Dear Editor- ACE Calls for Clarification

The union representing the support staff of Culver City Unified School District is calling for the website parentshaverights.org, as well as parent Yahoo groups, to refrain from posting erroneous or misleading information that is fanning the flames surrounding the issue of the El Marino adjuncts.

The Association of Classified Employees-Culver City fully supports parent involvement and participation in their children’s education. Unfortunately, there is a lot of theory, rather than fact, being put out in the public domain that is unnecessarily upsetting parents. It is not, nor has it ever been, our intention to disrupt the El Marino language program or replace the existing adjuncts with other district employees. While we believe that the adjuncts are performing our bargaining unit work, there is more than enough room for compromise and we urge El Marino parents, as well as parents throughout the community, to give us a chance to work through this process collaboratively with the district.

We are aware that volunteers throughout the district may be doing comparable work to our unit members in classrooms every day, but there is a definite distinction to be made between parent volunteers who are in the classroom intermittently and paid employees that do our work on a daily basis. I’ve read several accounts of this issue in recent days that refer to the adjuncts as “paid volunteers,” but how is that accurate when by definition a volunteer is a “person who performs a service willingly and without pay?” We are also aware that there are employees in the district whose salaries are paid by various parent fundraising groups, and those positions are not at issue, either—nor will they be in the future.

At issue, however, are approximately twenty positions at El Marino Language School that have been funded by Advocates for Language Learning El Marino (ALLEM). There are a few different concerns that surround this issue. Several year ago, when the federal law, No Child Left Behind went into effect, all of the members of our unit had to become “highly qualified” in order to keep their jobs. The federal criterion that needed to be met by anyone working with students in the classroom was an AA degree or better—or equivalent training. In an effort to avoid a massive lay-off of our members and to ensure that our members became “highly qualified,” A.C.E. negotiated with CCUSD to provide that training at no cost to the employees, and it was taught in-house. As a result, all current district employees working as support professionals in our district: instructional assistants, librarians, even P.E. aides, have met this criterion. If the adjuncts at El Marino are not already highly qualified, they would be given an opportunity to take the same district provided course to enable them to meet the same qualifications. This benefits not only the adjuncts, but our students.

Secondly, while we applaud all of the parents in our district for their commitment to our schools and students, we realize that not all parent groups will be equally successful in their fundraising efforts. This creates an unfortunate disparity between our schools and creates a climate of “haves” and “have-nots.” For any parent in the community who does not think this would ever happen, you should be aware that while El Marino is fortunate enough to have 20 adjuncts at
their school, La Ballona, which also hosts a Spanish Immersion program has none for their immersion students. So, how can the modeling of target language be an integral part of the immersion experience for the students at one site, but not for the students of the same program at another? El Rincon has four instructional assistants for the entire school, and three of them are restricted to working with only Title I students and split their time between 23 classrooms.

Even if we were to assume that this inequity did not exist, can you imagine a district in which every site had a successful booster club that had total autonomy over who they hired, fired, or how much they paid “their” employees? In what position does that place the district? What is their liability if employees of the booster clubs are involved in legal actions brought by parents or students? Do we even think for a minute that the district would be held harmless if this should happen? Has anyone thought of the chaos having seven different “employers” within one small district would create?

And last, but certainly by no means, least, we’ve seen a lot of rhetoric out there from parents who “support” unions, are actual members of unions, value the important work that unions do, have worked for unions, or value the work the classified employees of this district do every day, but somehow feel it’s appropriate to demonize me in public for wanting to provide the adjuncts they “love” a living wage, a few paid sick days and a few paid holidays by bringing them into my unit. Contrary to what you may have been told, this will not destroy the program at El Marino. It will enhance it.

To all of the people who have posted in their Yahoo groups or Letters to the Editor that I should be “ashamed” of myself for wanting to improve someone’s quality of life and the quality of education, let me assure you, I am not ashamed of it.

I am proud.

