Dear Editor – Union Endorsements in School Board Race

Should we support union endorsements?

Is anyone surprised by the candidates the Culver City Federation of Teachers and the Assn. of Classified Employees are supporting?

True to form the CCUSD unions once again back the newest candidates who know the least about the district finances and operations. We already knew Karlo would be a favorite (he and Nancy cannot vote NO on anything the Union supports). The bulletin announcing the selection states: ”The union slate is a progressive, student-centered, pro-union, multi-ethnic group.“ Focus here on “pro-union” versus pro-TEACHER!!!

We all know the purpose of the unions, rightfully, is to vigorously advocate for the wages, benefits and working conditions of its members. AND we all know, our CCUSD staff (yes…everyone) are woefully under-compensated as compared to any neighboring or similar district. Worrisome, however, would be a School Board so beholding to its unions that the children are no longer the focus. Isn’t there a conflict of interest inherent here?

Our unions under the leadership of David Mielke has for over a dozen years wrapped itself in the cloak of “best for the students” as it’s mantra, yet fails to fully support it’s newest teachers with its skewered annual raises (oops… don’t call it a raise, it is a negotiated step and column increase). It is unfortunate so many of our wonderful teachers do not step up and engage their own union, but the same can be said of our parents of whom merely 15% typically vote in school board elections. Over 90% of our school district budget goes to wages and benefits…does anyone wonder HOW that can be? Does anyone wonder WHY our facilities are in disarray? Does anyone BELIEVE supporting the union slate (watch as Karlo’s Democratic Club endorses the same slate) will be beneficial for our students and schools over these next four years? Our board is dysfunctional now … let’s not have it mirror the Sacramento legislature (the only body that makes Congress look good).

Alan Elmont

www.culvercitysymphony.org

16 Comments

  1. Dear Alan,

    I am not sure how you arrived at your conclusion about the candidates that the unions have endorsed, but let’s see what your complaint is. Karlo Silbiger as the incumbent, certainly knows about budgets and finance, and as a teacher, he brings his knowledge of academics and curriculum to the table, as well. Claudia Vizcarra is the Policy Director for Steve Zimmer, a member of the LAUSD Board of Education, and before that, worked with/for Jackie Goldberg. She is also a parent of two children in our schools, which is a criterion that resonates with our community, is bilingual, and will be the first Latina to serve on the CCUSD school board which will provide representation for the considerable Latino population in our district. Vernon Taylor is a businessman and banking executive, so I’m guessing he knows a thing or two about budgets, as well. So, just how is it that you think the union’s endorsement process has failed the voters of this community?

    You’ve been around for a very long time, Alan, and have run for school board yourself a couple of times. I think it is fair to say that you felt you were qualified to run because you had served on the Community Budget Advisory Committee, been involved in your children’s classrooms and school activities, had been the president and founder of the Farragut Fan Club and had attended and spoken at many, many board meetings. Our endorsed candidates have done those types of things, too. While your participation in these activities were admirable, appreciated and gave you some perspective on school issues, they didn’t automatically make you the best candidate for school board–nor do they make you the best judge of who the best candidates are.

    You make the statement that both Karlo and Nancy never vote NO on anything the union supports, but you would have absolutely no way of knowing that, unless you were a fly on the wall in every closed-door session. So, allow me to correct your misconception now. Both Karlo and Nancy study every issue with a measured approach in a sincere effort to gear what best serves the students, as well as the other stakeholders, in our district.

    What is good for the students and what is good for the unions is not mutually exclusive, and the union has not always gotten support for everything it’s proposed–nor did we expect to. Yet that’s what collective bargaining is all about–it’s a respectful give and take between labor and management that affects a compromise. The unions aren’t the bad guys, Alan, and I am disappointed that you want to portray us as such.

