Thursday, December 16, 2010


L.A. teachers union won't accept pay cuts, 'value-added' evaluations

UTLA leaders dispute criticisms from the mayor and others, but reiterate their firm opposition to furloughs, larger classes and use of students' test scores to evaluate teachers' performance.

Teachers union

Teachers and parents applaud UTLA Vice President Julie Washington, right, at a news conference. She said the union was "setting the record straight" after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accused teachers of obstructing school reform. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / December 15, 2010)

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

December 16, 2010 - The state's largest teachers union Wednesday fired an early salvo in contract negotiations, serving notice that it wouldn't accept pay cuts easily and that it won't consider linking teacher evaluations to student test scores in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The afternoon news conference, at union headquarters in Koreatown, was a familiar exercise in rallying the rank and file. But it also marked a renewed effort to lead the public debate over school reform, coming shortly after L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa labeled United Teachers Los Angeles the primary obstacle to improving schools.

The union "today is setting the record straight," said vice president Julie Washington, who heads the union's negotiating team and is running for president. "We are not the villains of education. We are the solution. We are dedicated and care about the children and the community. … We are going on the record pushing back."

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The union contract expires at the end of June, but both the district and the union can reopen the current contract on a few selected issues.

Top union priorities include resisting class-size increases and restoring the five days cut from the current school year through employee furloughs, Washington said. The former would spare teachers from layoffs; the latter would return teacher pay to prior levels. Washington insisted that the underlying goal is to promote the best interests of students as well as employees.

Washington didn't completely rule out furlough days but she echoed the union call of past years as she challenged the district to "open its books" and cut out waste and high-priced consultants.

District officials countered that they face a projected $142-million deficit for next year — and that seven furlough days would only make up $97 million.

The nation's second-largest school system already has laid off about 5,000 employees since July 1, 2009, and reduced pay for thousands of others.

The union remained firm on another point: No part of teachers' evaluations should be based on their students' standardized test scores, said treasurer David Goldberg. The union supports using data to improve instruction, he added, and wants to fix a broken teacher evaluation system.

The district wants test scores to count for at least 30% of evaluations through a "value-added" system that measures student improvement, taking into account past performance. Some unions elsewhere have accepted value-added formulas as one measure of teacher effectiveness.

The union also took a swipe at a proposed lawsuit settlement that aims to prevent a school's staff from being decimated by layoffs based on seniority. The union has defended traditional seniority rules.

The best solution would be to avoid having schools staffed with mostly new teachers — who are the first to be laid off, said Kirti Baranwal, a teacher at Samuel Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles. Gompers was among three middle schools especially hard-hit by layoffs.

Baranwal credited the mayor's education team for giving teachers at some schools under its control the freedom to make strides. But she said the mayor himself is "speaking from a lack of knowledge of what's going on at his own schools."

Teachers union officials say they are not 'villains of education'

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

12/15/2010 07:06:48 PM PST - After receiving several public bashings amid unprecedented political and community pressure for school reform, leaders of the Los Angeles teacher's union said Wednesday that they are not "the villains of education."

Union leaders also laid out their plan to push for teacher-led reforms, as they prepare for a new round of salary negotiations with school district officials.

The teachers union has faced growing criticism in recent months from Los Angeles Unified officials, community groups and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for opposing key proposals for school improvement, including key changes to teacher evaluations and the hiring and firing process of educators.

At a news conference Wednesday, labor leaders denounced the idea that they are "defenders of the status quo."

"Too often we are painted as greedy and uncaring, well today, we are setting the record straight.. that is not true and we are pushing back," said Julie Washington, a vice-president for United Teachers Los Angeles.

Facing one of the toughest rounds of contract negotiations to date, UTLA leaders said they want LAUSD to stabilize schools by reducing staff layoffs. Union leaders also said they wanted to push for more freedom for educators to decide how they teach state required subjects and how they measure student success.

"District mandated programs have killed ingenuity," said teacher Queena Kim, who works at the UCLA Community School in Koreatown. However, union leaders maintained their opposition to using test scores and to the elimination of the seniority system, which forces the district to keep teachers who have worked with LAUSD the longest, regardless of performance, during layoffs.

In an interview this week, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he saw the union as a critical and integral part of the district, however he said recently his own negotiation invitations to labor leaders have gone ignored.

"I've always felt the union has to be a part of the reform agenda," Cortines said. "But they cannot continue to stonewall."

Union leaders said they have not turned down any district negotiation meetings.

Some in the community though have grown increasingly impatient with the union, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who last week blasted the teacher's union as "one unwavering roadblock to reform."

"We all welcome a more progressive teachers union in Los Angeles .... but up until now they have been the party of no," said LAUSD school board member Yolie Flores.

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