by Andres Chavez, San Fernando Valley Sun Staff Reporter
Wednesday, 23 September 2009 -- About 75 extremely angry substitute teachers demonstrated in front of their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, headquarters Tuesday evening. They claim that UTLA President A.J. Duffy betrayed them in a back room deal with LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, by, in effect, firing 6,000 substitute teachers in favor of teachers with less seniority.
Dave Peters, Substitute committee Chairman, shows UTLA president A.J. Duffy's failing report card.>>
Dave Peters, Chairman-Substitute committee, denounced Duffy's decision as illegal because it didn't have the approval of union representatives. "He was supposed to involve myself, as a representative of the substitutes," Peters said, "He did this in secret, in a back room deal with Superintendent Cortines. He hid it away from view. He had this in mind, I guess, for months.He didn't announce it until a couple of weeks ago. There's been no jobs in the summer and now there's no jobs when school started."
Duffy denies that there was any back room deal but acknowledges that the jobs of less-experienced teachers have been saved. He claims that it was to soften the blow of teacher layoffs in some of the worst schools in the district, "The schools with the greatest need," Duffy said.
Mike Christ has been a career substitute teacher in LAUSD for 11 years. He's subbed at San Fernando High School, Sylmar High School, Verdugo Hills High School, Pacoima Middle School, among others in all subjects, grade 6-12. Known as Mr.Mike to his students, he said the younger teachers don't have the classroom management skills that the more senior substitute teachers have.
"I get a lot of respect from the students. When I'm in the classroom, I make sure they learn something. One year, out of 12, of a student's education is spent with a substitute teacher. Let's remember that substitute teachers are college educated. They must pass certain requirement testing to teach for Los Angeles Unified School District. So we are professionals," he said.
Mr. Mike contends that career substitute teachers can provide continuity to students. "I received a requested assignment at San Fernando High school and there were students there from the feeder middle schools where I had substituted. The first greeting I got was 'Hello,Mr.Mike, how are you?'So they felt a comfort level with me being their teacher," he said.
The plan being implemented by LAUSD, with UTLA's concurrence, does away with the seniority system for substitutes by giving the younger teachers who've been laid off preference in substitute hiring. Unless a teacher is specifically requested by a school, the younger teacher will get the first opportunity at the job. The situation is further complicated by the district's requirement that a substitute must work a 100 days during the school year to qualify for health insurance.
"If I don't get enough work because of the laid off teachers that have been put in the substitute pool above the career substitute teachers, I stand to lose my health benefits, let alone the financial implications of not having a job. I only get paid when I work," Mr. Mike said.
Peters said many substitute teachers have had to get other jobs or go on unemployment. "It's a very tenuous existence. A lot of us are basically without any sustenance. (For me personally) It's very hand-to mouth. In other words, I have no savings, nothing in reserve. I don't even know if I can pay the rent," Peter said, "There's a story of one attempted suicide. It's just a total economic disaster."
These concerns fueled the anger at the demonstration on Tuesday. Some carried reports cards for Duffy which gave him straight Fs in Truthfulness, Honesty, Reliability and Trustworthiness. "It's one thing to protest the District when they do something but this is our own union that threw 6,000 of us teachers under the bus. He threw us to the wolves," Peters said.
Some of the demonstrators were allowed to attend a regularly scheduled UTLA meeting where their concerns where added as the last item on the agenda. The press was barred from the meeting.
However, Howard Meibach, who has spent 12 years as a substitute teacher, did attend the meeting. He said the substitutes "vented" and there was a lot of angry back and forth as they grilled Duffy as to why he gave their jobs away. Duffy claimed he was working the District to try and save their health benefits.
"But when the substitutes asked him, 'Exactly how are you doing it, how are you going to accomplish it?' he didn't have any kind of plan. He was very vague about it, he just said he was working with the district. But he doesn't have a plan," Meibach said.
Meiback says that many of the regular teachers are supporting the substitutes, something Duffy did anticipate. Mei back feels that the union is being divided by Duffy's actions at a time when UTLA really needs to be united. "He didn't think of the long term effects, only the short term goals.," he said.
The substitutes are planning another demonstration and press conference on September 22 at 5:30 PM. in front of UTLA headquarters.