Saturday, May 05, 2012

Camille Zombro is gone, but it seems the top CTA brass in Burlingame have an unchanged agenda

No Signs of Talking, Yet: Checking Up On the Teachers Union
May 3, 2012
By Will Carless
Voice of San Diego

I’m checking up on various recent high-profile stories at the moment, to see how those stories have progressed since we first reported on them.

Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks researching and writing about the San Diego Education Association, the union that represents local teachers. I wrote about the union’s move towards a more hard-line, isolationist philosophy over the last few years, and I covered a couple of big shifts in leadership at the SDEA.

The union’s being watched very closely at the moment because of the dire fiscal situation at the district. San Diego Unified issued more than 1,600 layoff notices to employees in March in order to close a projected deficit of at least $80 million. District officials say the only way to avoid those layoffs is for all employee unions to make concessions on their pay and benefit packages.

A large chunk of that projected $80 million deficit is due to a pay raise currently owed to educators that the school board agreed to in 2010. It comes into effect later this year.

The teachers union is far and away the biggest of those unions, and the school board, teachers and parents are all waiting to see if the recent ouster of two hard-line leaders will result in a softer stance from the union. Let’s take a look at what’s been happening:

Where We Left It

In March, controversial union Vice President Camille Zombro was voted out of office. Zombro’s ouster followed the removal of SDEA Executive Director Craig Leedham from his position two weeks earlier.

Zombro and Leedham were the architects of the SDEA’s shift towards its more hard-line stance. Under their leadership, the union cut off almost all non-formal communications with the district, drifted apart from fellow unions and even cast off an affiliated group of retired educators.

As detailed in this story, the union’s shift worried several former SDEA officials, who considered the isolationist approach largely counter-productive and urged the union to work with the district to forge solutions to the current crisis.

With Leedham out and Zombro coming to the end of her term, I’ve been watching for a thawing in relations between the union and the district.

Incoming Vice President Lindsay Burningham told me in March that she wanted to push the union in a more “positive direction.” And SDEA President Bill Freeman began to soften his rhetoric.

What’s Happened Since

District officials and board members have told me there has been no movement when it comes to discussing concessions. The union is not meeting with the district to negotiate at all, they said.

Burningham confirmed this Wednesday. But she said there have been several other positive steps forward. Union reps are meeting regularly with district personnel to talk about a whole host of things, she said.

“We’re communicating about the budget, being able to ask and answer questions, and move forward in other areas,” Burningham said. “In some areas, the communication has opened up a little more, as people are more comfortable speaking with each other.”

There are also other recent signs that the union’s ready to start working with the district to find a solution to the fiscal crisis.

During two-and-a-half minutes of public comment to the San Diego Unified School District board meeting Tuesday night, SDEA President Bill Freeman used the phrase “come together” three times.

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