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CCSA paying Alliance alumni to promote anti-UTLA message

Craig Clough | May 27, 2015

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A bitter war of words between the management of  Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and UTLA, the union trying to organize its teachers, got nastier today.

UTLA accused Alliance management and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) of “anti-teacher activity” by paying alumni to call parents of students to sway their opinion against union efforts to draw the Alliance teachers into UTLA.

The CCSA confirmed that it is paying alumni to make calls, but claimed to be doing nothing wrong.

UTLA released what it said were “leaked” emails from a CCSA employee, Annie Lee, that included the script the alumni were to follow when they called the parents.

“This is sowing the seeds of distrust among parents and students,” Michael Letton, an Alliance teacher, said in a statement issued by UTLA. “This is an unethical practice. Paying alumni to read a script designed to get parents to sign a petition against their own students’ teachers infuriates me.”

Elana Goldbaum, a teacher at Alliance’s Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex who has been active in the union drive, said, “I don’t want parents to get misinformation. This is 100 percent a campaign to create fear among parents. It’s inappropriate.”

Alliance College-Ready Pubic School operates 26 charter within LA Unified, many of them high performing, and its teachers currently work independently without union representation. A group of teachers at Alliance has been working recently to organize Alliance’s 600-plus teachers to join UTLA.

In a statement, CCSA confirmed it had hired “less than 10” alumni over the age of 18 to “share information with the Alliance community about UTLA’s well documented opposition to charter public schools.” CCSA also said it had nothing to hide and objected to the emails’ being described as “leaked” or “secret.” It did not say how much the alumni were paid.

CCSA said in an email to LA School Report that it acted independently of Alliance on organizing the phone calls. The CCSA statement also said, “We contacted Alliance to ensure that our information was accurate about the Alliance so as to not misrepresent the Alliance.”

A communications representative with Alliance did not respond to a request for comment.

Alliance management has made no secret of its opposition to its teachers joining UTLA. But whether or not Alliance managers have crossed the line in trying to sway the opinion of its teachers and parents is a point of contention, as UTLA last month filed a compliant with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) accusing Alliance of illegally interfering with efforts to unionize teachers.

Alliance management, in turn, has said its efforts have been entirely legal and that it has a right to share its opinion. In response to the PERB complaint, it said it has a right “to educate administrators and teachers as to the impact of unionization.” In essence, Alliance has argued that it is not blocking or interfering with the the vote, but rather seeking to sway the voters.

UTLA says parents began receiving calls from alumni over Memorial Day weekend. The script alumni were given directs them to bring up a few key points in the conversation, including:

  •  (Unionization) would end the independence that the Alliance has to make decisions on behalf of kids.
  • If UTLA unionized at the Alliance, UTLA would get involved in decisions about how to evaluate teachers and how much learning time kids get, and class sizes.
  •  UTLA has been against charter schools and the Alliance for years. They’ve given money to candidates for the LA School Board who voted to close some Alliance Schools.
  • UTLA has supported laws that make charter schools – including the Alliance schools – harder to start and operate.

Although it includes some 1,000 charter school teachers in among its members, UTLA has consistently espoused anti-charter rhetoric and was a strong supporter of LA Unified board member Bennett Kayser, who routinely voted against charter schools on applications and renewals. Kayser recently lost his bid for reelection to Ref Rodriguez.

*UPDATED to reflect that a statement and headline attributed to Alliance was from CCSA, and that CCSA said it worked independently on the project

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