Can Our Union and District Get Along?

The next president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the teachers union of LA Unified, has a full plate of problems and opportunities. He will be tasked with leading teachers through some seismic changes, including Common Core implementation, school climate policy, and key spending decisions. Teachers need to know where their union and district leaders stand on these substantive issues that will determine the future course of their classrooms and careers.

This is why Educators 4 Excellence wanted to move the election debate from personal attacks to policy substance. During the first round of voting, E4E members asked the presidential candidates to put down in writing their plans for a wide range of policy issues. We published their responses -- along with some key voting information -- in "Your Union, Your Voice," a voter guide for the 2014 UTLA Presidential Election. The two run-off candidates -- Alex Caputo-Pearl and current President Warren Fletcher -- overlapped on some issues, but also have key differences in their approach to leadership.

In the spirit of democracy -- which fuels many of us to teach in the first place -- I'll be highlighting the key perspectives and differences from our presidential candidates, our members at Educators 4 Excellence, and key civil rights groups working toward educational justice.

This week, I'll be presenting perspectives on a topic that has been particularly charged in Los Angeles: Can the union and district get along?

Here is the actual question we posed to our UTLA presidential candidates as well as a few leaders here at Educators 4 Excellence.

Question: Too often, the union is painted in the media as simply an adversary to the district. Although there are steps both sides can take, as a candidate for the union's highest office, do you think the union has an obligation to work to improve its relationship with district leadership? More than 95% of E4E teacher-leaders identified this as an important or critical policy issue for the next UTLA president to undertake.

What President Fletcher Said...
The current UTLA President, Warren Fletcher, agrees that the union needs to work to improve its relationship with the district, but qualified that "respect is a two-way street." President Fletcher believes the district needs to work to engender trust and collaboration among UTLA members. "When the senior leadership of the District intentionally and deliberately pursues a policy of marginalizing the input and opinions of teachers," Fletcher explained, "UTLA must respond accordingly. Read this candidate's full response at the E4E UTLA Presidential Election hub.

What Presidential Contender Alex Caputo-Pearl Said...
In contrast, contender Alex Caputo-Pearl feels that UTLA does not need to improve its relationship with district leadership and wants to UTLA engage in more "organizing to secure a contract/community campaign for quality schools." Although Caputo-Pearl qualifies that the "UTLA President should regularly meet with the district Superintendent" and that there needs to be a relationship between UTLA and LAUSD, he also believes that "the interests of LAUSD's bureaucracy often conflict with those of students and educators." Read this candidate's full response at the E4E UTLA Presidential Election hub.

What veteran UTLA member and E4E Member, Martha Maitchoukow, said...
Martha wants to see improved district-union relations to improve teacher morale and student performance. "By definition, the teachers union's role is to advocate for educators, but its goal should be the same as everybody else: to push for policies that improve teaching so that children can benefit," explains Martha, a teacher of 32 years.

What Sarah Wechsler, President of Camino Nuevo Teachers Association, said...
True leadership is about forging collaborative and solutions-oriented relationships. "When there is a foundation of collaboration and best intentions, both sides are more willing to accommodate and work with each other to ensure both teacher and student success," explained Sarah, president of a unionized charter network called Camino Nuevo. "Stalemates are the enemy of change and success for all stakeholders."

With a range of hard-hitting issues on the table -- like common core, compensation, and school funding -- it is critical that we have productive debate, deliberation and collaboration around how these reforms can be implemented in our schools. The next president of UTLA will be bringing 50 percent of the vision, spirit and energy behind our union-district collaboration. Teachers must ensure your next president brings the vision, spirit and energy you bring everyday into your classroom.

As this article goes to print, ballots for the second round of voting are out to teachers, and due back April 29. Visit our "Your Union, Your Voice," a voter guide for the 2014 UTLA Presidential Election to uncover the full perspectives of UTLA presidential candidates Warren Fletcher and Alex Caputo-Pearl.