    When board members are supportive of unions and the work their members do, understand the value of building a strong partnership between labor and management and honor the tradition of collective bargaining, it’s a win-win situation for the ENTIRE district. There is nothing to be gained by electing anti-union board members because the divisiveness it creates in the district does not serve the students, employees or community well. We are not your enemies–we are you–parents, grandparents and in many cases, your neighbors.

    Let me remind you of at lease one issue on which you and I were united. When the board voted to eliminate the 7-hour librarian position at Lin Howe Elementary School, in an effort to save money (years ago when Scott Zeidman was the board president)–despite the fact that the voters of Culver City approved Measure EE to provide funding for a variety of things, including maintaining our libraries–I was the one going to board meetings asking for the position to be restored so the students of that school would have the benefit of a librarian.

    When the board’s solution to that issue was to rotate the librarians from the other elementary schools to fill in at Lin Howe, and I protested that that only punished the other schools with less library time, and STILL didn’t give the students of Lin Howe what they deserved, I was the only person at those board meetings speaking to that issue for months. Me, and not a single parent came to stand with me. I finally convinced you and George Laase to speak up at a board meeting one night to urge the board to restore the funding for the lost position and that still didn’t convince Kathy Paspalis, and Scott Zeidman to do it. Don’t know who the third person was on the board that voted against it, but that’s what happens when you have a board on which the majority is anti-union. Sometimes things that ARE in the best interest of the students get voted down. Why do you suppose that is?

    And do you know when that position finally WAS restored? In negotiations when the Association of Classified Employees agreed to take enough furlough days to “buy back” all of the positions the board (the majority of which at the time I would venture to say was ANTI-union) had eliminated: the Lin Howe librarian position, the high school librarian position, the district locksmith’s position, the district’s HVAC position, a security position or two–any positions that we felt benefitted the children of this district. We took unpaid days to provide services to our students and you want portray us a group that’s only interested in salary increases and benefits? How far off the mark you really are.

    Yes, we are a union and that’s what you always want to focus on and demean, but surprisingly, and sadly, you never focus on the many ways we serve your children every day: we take care of them when they’re sick or injured, when they’re sad, when they’ve been picked on at school, when they’re sitting in the office after school because their parents or babysitters couldn’t get to school on time to pick them up and they’re worried, when they need help with their school work, and even when they misbehave, get sent to the office and need a little quiet time to collect themselves. We feed them, transport them and protect them and at the end of the day we are still criticized for our union membership?

    You’re children are the focus of our day–every day–and you think it’s worrisome for the board to have seated members that feel the work we do is important enough to consider our feelings from time to time? Shame on you.

    By the way, Dave Mielke does not lead the “unions” of this district. While he is the very capable president of the Culver City Federation of Teachers, I am the president of the Association of Classified Employees–Culver City and represent the often overlooked support staff of our district.

    Sincerely,

    Debbie Hamme

  2. I don’t understand the logic of this commentary. Somehow CCUSD teacher salaries, which are low compared to those of many school districts in LA County, are blamed for the “disarray” of the facilities in CCUSD. While the facilities are certainly not first-rate, I would not say that they are in disarray, and blaming teachers and other employees and their salaries for facilities issues is a huge leap in logic. There have been deferred maintenance issues in public buildings in California for as long as I can remember (back to the early 1980s at UC Berkeley) that have nothing to do with salaries.

    It also seems odd to me to claim that Claudia Vizcarra knows nothing about school funding when she works for LAUSD school-board member Steve Zimmer.

    On the other hand, I am dismayed to see Kathy Paspalis painted as anti-union. The simple fact is that when budgets get tight, school board members have to make decisions and place votes that are the lesser of two evils. That does not make a school-board member anti-union.

  3. Hi Debbie!

    Over the years I have oft found our interests more in agreement than not. You reference one such item in your note! Let me be clear…I LOVE our district employees!!!! It’s unions…not so much. There is a distinction.

