Member Blog Post: Our Union, Our Democracy – A Message from the SDEA Vice President

We’re still on a roll – but man are they putting up a wall! Yesterday, at the request of SDEA, Bill Kowba sent out an email directive to principals and secretaries all over the District (ask them yourselves) directing them to not let our NO Layoffs, NO Concessions action plan flier to be placed in members’ mailboxes unless they are officially “authorized by SDEA.” What?? WE ARE SDEA. We heard from a lot of you that your principals talked to you about keeping our information from getting out to members – that is not okay (although it means our pressure is working)! Why is the District leadership helping to suppress democratic critique of the union leadership? Why is Bill Kowba doing Bill Freeman’s bidding? Members deserve to be able to read our viable plan to save our jobs and our contract free from efforts at suppression. If you encounter these roadblocks, point your principal to Article 5.6 of the SDEA contract. Our ARs have a right to get information out to us, and we deserve to have that provision of our contract honored –  just like every other provision. If the principal won’t let you distribute the materials, ask your AR to help. Regardless of our opinions, SDEA members should work together to protect our ability to share them with each other.

We were a little let down by the rest of the SDEA Board today as well. After 30 SDEA members showed up to observe the emergency SDEA Board meeting last Friday evening, today Bill Freeman canceled the regular monthly SDEA Board meeting with only six hours notice. The SDEA Board also sent out an email from the whole SDEA Board calling for unity, but didn’t ask currently-sitting SDEA Vice President Camille Zombro to be a part of the email (and her name was left off of the list of fourteen signers).

In response, Camille wrote the following email and sent it to the whole SDEA membership (the same recipients of the email from the rest of the SDEA Board). We’re forwarding it on because we’re afraid that the District will move to crack down on that communication as well. Hopefully her email will come through to you directly, as it should, but if not, please forward this far and wide. This isn’t about whether we agree or disagree. This is about whether or not we as union members have a right to engage in these conversations with each other or not.

—The SDEA Members of the Breakfast Club Action Group


Open Letter from SDEA Vice President Camille Zombro:

Fellow SDEA Members,

The democracy of SDEA is defined by our vigorous debate and our mutual respect for each other’s voices and ideas. Far from dividing us, our democracy strengthens us and our profession, in turn strengthening public education as a whole. While I am writing this to you as your currently-sitting, outgoing SDEA Vice President, I am also writing as an SDEA member, working mother, and part of a growing group of SDEA members who are looking for real solutions to the District’s attempts to divide us between the false choice of “layoffs vs. concessions.”

It took a lot for me to send this email to the entire union membership (you can read the longer email I previously sent about my concerns to the members I know personally here). Two things moved me to send this email to our entire membership. I intended to raise both of these issues at the SDEA Board meeting scheduled for this evening, but after 30 members showed up to observe the emergency SDEA Board meeting held this past Friday night, Bill Freeman canceled it.

First, yesterday the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “The union board gave Freeman the OK last week to hire consultants to conduct a telephone survey of teachers within the next two weeks to gage what kind of concessions or agreements might be acceptable. The survey will stop once 70 percent of the membership has been polled.” I have grave concerns about the content and goals of this survey. For one, the questions were supposed to be approved by the SDEA Board in advance of its launch but were not.

Second, while I remain committed to building a strong and united SDEA, I was not asked to participate in the all-member email you all received on May 30th from the rest of the SDEA Board of Directors. So I would like to tell you directly what I would have contributed to that all-member email, had I been asked.

1.      In the preceding five years SDEA members have demonstrated an unbelievable capacity to unite – and win – when we collectivize our efforts around a bold, clear plan to win. While the words of everyone in SDEA’s current leadership have consistently stated our organizational goals, “NO layoffs AND NO concessions,” members have been waiting since March 5 for a viable plan from SDEA leadership that will once again lead us to victory. Almost three months after the School Board’s layoff vote, that plan has yet to materialize.

2.      Instead of continuing to wait for someone else to do it for us, SDEA members in the Breakfast Club Action Group (a group of active SDEA members fighting layoffs and concessions) reached out to former Executive Director Craig Leedham and crafted a strategy to unite members in accomplishing both of these goals, as we have together in the past. We think it is a proactive and uniting solution to the District’s “concessions vs. layoffs” spin, and would actually save our jobs and protect our pay and healthcare. You can read about it here. Educators all over SDUSD are working a grassroots campaign to build support for this plan, including a petition—find out how to get involved.

