Gearing up to protect public education

As we settle into 2015, its interesting to reflect on the challenges that we faced last year. We were victorious on so many fronts: We came together to defeat Brand and his unilateral health benefits change; we won a PERB ruling that has positive implications for every CTA local union; we successfully negotiated a contract that made movement in all areas identified by members as top priorities; we reached a favorable resolution on two major arbitrations; we mounted a campaign that saw four of our five candidates elected. Its no wonder that the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council has recognized the Sweetwater Education Association as Union of the Year.

Yet, these victories do not mean that all of our problems have disappeared. There are clearly issues that we must continue to deal with. The election of a new school board, and even the eventual naming of a new superintendent, will not magically make the concerns at sites go away. As President, I've had to intervene in situations where bullying administrators from CPM and HTH created truly toxic environments at their sites. Although we have seen resolution to many of the problems at these sites, we continue to deal with the practice of administrators and district officials ignoring progressive discipline and going straight to suspensions without pay. Dealing with these types of matters, along with salary, benefits, and working conditions, are a part of what unions do as their day to day responsibilities of representation; however, there is so much more we need to address.

Its not paranoia if theyre really after you

We are living in an environment where public education is undeniably under attack. Since the 1980s with the publication of A Nation at Risk, there has been a strong push to discredit the American public education system. No Child Left Behind and the high stakes testing that came with it, including the new SBAC tests, have been about composing a picture of failing schools, and laying blame squarely on teachers. Why?

According to the US Department of Education there are approximately 98,000 public schools in the United States, serving close to 50 million students. Organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and their corporate allies have the agenda of dismantling public education for the simple goal of creating profit-making opportunities. In other words, If you have failing schools, we have the program that will save them, for the low, low price of…” The only thing that has stood in their way up to this point: teachers unions.

To deal with unions, the narrative of the bad teacher becomes critical. If teachers are to blame, unions are depicted as the root of the problem for protecting them.  The next step, then, is to discredit unions and take away their power. In states like Wisconsin and Michigan we have seen the virtual disappearance of union rights in order to eliminate the bargaining abilities of teachers unions. Even in Illinois, where the Chicago Teachers Union has proven to be a powerful force to contend with, the governor has recently signed a decree that effectively attempts to impose right-to-work rules. In California, we have been lucky enough to have a Democratic governor and State Assembly that has resisted this national movement, but we cant continue to rely on luck. Cases like Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association attempt to circumvent state legislatures and take issues like fair share payment out of the hands of elected representatives and put them in the hands of a very unfriendly US Supreme Court.

The success of our union will depend on our ability and willingness to engage with the larger issues before us: high stakes testing, protecting our community schools from the encroachment of charters, the erosion of labor rights, and the de-professionalization of teaching, to name just a few. We cant leave this battle up to CTA or NEA, as if somehow our state and national organizations exist apart from us. This fight is everybodys fight.

Our victories over the last 19 months have prepared us to take our unionism to the next level. While we will always focus on our local issues, our every action must be geared towards preserving the promise of public education for all; it’s critical for a democratic society. This is our fight and we need to prepare for it. I hope that you will join me, and your SEA brothers and sisters, as we champion students, teachers, our community, and public education!




Comments to Chula Vista Elementary School District on a CVLCC Charter expansion

President Tremper, Ms. Bejarano, Ms. Bunker, Mr. Reyes, Mr. Tamayo and Dr. Escobedo. Good evening.

 My name is Roberto Rodriguez, I’m the president of the Sweetwater Education Association. The union that represent Sweetwater teachers. 

Normally I would not come before this Board, frankly I usually have my hands full with my own school board. However, this evening you are considering an item that impacts teachers and students of both districts and our shared Chula Vista community.

I will refrain from making the argument that private charter schools are a drain on an already underfunded public school system. And I won’t even point to the multiple studies that show that students of charter schools actually do worse on standardized tests than their public school counterparts.

Tonight I’m going to stick to the legal issue of Prop 39. 

My guess is that at this point you’ve been told that you MUST approve this, that you have no choice and that you are mandated to do so by Prop. 39.

The pertinent section of California Ed Code is 47614, enacted by prop 39 which states:

“Each school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter school's in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the district.”

What you probably have not been told is that the in the case of Sequoia Union HSD v. Aurora Charter High School (20003), the California Court of Appeals, stated that this section imposes an obligation on a school district “in which a charter school provides education to students who live in that district, and who, were they not attending the charter school, would be accommodated by schools in that district.”

Because you are an elementary school district, by definition the students that are attending the secondary grades at an expanded CVLCC would not be accommodated by schools in your district. If they were not attending the charter they would be attending Sweetwater schools. 

You have absolutely NO obligation therefore to build and provide facilities to the charter due to needs that result from their expansion into the secondary grades.

I would venture to guess that the parents of Silver Wing would much rather we stop spending scarce public school funds on charters and that you spend that $3.3 million on their school and on their children. That IS your obligation.

United Taxi Drivers of San San Diego Score a Victory!

Yesterday I received a message from Richard Barrera, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. I want to share it with you for a couple of important reasons. First, at a time when unions are under attack, it's important to celebrate victories. Second, it's a great example of why it's important for unions to be involved in politics. The hard work of Labor Council to get a majority of middle class friendly members on the San Diego City Council is what created the opportunity for a victory for our union brothers and sisters in the United Taxi Workers of San Diego.