    Speaking of distinctions, however, I believe you do need to let readers know of your affiliation and associates beyond your role as a union president. Are you not on Karlo’s campaign committee, a blog contributer on his blog, and a member of his “education advisory committee”? How about affiliations with Nancy? .. just sayin 🙂

    And yes, I did run for school board unsuccessfully and sat through a few of the union endorsement interviews. Would you be so kind as to post the questions that were posed to the prospective candidates?

    Also, let me clarify a point. CCUSD is its own entity, it is not LAUSD. Policies and priorities are different. And banking is not public school funding! CPA’s are oft confounded by the budget and budgeting process and the learning curve can be steep. All the candidates are wonderful people, I am not interested in any “anti” this or “pro” that…however, having been through it before I also understand how “closed door meetings” result in who gets endorsed and who does not. Wanna place any bets on the Demogratic Club endorsements? 😉

    Publish the list of questions you used to evaluate the candidates!

    Best!
    Alan Elmont

  4. Hi, Alan,

    I am not trying to hide my affiliations in the least. I am proud to be a part of Karlo’s Education Advisory Committee, yet the purpose of the committee is simply to allow Karlo the opportunity to discuss important issues with stakeholders in the community. It gives him some perspective as to how community members might view the items on the upcoming school board agenda. He is his own man, however, and we agree on some things and disagree on others, and that is to be expected. You would be welcome to attend these meetings, as well…they are not exclusive. As to my being a writer on Karlo’s blog, yes, I have written a few things that were posted on his blog, but to be honest with you, I don’t even think the blog is still active. I haven’t written anything–nor have I been asked to–in at least a year or more. Still, I have nothing to apologize for–I respect Karlo and was honored to be asked to contribute. My being a contributor, however, does not mean that I hold any particular influence over the decisions Karlo makes as a member of the school board.

    Yes, I also volunteered to serve on his campaign committee, yet my doing so did not automatically guarantee his endorsement for re-election. I was only person on an interview panel made up of several other members of A.C.E. The candidates we ultimately endorsed were decided upon after much discussion and only after we reached consensus.

    I am not surprised that you asked for the list of questions we asked to be provided. I found out the next day that Kathy was angry about the questions that were asked and I am sure that is what prompted your request. While I don’t think it necessary to provide you with the full list of questions, I will tell you that three of the questions centered around the adjunct issue at El Marino and the resulting formation of the United Parents of Culver City, of which you are a member.

    As this issue intimately involved the Association of Classified Employees, we felt it was important to ask the candidates about their understanding of the issue. I am, quite honestly, at a loss to understand why any of the candidates would have been surprised that those questions were asked. Even the candidates who were NOT incumbents had a position on the issue, so tell me how it is that our school board president was upset that she was asked questions about an issue that was divisive to the extreme in our community and that she was directly involved with?

    As to your point about CCUSD being it’s own entity, that, of course, is true, but CCUSD has a symbiotic relationship with LAUSD to be sure. For example, when LAUSD decided not to release as many of their students to attend schools in other districts a couple of years ago, were we not affected by the loss of ADA? When LAUSD decided to start their school year in August, as did other districts, did we not decide to follow suit? The old saying holds true, Alan–no man is an island,and that goes for school districts, too.

    Yes, Alan, all of the candidates are wonderful people and are to be commended for wanting to serve their community. However, some were able to express their beliefs and positions in a way that resonated with the people in the room better than others. It’s part of campaigning, it’s part of seeking endorsements, and it’s part of the process. The voters will ultimately decide which messages resonate the best with them.

    Now in observance of full disclosure, perhaps you should mention your alliances and affiliations to the readers, as well? Just sayin’.

    Best,

    Debbie

  5. Dear Readers,

    My thanks to Madeline Erlich who brought to my attention that Claudia Vizcarra would not be the first Latina to serve on our school board and I apologize that my historical memory did not go back far enough to remember Julie Lugo Cerra’s service in the 1980’s and early 90’s and Jim Quiarte’s service, as well, during the late 80’s and early 90’s.

