Monday, April 22, 2013

L.A .Teachers Vote No Confidence in Deasy and Their Own Union

The Los Angeles times reported that LAUSD teachers “overwhelmingly expressed ‘no confidence’ in superintendent John Deasy last Wednesday, the first time such a vote has occurred in the nation's second-largest school system.

It is certainly significant that a majority of LA teachers voted no confidence in their superintendent—and not at all surprising, considering Deasy’s war on teachers. Under his watch, LAUSD has implemented teacher evaluations based on student test scores. There have been numerous charter school conversions, furloughs and layoffs, as well as ongoing budget shortfalls. There have also been abuse scandals in which the district has covered up misconduct or obstructed investigations and then punished teachers en masse for the wrongdoings of one or two teachers, while trying to redirect blame onto the union.

However, it would be a gross exaggeration to say that teachers overwhelmingly supported the no confidence vote. Only about 17,770 teachers (slightly more than half of UTLA’s 32,000 members) participated in the vote. Of those who voted, a whopping 91% expressed disapproval. Yet, as a percentage of the total membership, this only constitutes slightly more than 50%. Looked at differently, one could say that nearly half of Los Angeles teachers did not feel strongly enough to vote at all.

Low voter turn-out for UTLA is nothing new (see here and here). Poor organizing by the union is one likely explanation. Simply placing “vote no confidence” posters on its website is not enough to get teachers to actually participate in the vote. They should have had organizers talking to teachers at every site and agitating for action, should the vote go their way, because in the end, a vote of no confidence has no teeth. If LA teachers want Deasy out, they’ll have to drive him out. Indeed, Deasy responded to the vote by asserting he was too busy trying to provide quality education to needy children to be bothered with such “nonsense.”

Another likely reason for the low voter turnout is general discontent with UTLA by its members. As bad as Deasy has been, UTLA has been complicit with many of his policies, including evaluation reform and furloughs.

Ironically, another measure on the same ballot that criticized UTLA only won 77% approval (probably because the teachers most frustrated with their union didn’t bother to vote). This resolution explicitly criticized UTLA for “weakening and dividing” its members, and for not organizing and mobilizing its members and community allies. The measure called for a reduction in standardized tests for evaluating teachers and an end to reconstitution of staff at low-performing schools.

The Times reports that UTLA president Warren Fletcher embraced the second resolution, despite its criticism of his leadership. Question is, will he do anything about it?

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