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Antonucci: California teacher union stories we have forgotten

Mike Antonucci | August 15, 2018

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

I have covered California’s teacher unions for about 25 years, so my archive is filled with many tales of humor and woe regarding their doings. As I dug through the files I came across seven sagas that have faded over time and deserve one more revival. Do you remember these?

1) In 2002, the California Teachers Association proposed a bill that would have made textbooks and curriculum a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. This met with resistance from school boards and some legislators concerned that teachers might strike over textbook adoption.

Not to worry, said CTA President Wayne Johnson. “Teachers won’t walk for anything except money,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

2) After the state’s voters handily defeated a school voucher initiative in 1993, CTA President Del Weber released a statement. “No one in CTA interprets yesterday’s vote as a mandate for ‘business as usual,’” he said. “We must reform our public schools. And we in CTA believe that we can reform them – that we can make them once more the envy of the world.”

He announced the union would “prepare a bold and comprehensive plan for making our schools better.” The plan included reducing the number of people “who do not work with children directly and who do nothing to help teachers educate children.” He also derided excessive mandates, such as a requirement to teach children about bicycle safety. These “take time away from reading, writing or arithmetic,” he said.

3) Both CTA and the California Federation of Teachers have a history of paying for fancy invitation-only parties for Gavin Newsom, doing so in 2009 and 2011. The latter party included the creation of the Double Gavin — “a blue, sickly sweet mixture of vodka, Curaçao, and Sprite.”

4) In 2010, legislation included a provision that would allow a majority of parents to force a school district to overhaul a failing school. This was called the “parent trigger.” CFT President Marty Hittelman called it the “lynch mob provision.”

When the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network demanded “an immediate and public apology” for the racial overtones of the reference, Hittelman was defiant.

“What’s a lynch mob?” he said. “It’s when a bunch of angry citizens get together and without any study they decide to lynch somebody. And in this case, they’re going to lynch their school. If you want to call them a lynch mob, you can, but basically what they’re doing is lynching the school and all the teachers who will be fired and all the kids who will have to go to a different school.”

5) In 2011, CTA held a “state of emergency” protest as part of a plan to “occupy” the state Capitol. The union’s state council came up with a list of activities to accompany the protest. These included: having a “refrain from shopping” day; a one-day boycott of Microsoft; closing a major artery into various California cities; paying for everything with $2 bills; protesting at a major league baseball game; and working with an “organization like Ben & Jerry to have them create a labor-union flavored ice cream that can be sold at the rallies and in stores.”

6) After completing his terms as president of United Teachers Los Angeles and failing to win election to the vice presidency of the California Teachers Association in 2012, A.J. Duffy helped develop the Apple Academy charter school, to which he was named the chief executive officer. Ref Rodriguez was on the school’s board of directors. After a year, the school discovered it couldn’t afford a CEO and let Duffy go.

The teachers were unionized and affiliated with UTLA. According to a write-up in the newsletter of the California Teachers Association, the teachers submitted a statement to the charter’s board of directors stating they wanted a union to ensure “the quality of our students’ education.”

That quality failed to materialize as the school ended up ranking in the 0.47 percentile in academic achievement and closed after the 2016-17 school year.

7) In 2000, CTA staged a rally on the steps of the state Capitol that featured a group of activists chanting, “We want money!” I reported from the scene:

“The rally itself consisted of supportive speeches from the head of the school administrators association, the head of the school boards association, the head of the PTA, the Senate leader (Democrat), the Assembly speaker (Democrat), the Senate minority leader (Republican), and the lieutenant governor. Since this constituted representatives of virtually the state’s entire education and appropriations establishment, one wondered whom the rally was meant to persuade.”

Bonus details included a first-hand account written months later by CTA President Wayne Johnson, describing how he was on the phone with Gov. Gray Davis’s people as they offered richer and richer funding offers in an effort to get the rally called off.  Johnson ultimately settled for an additional $1.84 billion.

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