    So, I will amend my remarks to say that while Mrs. Vizcarra may not be the FIRST, she would be a long overdue addition to the board and would provide much needed representation for our Latino parents and students considering the diversity of our school community.

    Best,

    Debbie Hamme

  6. Debbie,

    It appears this is turning into a personal discussion, so I will address your comments here then take the rest off-line. 🙂

    My affiliations are: Member UPCC; Past Chair of the Community Budget Advisory Committee of CCUSD, past 2 years. I have endorsed 3 candidates, Sue Robbins, Steve Levin and Kathy Paspalis. I might assist walking for each in my neighborhood.

    At issue is the independent judgement of elected school board members. A board member should not be beholden to a union leader. For KARLO – to have a union leader on his so-called “Advisory Council” aka kitchen cabinet whose job is, well, to represent the interests of the union whereas a board member’s job and duty is to represent the students of the district calls into question his alliegences not your independent and wise council.

    To me, there is a clear conflict of interest at work. Tax dollars are being spent and those who could be making decisions regarding those expenditures are being endorsed and supported by those who would benefit most! That is the fox watching the hen house.

    And since you demurr on posting the questions, allow me:

    1. Tell us about yourself and why you wish to serve on the School Board.

    2. What are the most pressing issues facing CCUSD?

    3. Two Unions are represented here — the Teachers Union and the Classified Union. What do you think about unions in general and in relation to the school district?

    4. How well is CCUSD Staff paid? Teachers? Classifed? Administrators? What are your feelings about this and what will you do to budget for raises in times of scarce resources?

    5. Benefits – employees have picked up the increases for every year for a decade. What do you propose for the future?

    6. Adjuncts at El Marino– ACE (the Classified Union) suggested that they be district employees and have union representation in an effort to bring a living wage to adjumcts who were providing the same support in the clasroom that their Instructional Assistant counterparts were providing throughout the district. Where were you on this issue? Please explain your reasons.

    7. There was considerable anti-union backlash from the community when ACE made their proposal. A petition was circulated online, letters to local online blogs, posts on district Yahoo newgroups, etc. misrepresenting the issue and both created and fed a public outcry that was allowed to become a personal attack on a district employee. What was the responsibility of the Board during this time and how could this issue have been dealt with more quickly and effectively that it was?

    8. A result of this backlash was the birth of UPCC–The United Parents of Culver City. What do you know about this group, what is your participation in the group’s activities, how effective have they been in representing the needs of ALL of the students in our district? What part do you see them playing going forward as we deal with the issues the district will face in the future?

    9. Why do you want the endorsement fo our unions and how do you feel it would be important to your campaign?

    10. Do you have any questions for us or anything else you’d like to add?

  7. Alan,

    You’re right–this has become a personal conversation and it is probably best continued off-line. But, allow me to respond to your concerns one last time: Please don’t make it sound as if Karlo is the only candidate that consults with members of the community–I am sure that all board members, both past and present, have constituents with which they discuss issues. Whether it’s by e-mail, phone or sitting in someone’s living room, it’s all the same. I am pretty sure that for Kathy and Laura, for instance, their “kitchen cabinet” are the parents of El Marino and UPCC because when Kathy ran for office the first time, the parents of El Marino were her base and provided a lot of support for her campaign. That being said, I also worked on Kathy’s first campaign, walking my precinct, talking to voters, passing out literature and garnering a $1000.00 contribution to her campaign from CTA, which she accepted. She also sought and received my union’s endorsement, which she felt would benefit her campaign–and it did. Yet, that hardly and most obviously did not “put her in my pocket.” And why is it that she sought the endorsements of the unions a second time? Not because we don’t know what we’re doing and have a hidden agenda, but because she realizes that there are voters in this community that still value unions and what they stand for and our endorsements help her to not only get votes, but get other, even more important endorsements.

