Administrators in Los Angeles Form A Bargaining Unit

By Ann Bradley — March 20, 1991 5 min read

Worried that they were being left out of the decisionmaking process, school administrators in Los Angeles have organized themselves into a formal bargaining unit that will negotiate labor agreements with the school district.

The decision by members of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles to seek supervisory status from the state was not challenged by the district superintendent or the board of education, which approved the arrangement last month.

The move means that principals, assistant principals, and other administrators will no longer be designated as part of the school district’s management team.

Eli Brent, president of the 1,525-member organization, said administrators sought collective-bargaining rights because they “haven’t been in the decision loop.”

“We now have a handle on our own destiny,” Mr. Brent said, “good or bad.”

The new bargaining unit, which approximately 1,850 administrators are eligible to join, will negotiate “memorandums of agreement” with the district, Mr. Brent said.

He said the association has no immediate plans to affiliate with a national labor union.

As the district has moved to a system of shared decisionmaking and school-based management, Mr. Brent explained, principals have found themselves caught in the middle.

“The teachers’ unions are getting more and more authority, and yet we’re not losing our responsibility,” he said. “We’re still being held accountable for decisions, but we’re not making them.”

Several observers said last week that they agree that principals’ jobs have become much more difficult, but they were not convinced that collective bargaining will solve administrators’ problems.

“It’s a complicated issue, but I think this will be very bad in the long run,” said Richard Riordan, a prominent Los Angeles lawyer and a leader of Kids 1st, a community-action group working to improve the schools.

Mr. Riordan said principals have been “virtually powerless within the system,” which he described as “upside down.”

But the kinds of traditional benefits that result from collective bargaining, such as restrictions on transferring and firing people, will only hinder attempts to improve the system, he suggested.

“We’re trying to restructure the schools to change where the power is,” Mr. Riordan said. “If that happens, as we’re sure it will, then the system will end up having been hurt by the principals.”

By electing to bargain collectively, noted Helen Bernstein, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, administrators will lose some advantages they have enjoyed in the past.

For example, principals have sat in on the school district’s negotiations with the teachers’ union, which will no longer be possible. And administrators now will have to bargain their own salaries, instead of automatically receiving the same percentage raises negotiated by the U.T.L.A.

“Standing on the sidelines and watching this,” Ms. Bernstein said, “I really believe that the principals who voted for this have no idea what they have gotten themselves into.”

Ms. Bernstein, who said she believes principals have been as “victimized” as teachers have been by the district, said she is troubled that the administrators’ group has no clear educational message.

“I don’t hear them talking about the need to improve the quality of education because we need to be able to make decisions and lead schools without the rules and regulations from the central office,” she said. “What they’re obsessed about is the fact that teachers have become empowered.”

Jackie Goldberg, the outgoing president of the board of education, said she voted for the change in status because she believes that all employees have the right to organize.

“But I also know that you should be careful what you ask for, because you may get it,” Ms. Goldberg added. “If I had been in their shoes, I don’t know if I would have made the same decision.”

Ms. Goldberg noted that the provisions establishing shared decisionmaking and school-based management are contained in the teachers’ contract, over which the administrators’ unit will have no control.

But Marion Hogue, a parent who serves on the central school-district council that oversees the program, predicted that administrators will want a greater voice in establishing the decisionmaking process--as do parents and classified employees.

“It’s an opportunity for a positive development,” Ms. Hogue said. ''Now that they’re unionized, I’m sure that they will want to be players in the renegotiation of this article.”

Los Angeles administrators had been considering changing their status for several years.

In several straw votes, between 75 percent and 85 percent of the A.A.L.A.'s members approved of the move, according to Daniel G. Basalone, vice president of the association’s elementary department.

After the California Public Employment Relations Board approved the association’s request for a change in its members’ status, the district could have challenged the move and forced the association to conduct a formal vote of its members.

A.A.L.A. officials said the fact that the district chose not to challenge the decision was an indication of the cordial relationship their group enjoys with Superintendent of Schools Bill Anton.

They stressed that the decision to seek bargaining rights does not mean that school administrators now see themselves as adversaries of the district.

In negotiating its first agreement, Mr. Basalone said, the association plans to concentrate on establishing written grievance and due-process procedures and on codifying other regulations that affect administrators.

Mr. Brent said he has received several telephone calls from other administrators’ groups in California that are weighing the pros and cons of organizing.

Part of their concern, he and others said, stems from the state’s fiscal crisis. Los Angeles alone is facing a $250-million budget shortfall and has trimmed $80 million from its current budget.

Thomas K. DeLapp, director of communications for the Association of California School Administrators, said administrators in “half a dozen” districts are considering dropping their management status out of fear that their jobs will not be protected from cuts.

But his association and the American Association of School Administrators take a dim view of such arrangements, arguing that administrators should remain part of a district’s management team.

The Dade County School Administrators Association is awaiting a court decision on whether its members can return to the supervisory status they had during the 1970’s.

Chuck Burdeen, executive director of the association, said principals have felt for a decade that they were “disenfranchised.” Dade County’s school-based management program has heightened those concerns, he said, because principals are being held accountable for the results of decisions they did not make.

A version of this article appeared in the March 20, 1991 edition of Education Week as Administrators in Los Angeles Form A Bargaining Unit