3.      Unfortunately, we received widespread reports that Superintendent Kowba has directed principals to crack down on member-to-member distribution of that plan. In an email to principals Kowba wrote, “We have been informed by the Association that persons other than those authorized by the Association are placing material in District mailboxes.” The email directs principals to “stop this practice immediately.” WE ARE the Association – and every single one of the 200 elected site Association Representatives and Board Members is an officially sanctioned representative. This directive violates the SDEA contract (Article 5.6), state labor laws, and our basic rights to freedom of speech. Sadly, we can only conclude that SDEA President Bill Freeman solicited this help from the Superintendent to prevent our NO Layoffs, NO Concessions plan from reaching members. “Open lines of communication” between the union and the District are one thing. Collaborating to keep a plan to stop layoffs and concessions from getting out to members is something else entirely. You can directly download ‘the plan Bill Kowba and Bill Freeman don’t want you to read’ and read it yourself.

As it has always been, the solution to our shared problems is shared action around a plan to win back EVERY SINGLE laid off educator while protecting our contract. Let’s not allow attacks on our democracy or our own internal disagreements stop us from coming together around a plan that has a real chance to succeed:

  • Read the attached flier – the one that member volunteers have been attempting to hand-deliver District-wide – and then share it with your friends and colleagues.
  • Sign the online petition or distribute a hard copy to hold both our SDEA and SDUSD democratically elected leadership accountable around a real plan to protect our schools and our profession.
  • Talk to your site AR about holding a union meeting to discuss your own site’s plan to protect our jobs AND our contract as we have in the past – download the emergency union meeting packet here.
  • The SDEA members of the Breakfast Club Action Group have a mailing list. Sign up at so we can keep in touch this summer when important decisions may be made by the District and our union about our jobs and our contract.
  • If you have half an hour, spend some time perusing the Breakfast Club website for some background information about how got where we are, and how we can get back to where we need to be. I suggest these three links: ONE, TWO and THREE.

It is absolutely not too late to change our collective fates for the better if we unite together now around a plan to win!

In solidarity

Camille Zombro

4 thoughts on “Member Blog Post: Our Union, Our Democracy – A Message from the SDEA Vice President

  1. Camille,
    Having retired at the end of ’08-’09, I’ll not proudly but honestly admit I’ve only peripherally been paying attention to the budget-layoff battles in SDUSD. But your 5/31/12 email to all SDEA members (of which I am still one) got my attention and led me to read much of what’s on the Breakfast Club blog… Ohmygod. Clearly some people have been acting out of fear, and secrecy–often a resort of those who fear–has replaced the openness and transparency which seemed to characterize SDEA in the past. I applaud your, Craig’s, and all the others who have been working to restore that transparency–and practicing it yourselves.
    Since I’ve not been following the details of the Board/budget-vs.-teachers battle, as I read with dismay what’s been going on w/ SDEA leadership (e.g. Freeman & the Board, explicitly not including you and Craig Leedham), I kept asking myself, “How can it be that the District is in the worst financial crisis in my memory yet Camille & etc. are claiming layoffs aren’t necessary to balance the books?”
    I found the answer in the “3-Step Plan.” I don’t know why CFO Ron Little testified that 500 of the layoffs were “unnecessary” but if he admitted it in the hearing then I’m willing to accept it as reasonably accurate. If HR reports another 500 “likely” to be covered by retirements, leaves, temp. contracts, etc. per a Board Doc, that’s pretty solid in my mind, too. At this point, the District’s own projection of a $40 million mid-year reduction necessary if the tax initiative fails is probably the best estimate we’ve got to go on, and I trust you, Craig, and others to have done the math to determine this would equal 550 teacher layoffs.
    It may be that after the November election, those 550 called back on temporary contracts may have to be laid off. And, as time and the economy march on, it could come to pass that SDUSD–and public education in general–continue to decline. It may turn out that more teachers need to be laid off, class sizes increase, and services to kids and parents and remaining school staff continue to erode. But clearly it is too soon to give in to that and succumb to that negative thinking… and give away forever hard-won gains for already overworked, overstressed, only mediocrely-paid teachers. The “3-Step Plan” timeline strategy is brilliant and makes perfect sense. That Freeman and the SDEA Board won’t recognize and support it baffles me. That they resort to secrecy and physical (and administrative–as in not allowing teachers to put flyers in other teachers’ boxes) intimidation shocks and saddens me… and tells me they’re either not very smart (doubtful) or there’s something else going on which they fear our knowing.
    I encourage you to continue to put the “3-Step Plan” front and center. And again, major kudos to you, Craig, and everyone else who are working so hard–and transparently–to restore true grass-roots representation by SDEA of its members, and a sensible strategy to prevent 1,550 of them from being laid off unless/until it truly is absolutely necessary.
    –Steve Grant (SDEA Member, retired after 30 years teaching–17 in SDUSD, Visiting Teacher Librarian for SDUSD)

