The battle over who should control the public schools in Los Angeles continues to escalate, with a group of teachers challenging their union leaders’ decision to support Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to win some authority over schools.
Calling themselves the Coalition for Union Democracy, the teachers have successfully petitioned for a unionwide vote on the controversial matter. But any internal referendum—which is triggered by a petition signed by at least 500 members of the local—is not likely to happen before state lawmakers vote on the mayor’s bill.
The California legislature adjourns Aug. 31; union rules require a referendum to occur within 60 days of the submission of signatures.
Nearly 600 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District signed the petition to force a vote over Mr. Villaraigosa’s plan within the 47,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, said Paul Huebner, the vice chairman of the union’s political action committee and a leading organizer of the coalition. UTLA is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Mr. Huebner, a 2nd grade teacher, said he and his colleagues are upset that union leaders made a deal with the mayor without getting input from a broader range of members. They are urging the UTLA to schedule a vote before the legislature adjourns.
“Folks are very concerned that such a small number of people worked out this deal just before it was announced,” he said.
‘We Had to Act’
A.J. Duffy, UTLA’s president, doesn’t dispute that he decided to back Mr. Villaraigosa’s plan without consulting the rank and file. He said many teachers were probably surprised to hear of the agreement after months of fighting the mayor’s bid to gain complete control over the district. The agreement, struck in June, would allow the mayor to share authority with the elected school board and the superintendent. (“Power Over Curriculum at Heart of L.A. Deal,” July 26, 2006.)
“Ultimately, it would have been better to have a discussion with the various governing bodies before we signed on,” he said. “But this happened very quickly, we got a call, and we had to act. We didn’t want to not be at the table.”
The union’s House of Representatives met last month and voted 101-89 to support the mayor’s legislation, Mr. Duffy said.
But he the referendum would be beneficial. “It’s another opportunity to explain to the members what this compromise is all about.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Members in Los Angeles Union Petition For Vote on Leadership Pact With Mayor