should not be using bonds to fund it, while many of our highest-need schools went without bond money to make repairs. Deasy personally defended the project against charges that it promotes a testing agenda rather than a critical-thinking agenda (most students who have touched an iPad, like my son in fifth grade at a great LAUSD school, have done so only on standardized testing days). And now, Deasy continues to be the project’s biggest champion amidst a scandal about the legality of the bidding process.
With MiSiS, countless stakeholders requested that Deasy not roll the program out this year because of bugs. Deasy moved forward anyway, causing continuing chaos in the first weeks of school. It is tragic that a superintendent who claims to be on the forefront of expanding college access implemented a program that forced Jefferson High students, in the heart of South L.A. and facing the sharpest edge of institutional racism, to stage a walkout protesting MiSiS’s computer errors, which had them in incorrect classes.
John Deasy promotes other autocratic projects. TGDC has been implemented unilaterally. Educators continue to languish in “teacher jail,” often without knowing the allegations against them. Top-down restructurings of schools continue, including reconstitutions where all staff must reapply.
On these issues, UTLA is now framing the debate, challenging Deasy’s unilateralism with clear demands:
- Fully investigate the iPad project and take measures against wrongdoing.
- Withdraw the MiSiS gradebook requirement, compensate work on MiSiS outside the work day, provide coverage for educators to enter student data, postpone norm day, suspend TGDC, provide IT support, and form an ongoing LAUSD Technology Committee with parents to vet all technology projects.
- End the current “teacher jail” policy and collaboratively develop a policy that protects student safety while simultaneously protecting the stability of student programs and employee due process.
- Stop the implementation of TGDC and bring all evaluation matters to the negotiating table.
- Stop school reconstitutions and take measures against John Deasy for using reconstitution as a vehicle to illegally target union leaders for displacement (now the subject of a PERB hearing regarding Crenshaw High).
John Deasy’s autocratic behavior around salary issues
Members are most familiar with Deasy’s autocratic behavior in the debate around pay. Deasy has used District resources— r obo-calls and mass emails — to deceptively promote what he calls an 8.6% raise offer. We know it is a 2% offer.
UTLA has again framed the debate. The District ended the 2013-14 school year with $507 million in its unrestricted reserves — existing money that can be used for various purposes. This is a whopping 9% of the District’s budget, when it is only required by law to have 2% in its reserves. Moreover, between 2013-14 and 2014-15, there has been a double-digit increase in monies coming into LAUSD from the state through average daily attendance. And, between 2013-14 and 2014-15, there was an over 100% increase in funding devoted to “professional and consulting services,” money spent far away from students and classrooms. The money is clearly there for a substantial raise and to meet further UTLA demands.
Moreover, John Deasy is offering educators a paltry 2% raise when they have been without one for seven years, and when they have taken close to 8% in cuts to keep the District afloat during the recession. Meanwhile, Deasy has received a 19% raise over the last three years, plus tens of thousands of additional dollars in his compensation package.
John Deasy now faces the annual review of his contract. As he did last year, Deasy is complaining that he won’t get a fair hearing from the School Board. Again, this is an instance where John Deasy must play by his own rules—be accountable for your actions.
Our strategy to win a good contract
Our biggest goal is to win a good contract for our members and for students. We want a contract that reduces class size, restores and increases pay, increases staffing, promotes a well-rounded curriculum for students of all ages, ends teacher jail, promotes fair evaluation, allows educators and parents to lead in professional development and school improvement, assists high-needs schools, meets the social and emotional needs of students, and maintains employee benefits. It is critical that we fight for a broad package of demands because that reflects what our members want, and it increases our power because it motivates all members and parents to participate. Moreover, fighting for a broad package prevents us from ceding the debate on any issue to LAUSD, thereby protecting us from an undermining dynamic that will weaken all demands at the negotiating table, including pay. For example, if the District ties a demand around evaluation to a pay offer (as Deasy has done), and UTLA does not have its own strong, proactive demand around evaluation, LAUSD will use that at the table and in the public to force our pay demand down.
UTLA has taken control of bargaining by “sunshining” our proposals at the School Board (publicly declaring intent to bargain around issues). Moreover, as this issue of UNITED TEACHER goes to print, more than 700 site leaders are preparing to attend UTLA’s Leadership Conference, the largest conference in several years. These leaders will examine the results of our citywide bargaining survey and will emerge from the conference with more focused bargaining proposals and strategies to organize. To support the organizing:
- Wear red shirts on September 30 to show citywide resolve.
- Participate in a series of escalating actions in support of our contract demands, between October and February, including actions at the local site, within clusters of schools, by region, and citywide.
- Work with your site’s parent/community engagement liaison (your chapter chair will select someone) to organize small meetings with parents from your site during October and November, and to bring parents to broader regional meetings in November and December.
- Participate in forums in which candidates for School Board will be asked to publicly support our Schools L.A. Students Deserve demands.
Just like my wife’s union will not be able to push back on autocracy in health care without an organized fight, we will not be able to win a good contract without all of us being involved in organizing. Autocracy doesn’t concede to union presidents making clever arguments in small negotiation rooms — it concedes to the organized power of a great number of people, in our case, to the organized power of educators, parents, community, youth, and unions together. Let’s continue to organize and win the schools our students deserve!