This is just another reason why I'm excited that SEA is part of the Labor Council and proud to be a member of the council's executive board.


Richard Barrera's Message . . .

Brothers and Sisters,

As taxi workers streamed out onto the Civic Concourse Monday night chanting "USA, USA!,"  we all felt a surge of pride and clarity about what it means to be an American Union Member.  The Taxi Workers, proud members of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego, had just won one of the most important policy victories for working families in San Diego history.  In summary, by an 8-1 bipartisan vote, the City Council approved a motion by Marti Emerald to lift the cap on taxi permits issued by the City, meaning that drivers who currently pay on average nearly $10,000 a year in leases to permit holders can now become owner operators.  And that means drivers now have the freedom and opportunity to support their families through their hard work.  

 The victory by UTWSD comes five years after drivers, improperly classified as independent contractors and without NLRB recognition, came together and organized a strike to protest their wages, benefits and working conditions.  Despite constant harassment, retaliation and intimidation by permit holders and dispatch companies over the last five years, and despite obstruction by public agencies, these workers stuck together, fought back against injustice, and prevailed.  It reminds and teaches all of us that a union is not formed by formal government recognition, it is formed by workers standing together to fight for justice and a brighter future for their families.  And UTWSD clarifies for all of us a path to victory for workers even in the age of Harris v. Quinn, ALEC, the Koch Brothers and the anti-worker elements of San Diego (see the Regional Chamber of Commerce, which spoke out against the taxi workers last night).  Victory comes from organizers listening to workers, developing leaders, planning a path to win and sticking to the plan no matter how hard it gets.  The UTWSD path, although creative and relevant to modern times, is the path that built not only the labor movement, but every movement in the history of our country that has pushed us closer to our American ideals.  Thank you Mikaiil, Sarah, and the members of UTWSD for making us a more perfect union.

In Solidarity,


Richard Barrera


San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council

See pictures from the City Council meeting...

Why Teachers Ignore Politics At Their Perill

One of the questions I hear a lot this time of year is “Why is my union involved in politics?”  That question always surprises me, especially when it comes from members. I understand the sentiment behind it. None of us went into education because we wanted to be involved in politics. We made the choice to get into education to teach our students. As teachers, we tend to believe that we can live in our own little isolated bubble that begins and ends at our classroom door. Most of us like teaching because we believe that once the bell rings, and we close our classroom door we can just teach with little or no interference; however, this is a myth. Perhaps there was some truth to it 25 years ago when I first started teaching, but no longer.

My first year of teaching I was given a World History textbook, the district’s Program Goals and Objectives and I was told, from this chapter to that chapter 1st semester, and up to the Vietnam War 2nd semester. How I navigated each of the 184 days of instruction was largely up to me. It was accepted that I was a professional who knew what I was doing and could instruct my students. And just to makes sure this was the case, the principal popped in two or three times a year. Today, we have DLTs, CCSS, PTs, EOCs, SBACs, and the never-ending walk-throughs. It’s like we need a traffic cop at the classroom door. How did it get like this? Politics.

 There is not one minute of our day that has not been decided by politics. The number of instructional minutes, the curriculum you teach, the textbook you use, the students in your classroom, the iPad you have to integrate into your instruction, the reporting of grades, the number of times your administrator visits your classroom, the instructional materials you can and can’t use, the tests you must prepare students for and the tests you have to proctor. All of this is the result of decisions made in the political arena. Politicians at the national level establish policies like Race to the Top and develop curriculum like Common Core, then state level politicians make decisions on how it will be implemented.

Yet, that’s not the end of it. Elected school board officials come in and make decisions that impact us directly in the classroom: from the tone of contract negotiations, to iPad rollouts, to using funds to buy new buildings, to open enrollment policies, to who is the principal at what site. All of these are decisions that are approved by the school board. Who sits on a school board should matter to all of us because their decisions, and their approval of the superintendent’s policies, affect each and every one of us. A year ago, when Ed Brand decided that he would unilaterally change the district’s contribution to our benefits, the school board could have stopped him. They could have said, “No, we will honor our agreement.” They didn’t. Let me give you a more recent example. Our San Ysidro brothers and sisters were out on strike last week. Their interim superintendent wanted to impose a 6.5% salary cut. Two board members refused to impose. Because there are only four sitting members on that board, the District was forced to come back to the table and settle. The superintendent was unable to impose his will. Who sits on our school board matters. It impacts our ability to teach and our students’ ability to learn.

We are three weeks away from Election Day. In Nicholas Segura, Paula Hall, Frank Tarantino, Adrian Arancibia and Arturo Solis, we have five solid public education advocates. They are invested in their communities, teacher supporters, and three of them have strong union background. Most importantly, they all care for our students. We need your help to get them elected. Imagine if 20% of SEA members decided to participate in precinct walking and phone banking; we could wind up this campaign in two weeks. Yet, we haven’t had the turn out we need for a campaign this large. There is no way that a handful of people can do all of it.

In the coming weeks I need you to step up and come to phone banking and/or precinct walking. I know I’m asking you to give up a couple of hours one evening, or a few hours on a Saturday morning. I know, it’s your family time; it’s your children’s time. Yet, I’m asking you to be proactive and help set the course for how this district will be run over the next few years. Otherwise, I’m sure that later I will be asking you to come out and picket, protest, and work to the rule. We did a great job with our defensive game last year. Now it is time for our offensive line to take charge.