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At UTLA forum, a few issues break out within the mudslinging

Vanessa Romo | February 21, 2014

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Warren Fletcher, Leonard Segal, Kevin Mottus and Alex Caputo-Pearl at the forum last night

Warren Fletcher, Leonard Segal, Kevin Mottus and Alex Caputo-Pearl at the forum last night

The third UTLA presidential forum held at union headquarters last night was the most well attended — about 70 members made it for the two hour question and answer session — and it also proved to be the most contentious and mud-slingingest.

For any given question, only a handful of the 10 candidates managed to stay on topic, but a few themes emerged that kept the all-male field focussed.

A discussion on how the union should address the continued growth of charter schools elicited strong reactions.

Gregg Solkovits, Alex Caputo-Pearl, and Bill Gaffney agreed that there’s no turning back the tide on the charter school movement within LA Unified and therefore UTLA must aggressively pursue efforts to organize charter school teachers.

Gaffney, “a charter member of [UTLA’s] charter organizing committee,” said charter school teachers are easily convinced that joining UTLA is much better deal for them. Although, he conceded, it is “a very scary process” that involves a lot of secrecy for teachers with no legal protections.

Solkovits said, “When charter schools are organized,they become much less attractive to our enemies.”

The incumbent president, Warren Fletcher, reminded the audience that he opposed Proposition 39, the measure that allowed co-location for charter schools on public school campuses, despite an endorsement by UTLA leadership, back in 2000.

Saul Lankster, who has been a teacher at two charter schools, is now staunchly anti-charter. At previous forums, he proposed a moratorium on charter approvals. His plan is to withdraw support from board members who support charter schools in favor of ones who oppose them.

Another idea to block charter expansion, said Leonard Segal, is to change California’s education code.

The candidates found a degree of unity in attacking Caputo-Pearl when it was revealed he has been taking unpaid personal leave to campaign on school campuses. Caputo-Pearl said it is “perfectly legal” and “it is a way to level the playing field against an incumbent.”

He has been visiting teachers during school hours since September but was recently told to stop by district officials.

It was the first time most of the candidates had heard about Caputo-Pearl’s activities, and they were incensed.

The rest of the meeting was a hodgepodge of name calling, conspiracy theories grounded on little or no facts, as most conspiracy theories are, and the airing of personal grievances.

Marcos Ortega II, a teacher in “teacher jail” (for the second time), turned nearly every answer into a pledge to shut down teacher jails. Or he raised the issue of changing UTLA’s rallying color from red, which he says “is the color of blood and communism,” to pink, “a nice color.”

David Garcia is determined to root out “corruption at every level” and promised to fire Superintendent John Deasy, the board, and UTLA leadership within days of becoming president, as if all that were within the powers of a union president. (It’s not.)

Kevin Mottus rarely strays from discussing the dangers of the district’s “industrial strength,” cancer-causing wi-fi connections. His platform is entirely based on health risks wireless connections may pose to students and teachers.

And, Innocent Osunwa wants to launch a data bank tracking school administrators who file complaints on teachers.

The UTLA election committee plans mail member ballots on Feb. 24.

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