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L.A. teachers union seeks to halt school district initiatives

Union opposes testing of a new teacher evaluation system and wants to thwart plans to hand over South Los Angeles campuses to a charter organization.

May 21, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Union members rally in March as LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines and the board debate turning over 13 campuses to bidders inside and outside the district.
Union members rally in March as LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines and the board… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles teachers union is seeking a court order to halt key initiatives favored by the new L.A. schools superintendent, the Board of Education and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

If successful, the legal action would suspend pilot testing of a new evaluation system that would use students' scores on standardized tests as one measure of teacher effectiveness.

The legal action also would thwart plans to hand over all or part of two long-struggling South Los Angeles campuses to a charter school organization. Los Angeles Unified School District officials want Green Dot Public Schools to take over all of Clay Middle School and about half of Jordan High School.

Charters are independently managed and can hire teachers and other employees from outside the school system. The restaffing of Jordan is under way.

The attempt to halt the proposals took the form of a filing Friday by United Teachers Los Angeles with the state's Public Employment Relations Board. The union wants the employment board to file a court injunction on its behalf. If successful, the district-favored reforms would be placed on hold while the employment board weighs their legality, a process likely to stretch over months. That action could delay the district strategies for at least a year.

The injunction is needed, said union attorney Jesus Quinonez, because otherwise it would be difficult, if not impossible, to undo actions that he said are illegal.

The union's underlying claim is that L.A. Unified has violated collective bargaining laws. The district has not followed through with negotiations over new teachers' evaluations, the union says, and has attempted to make illegal side deals with individual teachers by offering incentives for them to try out a new evaluation approach.

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"The evaluation system needs to be negotiated," said union President A.J. Duffy. "We should be at the table before this thing gets rolled out. We should look at their piece. They should look at our piece and we should try to meld the two together. This is not what they're doing."

District officials say their actions are legal and in the best interests of students. Many teachers are eager to move forward with an improved evaluation system, said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

The filing also opposes the district's attempt to mandate so-called thin contracts for a school's improvement plan. These abbreviated work agreements could "impose working conditions at a school that are not permitted by the full union contract," said Quinonez.

Deasy said he found the union's action on this front disheartening, saying it could frustrate the ability of teachers to adopt work rules at their own schools that would improve learning.

Villaraigosa accused the union of restricting the reform efforts of groups of teachers.

"The teachers themselves," he said, "are putting students first — before their union — and calling for the freedoms and flexibilities they want to improve student learning and grow as educators."

A separate union court action, filed previously in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also challenges the legality of handing over Clay and Jordan to a charter operator.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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