  2. To San Diego’s Distinguished Teachers and Board Members:

    We all tell our children that they are important to us, and that we love them very much. They hear from their teachers, administrators, and from the politicians and unions how much we all care for them. We tell them that what they do in school matters. We tell them that they should come to school, study, work hard, aim high, and respect each other and adult authority figures. We tell them that some day they will be in charge – responsible for this world. They will be the doctors, teachers, mothers, fathers, and the leaders of the future.

    I think we should all work together and show them that we really mean it – and we should actually put them first – their welfare, their safety, their education, their future. Please join me in putting everything else aside and doing what is best for our children. We all need to do whatever we can do to save our dedicated, hard-working, and beloved teachers. Our children deserve that. Our country (our entire world!) and our lives will be in their hands some day. (The child you help today may be performing your coronary bypass one day.)

    Thank you so much for your time and attention – and for your devotion to the education of our children!

    Best Regards,

    Jennifer Snodgrass

    P.S. Please read on to see what my daughter has to say:

    Dear Sir or Madam,

    My name is Samantha Snodgrass. I’m a sophomore at Scripps Ranch High School. I play in the Scripps Ranch Falcon Corps Marching Band, which is what I am most proud of. Band is quite honestly the best thing about school.

    Everyone in band lovingly refers to the whole band as our “band family,” which it truly is. Every person makes up one whole. If anyone was missing it wouldn’t feel quite the same.

    My friends and I are always at the band room. It’s a place you know you will always be accepted, and always have someone to talk to. If I’m ever sad, feeling down, or just having an off day, I know where to go.

    However, we’ve got a problem. Our director, Russell Shedd got pink slipped this year. It happened last year, but it got rescinded. This year… it hasn’t been rescinded yet. We know there’s still a chance it will be, but there’s also a chance it won’t. And we don’t like the idea of losing him.

    Let me take a second to tell you about Russell Shedd, our music director. Mr. Shedd is well loved by all of his students. He is deeply committed to the music program. Last year, he ran 50 miles! Why? To raise money for our marching band to have new uniforms. Our old uniforms were 17 years old (older than me!). Some were fraying, others were stained, and there were tons of replaced or missing buttons. Mr. Shedd’s genuine passion for the music program got us brand new uniforms this year, which look quite dashing if I do say so myself (I’ve attached a link to our photo gallery, if you’d like to see:

    This year, Mr. Shedd also won the award for Orchestra Director of the year. Our orchestra and full orchestra both received superior rankings at state level. Mr. Shedd always has a funny story to tell, or an important lesson to teach us. He always makes little puns or jokes in class, and though we groan about how bad they are, they’re an important part of the band experience for us. He’s willing to do silly things and embarrass himself for us. For the Christmas parade we do every year, he has dressed up as all kinds of cartoon characters and other crazy costumes to keep with our theme.

    Mr. Shedd is my favorite teacher, and it’s easy to tell how much he cares about the well-being and safety of his students.

    We couldn’t possibly imagine band without him.

    I know that this is happening to teachers all over our district, and that we can’t fix our current situation with just a magic wave of a wand. But I would like to make a point about the strange way that teachers are laid off. They aren’t fired because they are unskilled, but instead because they lack seniority. My English teacher from last year and the English teacher I was supposed to have next year, Ms. Scalero and Ms. Francisco are in the same boat as Mr. Shedd. And I know that all of them are brilliant teachers, and it would be a tragedy for our district to lose them. And all of this is because they haven’t been teaching as long as others have.

    I don’t know if my letter will make a difference. But I hope that it does.

    Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you have a brilliant day.


    Samantha Snodgrass

  3. Pingback: NEW: Association for Union Democracy Publishes The Breakfast Club’s Story! « The Breakfast Club Action Group

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s