As a teacher and a union member, I believe as a democracy we must question our leadership especially when leadership shows total disregard for dissenting opinion. My elected SDEA leaders have supported a School Board candidate, John Lee Evans, who voted for 3,000 layoffs the last three years and was point man for the School Board insisting on teacher contract salary concessions this last spring. Our SDEA leaders not only endorsed Evans but also contributed $15,000 of our SDEA PAC money to his campaign. Leadership never vetted his opponent and didn’t bother to let members vet Evans this time around either.
SDEA leadership talks a good game when it comes to democracy, but held an election which disenfranchised members who had left on summer vacations from absentee voting on the Tentative Agreement. Interestingly the election done at the last minute brought back memories of Terry Pesta’s SDEA Presidency when we were asked to vote on a multi-year no-raise contract at the last minute in late May or early June when the members had little time to digest the vote’s ramifications. And who was our lead negotiator this time around? None other than Terry Pesta. I don’t believe the timing of our vote was coincidental.
Why is the new SDEA Bylaws Committee trying to change our Bylaws to muzzle fellow Board members from speaking in dissent? Isn’t hearing different points of view what democracy is all about? This doesn’t sound democratic to me. Why did SDEA President Bill Freeman violate ethical trust and tell the District that a recall of SDEA leadership had begun before it was ever officially announced to our members? Why did he involve the District in our unions’ internal affairs? Do we really want to have this leadership negotiate our next contract when they appear to say and do whatever they want without any threat of impunity?
I am a 35-year veteran math teacher and member of SDEA. I have served on the Political Information Committee (PIC) for SDEA, phone banked for Prop. S, walked precincts on several occasions (once supporting Evans and fellow Board member Richard Barrera when they first ran for office), and handed out leaflets on educational issues at a local market. In the last year I have watched as leadership for the School Board and SDEA have failed to maintain our salaries with inflation. This year we lost our guaranteed salary increase after we helped the District balance their budget for the two prior years from our pocketbooks. I am almost finished with my career, and this agreement will deeply negatively affect my retirement. Depending on how many years I live, the TA could cost me $100,000 to $170,000 since retirement is calculated using the highest year’s salary. It’s not fair to me and especially to my family.
The decision to participate in the recall of our union’s leadership wasn’t personal. I wanted a recall because people were re-elected on the basis of their promise not renegotiating our contract, but then they voted for the TA — exactly opposite of what they campaigned on. If our membership wants to re-elect the officers who said one thing and did another, then we reap what we sow. But I want an honest up or down vote so we can make that choice together. Now more than ever I’m convinced we need a change.
Please don’t misconstrue anything I’ve written that somehow I don’t care for our students. That could not be further from the truth. For public education to survive, our salaries must keep pace or we won’t have the best and brightest becoming teachers. Unless salaries are commensurate with the expectations and education required of qualified teachers, many otherwise will seek professions where the hours and the wages will be better. Our children’s children will pay the price.
Please consider what could happen if we don’t voice our opinions. Democracy depends on healthy debate and dissent isn’t inherently bad.
— by Peter Burrell, Serra High School