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No teachers’ union endorsements in MDUSD trustee race

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 at 8:12 pm in Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

In an unexpected move, the Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union has decided not to endorse any candidate in the November election, which includes seven candidates vying for three open seats.

The candidates are: incumbent Linda Mayo, attorney Jeffrey Adams, retired CFO Roy Larkin, retired teacher Lynne Dennler, county education trainer Cheryl Hansen, technology executive Brian Lawrence and retired real estate appraiser Jan Treizise (who has announced she will not actively campaign for the seat).

Incumbents Dick Allen and Paul Strange have decided not to seek re-election.

Teachers’ union representatives interviewed the candiates last month. Following delilberations, union President Michael Langley sent me the following statement:

“After reviewing the written questionnaires of all seven school board candidates, and conducting interviews on Monday night, 30 August, the interview panel recommended that the Executive Board not bring to the Representative Assembly an endorsement of any candidate.
Each candidate had some positive attributes. There was a consensus on the panel that no single candidate had a track record in this unusual fiscal environment that indicated a firm commitment to addressing the needs of our membership in guiding the district to a path of improved educational opportunities for our students.
We hope to continue to work with all school board members in returning the educational opportunities so well deserved by this community. We will renew our focus on statewide issues that will facilitate a return to the highest quality educational experience.”

This marks a huge shift from the 2008 board election, when the union heavily backed trustee Gary Eberhart and newcomer Sherry Whitmarsh, who ran as a slate against then-board President April Treece and Adams (who were running independent of each other). Eberhart and Whitmarsh won.

Two years ago, Mayo was viewed as part of the board majority with Treece and Allen. The union wanted to overturn that majority in part to oust then-Superintendent Gary McHenry and to usher in new leadership, expecting to end contentious contract negotiations.

But, as the state budget worsened, the new board did not approve the teachers’ union contract, as educators hoped they would. Now, the district is pushing for furlough days and reduced benefits at the negotiating table to balance its budget.

Mark York, executive director of the association, said the union expects to sunshine its contract proposal Sept. 14.

How do you think the union’s decision not to endorse any candidates will affect the election?

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  • Nobody

    What does ‘…sunshine its contract proposal’ mean? Thanks.

  • Doctor J

    Its an indication that the new Board and the Union will not reach an agreement and a teacher strike will happen. MDUSD teachers are underpaid in the area and are highly resentful of the “Gang of Five” raises given to the lawyer and the accountant.

  • Ken

    I am a teacher in the district. And while I certainly know that the district is looking to cut back everywhere, and that will likely include teacher’s contracts as well, this is the first I have heard of cutting benefits. I think that the communication between district and employees is terrible, and it’s almost as bad between union and teachers. I think any new contract should require the district to actively communicate with ALL employees about important issues such as these.
    Just recentely, someone told me that there was a “big push” from the district to use a certain program in all classrooms. I consider myself to be very good about keeping up with such things, but had never even heard of this. Maybe it’s just bad leadership. Maybe it’s bad communication. Maybe that’s the same thing. But in the end, if the district is going to push for anything, whether it’s cutting pay, or instituting a new program that will affect many of it’s employees….MAYBE THEY SHOULD TELL THE PEOPLE IT WILL EFFECT!!!

    it’s such a shame that this even needs to be said.

  • Nellie Bly

    “Sunshining” is the first step in the contract negotiation process. Each side “sunshines,” or presents at a public meeting (lets the sun shine on), the sections of the contract it wants to change via negotiations. The district will also “sunshine” its proposal for contract changes at a later date.

    The MDEA Board’s decision not to endorse a candidate will level the playing field for this election. No candidate(s) will have the huge advantage in money and resources (e.g., phonebanking) a teachers’ union endorsement provides. In the last election the two successful candidates reportedly received as much as $100,000 from the teachers’ union for their campaign. The other two candidates, who had to raise money through grassroots efforts, reportedly had about $20,000 each.

    Despite the endorsement and the financial support, the MDEA-backed Board members were not able to give the teachers’ union leaders what they’d expected: a new three-year contract. The budget crisis required concessions (e.g., furlough days) the union negotiators have so far rebuffed. Negotiations have been on hold for months. From the MDEA President’s statement, it sounds as if this election year no candidate would make any promises about settling the contract to the union’s liking.