Sincerely,

Debbie Hamme
President
Association of Classified Employees—Culver City

www.culvercitysymphony.org

7 Comments

  1. I find more and more that these unions only serve our children if their needs are served first. I am all for CCUSD employees being compensated at best possible salary and benefit structure possible. As long as it is after two things occur:

    1) All of our children’s needs are met first.

    and…

    2) It is earned through performance evaluation and not tenure.

    There seems to be a battle of jargon over whether these adjuncts and/or classroom aides are performing the duties of ACE employees or not. I do not care, and neither should ACE or anyone else.

    These adjuncts and aides are helping our children receive a better education. That’s it. Period. End of story. They are parent-funded positions which are fulfilling a need that is not affordable under the current economic conditions. For the most part, they are jobs at around $9/hour for around 15 hours a week. And there are more people applying for them than there are positions available.

    There is no question about earning a living wage here. There is a market for these jobs at these wages. This topic is nothing more than a power grab by the union leadership and nothing else. Our children’s education will be irreparably damaged if the unions’ desires are met.

    All criticisms pointed at the unions and their leadership surrounding this topic are completely warranted and valid. And I would go so far as to say any sympathy or support they hope to maintain or receive from parents in their fight for labor equity will be completely destroyed if they continue on the path that they are on.

  2. Debbie Hamme wrote: “paid employees that do our work on a daily basis”

    My son is in kindergarten at El Marino and I volunteer in the classroom once a week. The 22 kids in his class get the luxury of an adjunct (a Spanish speaking teacher’s helper) for a 1.5 hrs a day. If she wasn’t there, there is no classified employee in the district that would step in for 1.5 hours a day because that is not what classified employees get paid to do.
    So basically we would have no one to step in, and I can tell you that it is pretty hard for 1 teacher to get 22 kids to finish all their handwriting practice, their reading, etc all by herself. When I have been in the classroom I notice that the adjunct can engage in conversation with the kids that work faster and more independently while the teacher gets to give a bit more one-on-one attention to the kids like my son who struggle with handwriting and with finishing their worksheets on time.

    Moreover, the reason why the district doesn’t hire Teacher Assistants for our kids is because there is no budget for them! so the parents are donating to their booster clubs to try to get teachers and hour or two of classroom help that our kids so desperately need, and somehow that is something Debbie Hamme has decided to focus on as a big aggravation to her.

    If our district had the budget for it, we should absolutely grow the classroom aides payroll for every school. But as long as Sacramento is choking our schools, why is it wrong for booster clubs to try to fill the gaps in our children’s classroom experience?

    What booster clubs have managed to do (through really glamorous activities like bake sales, selling t-shirts and sweatshirts, and reaching out to families to pledge however much they can, truly uphill fundraising one dollar at time) has barely managed to get very part-time classroom help. Why haven’t the booster clubs hired full-time aides? because they haven’t been able to raise enough money! It’s been such hard work to even get the little bit of help the kids are getting, and to now have people from inside the district throw a wedge into the team effort of parents and their respective schools, is just mind blowing, and heartbreaking.

  3. I am so thrilled that ACE is particularly concerned that the adjuncts at El Marino may not meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Since ACE members must comply, then certainly the adjuncts must. The Union clearly regards the fact that all of the adjuncts work in close proximity with and under the supervision of the teachers as a relatively moot and unimportant point. Also the fact that many of the adjuncts have been at El Marino for 15 to 20 years shows no proof of their capabilities whether or not they meet the NCLB requirements. It is the Union that is insisting that the adjuncts come under the NCLB requirements despite the fact that NCLB requirements apply only to Title 1 schools. El Marino is one of the two elementary schools in the district that is not a Title 1 school. I somehow doubt that many of our native speaking Japanese and Spanish speaking adjuncts will find the District training valuable or useful. They are not communicating with the students in English so their English educational qualifications are not important at all.
    Ms. Hamme states that the Union is not targeting El Marino or the adjuncts, but everything they do proves that is the consequence.
    Ms. Hamme’s arguments about NCLB, perceived inequities and so forth do nothing but threaten the children in our district by taking away valuable parent-supported resources.