    If you believe that the unions have endorsed Karlo, Claudia and Vernon for strictly “selfish” reasons (i.e. access, special consideration, etc.), then doesn’t it also stand to reason that UPCC endorsed Kathy and Steve (their past president and a founding member)even before the filing deadline for their own gain and to protect their own interests?

    So tell me: Why is it only the union endorsements that are suspicious to you? Because as a member of UPCC you will support their process and try to cast doubt on ours?

    And, Alan, I have no problem whatsoever with your posting the questions that we asked. Though I didn’t think it was necessary and was something we had never done before, I was honest about the subject matter of the three questions Kathy found offensive–now the community can see the specific wording. Yet, I have nothing to apologize for and will ask again: Why, in view of the magnitude of the issue referenced in those three questions, would a seated board member be caught off guard or take offense when the questions were asked?

    Kathy has been on the board for four years and is now the board president…she should have been able to answer those questions without hesitation, yet she couldn’t. And the reason she couldn’t is because it was clear in the interviews that she had only considered a single perspective on the issue and hadn’t done her due diligence as a board member by even contacting me once during the months that this issue continued. Don’t you think that it was her responsibility at that time to, at the very least, reach out to ask me for clarification of the “union” position? Whether she ultimately agreed with it or not, it was still her responsibility to understand all sides.

    Because, after all, as you mentioned, someone might look at that and see a clear conflict of interest whereby an elected official, who’s job it is to be unbiased while representing ALL of her constituents chose not to do so.

    Best,

    Debbie

  8. Ms. Hamme,

    You ask “So, just how is it that you think the union’s endorsement process has failed the voters of this community?”

    For me, as a parent of 3 kids in the district, the endorsement process has failed me because of the lack of transparency in the endorsement process.

    You say that you don’t think it is necessary to provide the public with the full list of questions. Are you kidding me? When you stated that 3 of the questions were on El Marino adjuncts and the formation of the UPCC, my jaw dropped. As my kids might say, that is so “2 years ago.” Those questions have little to do with the teaching of children. Is that what you based your endorsement on?

    To me, without a doubt, as a voting parent, the pressing issues facing CCUSD is the state of our facilities and the transition to the Common Core. Were any of the candidates asked about the bond, which has a direct impact on the working condition of union members (not to mention our kids)? Were there questions about the curriculum? Were there questions about the transition to the Common Core and support that we need to give the teachers during the transition process?

    Furthermore, the whole endorsement process is suspect if you, Ms. Hamme, had a role in drafting the questions asked of the candidates. I don’t have any problem whatsoever with you being a part of Karlo’s campaign. However, if you make that choice, you should recuse yourself from participating on any level in your union’s endorsement because you have a clear conflict of interest. Any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous.

    If the unions don’t release the questions, and don’t indicate who drafted them, given your obvious conflict of interest, the endorsement of the unions should be heavily discounted, if not ignored. At a minimum, it should be noted that the endorsements reflect the opinion of the union board members who showed up to the meeting, not an actual vote of its executive committee nor the union members.

    I also find the unions’ endorsements suspect because they exclude the only candidate who has been “in the trenches” of CCUSD. Although I am not personally acquainted with Sue Robbins, and knew nothing of her prior to her candidacy, I find it incredible that the unions chose to endorse a teacher (who works in another school district and who, as a student, left our district after the 8th grade for another district), someone who works for a LAUSD board member (which, I’m sorry, is a completely different animal), and a local banker over a person who worked in our district for years, has had kids in our district, and owns an education consulting company. As I recall, last year, the unions endorsed Nancy Goldberg early on because of her status as a retired teacher.

    If, at the end of the day, according to you, our children are the focus of the union’s day “every day” you should have no problem with transparency in the union endorsements.

    Kelly Weil

  9. Dear Kelly –

    Courtesy of very prompt leakage, here are the Union Endorsement Questions for Candidate Interviews – 2013

    1) Tell us about yourself and why you wish to serve on the school board.

    2) What are the most pressing issues facing the CCUSD ?

