On Friday, January 10th, the SDEA Board of Directors held a day-long retreat to reflect on and evaluate our progress, discuss goals, set priorities, and map the direction of our union. The retreat was then followed by an SDEA Board meeting. Over the course of the day it became abundantly clear that a small group of people run our union and they would like to keep it that way.
By Shane Parmely, SDEA Board member
After discussing issues facing our membership, Board members reviewed two packets of goals (one created by the previous SDEA Board and one by the SDEA staff) to identify what had gone well, what needs to be improved, and what new ideas we could add. The first goal identified by the previous SDEA Board is that we develop, strengthen, and improve internal and external communication systems. Makes sense as many SDEA members have no idea what their dues dollars pay for. But of concern to me was that the very first objective listed to achieve this goal is to have “regular meetings with the SDUSD Board and key individuals from the administration.” We were told this goal is being met through member accountability session (which I pointed out usually seem to happen because Rep. Council votes to make them happen) and informal communication between SDEA President Bill Freeman and School Board members and administration. Several Breakfast Club caucus Board members expressed frustration that these participation opportunities are poorly publicized to members, and there is no report-out to members afterward about what happened. “Two way communication that encourages member input” came second, after the goal of communicating with the District — and most of those plan components had not been implemented. So while our union leadership is regularly communicating with SDUSD Board members and administrators, none of the member surveys to “encourage” member input have ever been implemented. This is unacceptable and needs to change.
As teachers, I think we are all pretty well versed in backward planning, yes? While looking at the SDEA staff goals, I expressed concern that many of the goals are vague and immeasurable. How do we know if our union is achieving the goals we have set if we have no data to keep track? How do we know if we members are getting a reasonable bang for our buck on the work being done to achieve these different goals and objectives? And I’m not talking super esoteric information. Simple before and after counts of schools engaged or meetings held would suffice. As a Board member, I need some kind of numbers so that I can make an informed decision and not just rubber stamp whatever is being presented. Several times Breakfast Club caucus Board members requested that meetings be publicized on the SDEA calendar and documented so that membership can know what is going on — a request that has been repeatedly made and ignored.
SDEA Vice President Lindsay Burningham grew frustrated by our questions and concerns as new Board members. She said that these goals had been approved by the previous Board and that we weren’t there to spend the day nit-picking them. I reminded her that the previous Board had not been reelected because membership was not happy with the work they had been doing. In fact, the new Board members were elected precisely because SDEA members want Board members who will bring some accountability to our union, and that the current Board did not have to blindly follow the decisions of the previous Board. Isn’t that the point of having elections?
Based on the input I have collected from members throughout the District, here are some of the ideas I voiced over the course of the day:
- PowerSchool is a disaster at the secondary level
- Advocate for a “Golden Handshake” or SERP
- Pressure the district to get rid of politically connected, toxic administrators
- Prevent AR burnout by engaging and training more members
- Guarantee a certain number of district-paid BTSA slots for Visiting Teachers
- Start community and parent outreach in support of our bargaining campaign immediately
- Create a structured format in which our NEA, CTA, Service Center, and Labor Council delegates report back and share information with our membership at large (case in point — I bet a lot of you had no idea you were even being represented on all of those bodies)
- Regularly ask our membership for input through short 2-3 question Survey Monkeys
Leaving the Board retreat, I feel pessimistic that many of the ideas expressed by my fellow Board members will be taken seriously or implemented. It seems that currently, the Board meetings are a formality that we go through because the governance documents require them, but that afterward it is Bill Freeman, his handful of friends on the Board, and the SDEA staff who actually decide what is and is not important, and what work will and will not get done. That is not how a democratic body like our union is supposed to function. This makes our union’s upcoming election so incredibly important — and makes what happened during the business portion of the meeting so disturbing.
Board Business Meeting
During the business portion of the meeting, I made a motion to have our union’s upcoming spring election announced at January Rep. Council, with candidate paperwork and speeches done at the February Rep. Council, so our election could be held in March — just as it has been for the past two years. I made this motion because after emailing a request for timeline information to the SDEA Election Committee and Raf Dobrowolski (the SDEA staffer working with the Election Committee), I learned that the current plan seems to be that we’ll elect SDEA’s next president while all of the year-round teachers are on vacation during the month of April. Freeman and Burningham spoke at length against my motion, saying that if teachers were on vacation then they could use the new online voting system.
My motion did not pass. The initial vote was a tie, with Freeman casting the deciding vote to defeat it. After the meeting, I took another look at our governing documents and it seems like my motion probably should have been ruled out of order. I don’t think the SDEA Board can direct the work of the Election Committee, which completely makes sense. The Election Committee needs to be self-directing, so that incumbents can’t use their positions to make it easier to get themselves reelected. Nonetheless, I still find it disturbing that Freeman and Burningham saw no objection to holding an election while 25% of our members are on vacation. I think we all share an interest in increasing democratic participation within our union, not suppressing it. I look forward to hearing the announcement of the spring election timeline, which is in on the January Rep. Council agenda, and hope that the Election Committee will set a timeline that does not disenfranchise any of our members.