  4. Regarding Ms. Hamme’s concern about living wages, sick day and vacation pay that the adjuncts would earn by joining the Union. Every year ALLEM struggles to raise the money it does. Therefore, the protection afforded by Union membership will certainly destroy or severely curtail the program, none of which benefits the students or our community.
    Let’s save the adjuncts by having them join the Union but destroy the program they belong to. Where is the logic?
    I am a proud member of the CCUSD community and a volunteer at the Middle School. I was a very active member of EMPTA and ALLEM and served on its board as president and vice-president. Does that make me biased, darned straight it does! I have seen firsthand the benefits my son received while learning Japanese from our wonderfully capable adjuncts.

  5. ACE president Debbie Hamme asserts that if someone disagrees with her that means they are “demonizing” her. I find that to be an offensive diversion tactic, one that should be beneath the leader of such an esteemed organization.

    Furthermore, Ms. Hamme tries to separate El Marino from the rest of the schools in the district. Last week’s school board meeting was well-attended by parents from all of the Culver City Schools (except for the one in which Ms. Hamme works). This is not an “El Marino” issue. This issue goes further than that. We as parents refuse to be pitted against each other. Why? Because we have a common goal of providing the best education that we can for our children.

    Oh, how I long for school leadership that remembers that school districts are supposed to be in the business of educating children first and foremost. CCUSD is not an employment agency. It is a *school* district.

    Finally, I am one of those parents Ms. Hamme mentioned who is also a proud union member (not ACE). However I am not a blind follower. While I agree that unions play an important role, I also believe that it is power grabs like this one which have added to the anti-union rhetoric in this country. I disagree with this attempt at what could be described as a hostile takeover.

  6. Debbie Hamme is concerned with parents getting “unnecessarily upset” and urges us to let her union and the district “work through this process “. Clearly, ACE would like to take control of the adjunct program and dictate how our money is used without the distraction of public scrutiny. Judging from the uproar that ACE’s actions have already generated, they have a lot of confidence to build with the community before saying, “trust us” will mollify anybody.

    Your words don’t square with the facts, and you have yet to address the simple logic that strips the thin veneer from your plan. For example, above you promise your intentions are not to “disrupt” the El Marino language program. How can cutting adjunct hours in half, not disrupt? You speak of volunteers doing “your work” intermittently and adjuncts doing it “every day”. Someone believing your words at face value might not realize that adjuncts typically work 15 hours a week and might spend 1.5 hours a day in a classroom doing “your work”. When you speak of “bargaining unit work”, we are talking about our children.

    Regarding terms like “paid volunteers”. Perhaps that isn’t a term you would choose, but it accurately describes adjuncts that do receive pay. From the districts view, they are free like in-class volunteers.

    It’s also misguided to congratulate yourself as the defender of the ‘living wage’. After skimming union dues and the predictable drop in parent donations, there will indisputably be less total money going to adjuncts, if they don’t lose their jobs all together!

    Nothing there to be proud of Debbie.

  7. I couldn’t finish reading this because I was stopped, shocked really, by the point at which Ms Hamme, you talk about “have and have nots”. The La Ballona Booster Club is new as is the Spanish Immersion program. You know that. To discount La Ballona Elementary as a “have not” leaves me shaking with rage. I cannot believe you have played into stereotypes and assumptions without presenting facts that you claim the other side is doing. Every year that the Booster club at La Ballona has been active, parental involvement has increased as well as its fundraising. It will continue to increase so long as parents know that the money will be put to use in a way that “directly” benefits their children. Handing over money to a union so that they can make vital decisions such as hiring adjuncts would have the exact opposite effect. To dismiss all that work that the La Ballona Booster club and the La Ballona Parents have done in a few short years its been active is as short sighted as unions pushing forward ideas that will be detrimental, not only to ACE but to unions over all. Ms. Hamme, please realize that what you are doing has a larger affect than protecting union jobs and benefits. You are doing harm to the public perception of unions all over this country. Ace does not operate in a vacuum.

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