    I consider the absence of union money and influence to be a good thing, especially in an election for school board members, who must balance the needs and expectations of all employee groups, parents, and, most important, students in making their decisions.

  • tharrington

    In its previous contract proposal, the district expressed an interest in reducing benefits for retirees: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/ef78c2e7-513a-4655-9188-c0a1cf327555.pdf.
    The proposal states: “In light of declining District revenues, discuss alternatives by which both parties
    can share in controlling the effect of the increasing cost of retirement plans and benefits. For instance, the District is interested in reducing the reimbursable
    medical benefits coverage from “the employee and spouse or one (1) eligible dependent” to the employee only. The District is also interested in eliminating dental coverage for retirees.”

  • Charley Cowens

    It’s probably just a coincidence, but West Contra Costa USD’s teachers union, United Teachers of Richmond, did something similar that was announced today. 3 positions, 5 out of 6 candidates applying for endorsement, and the only endorsee is a member of the SF teachers union executive board, Elaine Merriweather.

    Charley Cowens
    (Actually one of the losing candidates.)

  • http://ourmdea@ourmdea.org Michael Langley

    We stand by the statement as released, which was positive about each candidate. It was the uncertainty of the future resources of the district that influenced the decision to remain neutral. Any idea that we would have demands for specific contract settlements from candidates demonstrates a lack of understanding about the process.
    To clarify the status of negotiations, there have not been any. Because of changing conditions at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, mutual proposals by the district and the teachers were tabled and then changed. This delayed the process for sun shining new proposals by the teachers. We have kept the district informed of the process required by our bylaws. We anticipate approval of initial proposals by our site representatives on 13 September. Soon after that, negotiations can begin.
    For any member who feels that we don’t communicate, I ask that you make sure you go to the ourmdea@ourmdea.org website and sign up for updates. Also, make sure your site has a full complement of union representatives. In fact, you can run for that position at your site and help your peers in the exchange of information between all members and your elected leadership.

  • MDUSD Mom

    That should read *2010-2011* school year

    Mike Langley

    Other districts/teachers union successfully negotiated furlough days for the 2010-2011 school year (Walnut Creek, San Ramon Valley, San Francisco, etc). Could you help the parents in MDUSD understand why MDEA has not? We have heard that MDEA estimated it needed 4 months to survey it’s members? These other unions/districts moved much faster … why is it taking so long for MDEA?

  • Doctor J

    @MDUSD Mom, MDUSD must be flush with cash — hosting a catered dinner at Centre Concord on Oct 7 for the School Site Councils for the entire district. I guess MDEA feels the same.

  • MDUSD Mom

    Thanks Doctor J – but my question was for Mr. Langley — e.g. why 4 months to survey the members when other districts/teachers unions successfully negotiated furlough days last spring? It seems odd.

  • http://ourmdea@ourmdea.org Michael Langley

    MDUSD Mom, The actual survey was only part of our process. Please note that the other districts you mentioned did not have an agreement in Dec, as we did, which was tabled than abandoned by the board. My attempt to clarify earlier has not had it’s intended purpose. I attend each board meeting, if you would like to adress any concern in greater detail, feel free to ask me at one of those meetings. Thanks.

  • Nellie Bly

    Mike Langley, what “agreement” are you referring to? The only formal agreement MDEA and the district had last December was the existing contract. MDEA made a PROPOSAL at that time to roll over that contract with no changes, but as you say, the Board “tabled and abandoned” it following a public discussion. Several Board members said they could not approve the proposal because it would restrict their ability to make any budget cuts that would change the teacher’s work hours stipulated in the existing contract; i.e, it would not be able to consider furlough days or a shortened work year. MDEA’s response was that it had to survey its members before resuming negotiations. Its delay meant the existing contract–and work hours–remained unchanged. Districts and employee unions can negotiate changes to the contracts at any time, especially during financial crises. Other districts have done so. The question as to why MDEA has delayed negotiations for so long is one many people besides MDUSD Mom are asking.