LA teachers union seeking to negotiate management decisions
Michael Janofsky | January 21, 2015
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As part of its contract negotiations, the teachers union, UTLA, is asking LA Unified for a new approach to school oversight, a demand that seeks to move decisions on school management and operations into the collective bargaining process.
In effect, the proposal would insinuate UTLA into areas now the sole province of the board and LA Unified administration, giving the union greater influence in how all district schools would be managed and run.
The proposal also seeks to eliminate major administrative differences between the district’s traditional and charter schools, many of which operate with rules different from those governing traditional schools. For example, independent charters are not required to hire union teachers. The union proposal would require that all district schools be “held to the same standards of accountability, educational quality, equity, and transparency.”
While the district has not flat out rejected the request, made in October, it responded with a detailed memo last month that argues that the union’s proposed changes would violate state laws and create new burdens on the district.
“The proposal raises a number of major legal, jurisdictional, political and operational challenges,” the memo said. “It conflicts with existing laws, policies and established decision-making authority, creating a thicket of confusion, duplication, conflicts and litigation among the District, the County, and the Charter Schools. The Proposal would require creation of a significant new bureaucracy and legal team to administer and defend its dubious assumptions of authority.”
In an addendum to its response, the district expressed a willingness for further discussion on the union’s desire to improve overall educational opportunities and outcomes; and those, the district said, “will occur within the collective bargaining meetings and within the consultation process as appropriate, and will involve use of sub-committees and focus groups as needed.”
In an email to LA School Report, UTLA spokeswoman Suzanne Spurgeon insisted that the union’s demand for the full slate of changes “is still on the table.”
What this all means is anyone’s guess, inasmuch as the negotiators for the district and the union have been at it for months with little progress to show. They remain far apart in salary talks and on just about every other issue. Another bargaining session is scheduled for tomorrow.
While the union proposal frames most of the proposed changes in the spirit of improving overall educational outcomes, the district response was tailored to addressing the potential impact the changes would have on charters by drawing their oversight into collective bargaining. The district identified 16 areas of concern, including:
- Charter school employment policies and practices, including conditions and compensation.
- Employee protections in charter schools regarding due process, union organizing, complaints and administrative influence.
- Surveys, studies and report required for consideration of any new charter or co-located school.
- Approval, removal and recall of charter school governing board members.
- Regulation of conflict of interest by charter school governing boards, employees and agents.
- Location of charter school governing board meetings.
- Charter school compliance with laws.
The district said such “delegations of significant public policy and governance authority” to what is essentially a private organization raises “serious and troubling” issues that would undermine the ability to defend the changes in court. The district also cited the various laws and regulations that preclude the changes sought by the union.
Sarah B. Angel, Managing Regional Director, Advocacy—Los Angeles for the California Charter Schools Association, said the association was heartened by the district response.
“Independence and accountability are key factors in the success of the charter school movement,” she said in a statement “It’s encouraging to see that the district is committed to protecting these values. UTLA’s efforts to seize control of charter schools were clearly way beyond the scope of the law, and would have done nothing to improve student outcomes, and we’re glad that LAUSD has affirmed this.”