    3) Two Unions are represented here – the Teachers Unions and the Classified Union. What do you think about unions in general and in relation to the school district?

    4) How well is CCUSD Staff paid? Teachers? Classified? Administrators? What are your feelings about this and what will you do to budget for raises in times of scarce resources?

    5) Benefits – employees have picked up increases every year for a decade. What do you propose for the future?

    6) Adjuncts at El Marino- ACE (the Classified Union) suggested that they be district employees and have union representation in an effort to bring a living wage to adjuncts who were providing the same support in the classroom that their Instructional Assistant counterparts were providing throughout the district. Where were you on this issue? Please explain your reasons.

    7) There was considerable anti-union backlash from the community when ACE made their proposal. A petition was circulated online, letters to local online blogs, posts on district Yahoo groups, etc. misrepresented the issue and both created the public outcry that was allowed to become a personal attack on a district employee. What was the responsibility of the Board during this time and how could this issue have been dealt with more effectively than it was?

    8) A result of this backlash was the birth of UPCC – the United Parents of Culver City. What do you know about this group, what is your participation in the groups activities, how effective have they been in representing the needs of ALL of the students in the district? What part do you see them playing going forward as we deal with the issues the district will face in the future?

    9) Why do you want the endorsement of our unions and how do you feel it would be important to your campaign?

    10) Do you have any questions for us or anything else you’d like to add?

    (All spelling and capitals are from the original memo. )

    That answers a few question, but raises a few more ….

  10. Question number 8 reads like the “Are you now or have you ever been..?” questions from the McCarthy era. Shocking. I will share with my book club.

    I wonder why the teachers and ACE unions are so worried about parents organizing? What is the real problem here? It seems to me that unions should be in support of other groups organizing. This anti-parent backlash is ugly and disingenuous.

  11. Here’s the real question about the value of the ACE and CCFT endorsements: how many members of each union actually cast a vote? My understanding is that the vote for the endorsement took place at the end of the meeting after all of the candidates had been heard (this is the usual practice and not at all an issue). How many members of each union attended the meeting? How many of these hard working folks stayed until the end of the meeting? And, how many of them voted in support of the endorsement? There are around 300 teachers in the teachers’ union, what percentage of those 300 attended and participated? How many ACE members are there, and what percentage voted? For example, (these numbers are for illustrative purposes only as I was not present and do not know the actual numbers) if 25 teachers stayed for the entire meeting and voted, that is 8% of the membership. If of those 25, 20 of them voted to endorse the slate and 5 voted against, then those 20 people represent a whopping 6.7% of the entire membership. So, the real question is, what does the endorsement really represent? How many people voted? Does a very small minority have the right to intimate that all teachers and employees agree with them? Wouldn’t it be more fair, more transparent, and more meaningful if the endorsement information was sent out to all of the members of both unions and as many of the members then cast their votes?

  12. While I agree that LAUSD and CCUSD are very different animals, they both are contending with issues of budget, state and national education policy,parent involvement, the achievement gap, funding regulations etc.

  13. *** Clarification: I mean question number 8 on the candidate questionnaire…BELOW:

    8) A result of this backlash was the birth of UPCC – the United Parents of Culver City. What do you know about this group, what is your participation in the groups activities, how effective have they been in representing the needs of ALL of the students in the district? What part do you see them playing going forward as we deal with the issues the district will face in the future?

  14. Who voted on the endorsement. According to my sources the only people who actually voted on the endorsements were ACE and CCFT union representatives from the school sites and union officials. Does the endorsement really reflect the interests of the majority of members of each union?

  15. I’m voting on one issue only.. a safe environment for my child to go to school in. Sitting in 100 degree classrooms breathing in highly contaminated air is not acceptable. Quality education vs potential leukemia, blood clots, asthma is not a real choice.

    I vote for my child’s health and safety.

  16. Dear Editor – Union Endorsements in School Board Race
    | Culver City Crossroads
    This site was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me.
    Cheers!

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