Lauren Mendoza| USC ANNENBERG
February 19, 2009 10:26 PM - United Teachers Los Angeles' Secondary Vice President Gregg Solkovits tried to ease the nerves of concerned teachers, or as he called them "teachers on the chopping block," at an informational meeting in the San Fernando Valley Thursday just a week after teachers rallied against budget cuts to education.
"We can't predict the future," said Solkovits. "We don't know if our school district will chose to make plan to make our schools a priority [but] we want to give you as much information as possible to lower your anxiety."
As the rain poured down in the North Hills, damp teachers filled the auditorium worried about their job security and unknown of what information this meeting would provide them. Teachers from local schools around the Valley gathered in small groups and sat next to each other nervously chit-chatting about their concerns.
Roman Medeces, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, said he felt "unsafe" and felt like he and other teachers were being left in the dark of the whole process.
"I'm really insecure and sometimes I don't feel protected by the district," Medeces said. "Everyday it's a new challenge of whether we have our jobs or not."
The gloomy grey day seemed fitting for the teacher's dismal demeanor that hovered over the auditorium prior to the meeting. Even though the union was hopeful there wouldn't be any jobs lost Solkovitz wanted to make sure teachers like Medeces were informed and felt unified through their union.
"We're fighting for a change of priorities in the district. And for the first time in months, there is a sense of urgency on the district's part," he said.
Last Thursday thousands of teachers rallied to oppose education budget cuts at Pershing Square. These cuts are not only expected to increase class sizes but also threaten the jobs of countless first and second year teachers with the least experience. And as contract negotiations continue to be stalled, it only prolongs the problem.
Solkovits congratulated the 15,000 union members that marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to speak out against the LAUSD and Gov. Schwarzenegger. When Solkovits asked the teachers at the meeting who participated at the rally, every hand in the audience of 60 was raised as Solkovits and other UTLA organizers clapped.
Solkovits reminded teachers to keep pressure on the LAUSD by boycotting faculty meetings even if there are retaliations.
"Many of your principals have been doing the right thing and just not having faculty meetings because god knows we can't live without faculty meetings," he said as laughs broke out from the crowd. "And you may get a write up. They may start docking you hours of pay for doing it."
Solkovits also asked teachers not to turn in periodic assessment tests to the district as another means to flex the power of unity.
"We are sending a message here, folks. We spend 13 percent of your teaching time giving tests. We give so many tests and it's insulting to us as teachers," Solkovits said. "Our textbooks come with tests, we write our own tests. Why do we have to pay some outside flunky who probably hasn't taught for years to write a test to make us give that has no relevance to our teaching?"
And there has been talk of teachers going on strike during the district's excessive standardized testing period.
"If we got to the point where there's going to be a strike, I'm personally arguing to strike during standardized testing. If there only to force us out on strike because they refuse to bargain in good faith we've got to go on strike in a time that will hurt the district the most," he said.
As teachers dispersed from the meeting they were more informed but still outraged and frustrated with their situation.
Jackie Novack an Elementary school teacher with the LAUSD said she and other teachers have been on a "rollercoaster ride" over the past few months.
"It's been very nerve-racking," she said. "It's really a shame that they are targeting teachers and children."
Novack who taught in another state had to go through an additional credential program to teach in California now only to be concerned whether she'll continue to have a job.
"I finally get to be a teacher, which is really what I love to do and to have that possibly taken away is very stressful," said Novack.
William Mitchell, a second year fifth grade teacher said this extra mess has him stressed.
"It's hard because I just want to be in the classroom teaching," he said.
The final words Solkovits left the group of weary teachers with was to stay strong and united.
"Do not let the district scare you. The stronger UTLA is, folks, the fewer layoffs there will be because the UTLA will say at the contract table you don't cut the classes you cut the freakin' bureaucracy at the main district, cut the bureaucracy downtown first."
Solkovits is the UTLA Secondary Vice President. He has attended schools in the San Fernando Valley from elementary school to college, where he attended Cal State Northridge and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science.
Solkovits is credentialed in four subjects and taught nearly 38 subjects at Monroe High School, including AP U.S. Government and AP Comparative Government. He also served as Monroe's Professional Development Committee as Social Studies Department chair and as an SLC lead teacher.
At the UTLA Solkovits has served more than 10 years as Monroe High School Chapter Chair, more than 24 years as member of UTLA House of Representatives and more than 20 years as member of UTLA Board of Directors.
Subject Testing Stats - Source: Los Angeles Times/LAUSD