Teaching Profession Opinion

Union Election in Los Angeles: Meet Candidate Ortega

By Anthony Cody — March 04, 2014 13 min read
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Coleen Bondy, Los Angeles teacher, has prepared special coverage of the upcoming teacher’s union election in her city. Here is her report:

United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union for Los Angeles Unified School District, is holding elections for all of its major offices this spring. Ballots will be mailed out to the membership beginning Feb. 25.

Effective leadership has never been so critical to UTLA members as it is now. Teachers have endured years of brutal budget cuts, including furlough days, pink slips, increased class sizes, and have gone seven years without a raise.

In addition, LAUSD has implemented programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom that are wildly unpopular with teachers, who already deal with cleanliness issues in the classroom because of a lack of adequate custodial staffing.

LAUSD’s school board appears to be charging full steam ahead on a plan to equip every student with an iPad, at a total cost of about $1 billion. It is planning to use bond money that voters specifically earmarked for construction of new facilities and maintenance of old ones.

Perhaps most important of all, many LAUSD teachers perceive that the district has been hijacked by employees and school board members who are bent upon implementing corporate-style reforms in the district, without the approval of parents or teachers.

With so much at stake this year, we asked the candidates running for president of UTLA to answer the same 10 questions. The questions were emailed to all of the candidates in January. More information can also be found here.

We kicked off the series a week ago with Gregg Solkovits, and also featured Kevin Mottus. Then we met Alex Caputo-Pearl and Bill Gaffney. Today we meet Marcos Ortega II, who is in LAUSD’s “teacher jail.”

1. How did you come to be a teacher in Los Angeles?

I have lived in California since 1969, man went to the moon, at 8 my parents brought me to California. I attended LAUSD schools and graduated from James Monroe High, in 1981. In 1989, I found myself with, a six dollar an hour job, that was taking me no where. I became a cafeteria substitute worker, and held three other jobs. One day, the district sent me to Grant High, this high school, held special memories for me. After work, I was reminiscing, about the speech I made here, in 1981, about integration and busing, for Mayor Tom Bradley. It was televised on, Good Morning America. I noticed two gentlemen, asked if they were hiring security guards, they were. Then the next semester, when school started, Mr. Collins, principal, asked me to be a Teacher Assistant, yet I would continue doing security work, out of the classroom. The only requirement was to go to college, which I did and graduated from Cal State Northridge in 1993. While a Teacher Assistant, I found, we had no Union and weren’t protected, I became active and involved and we managed to start local 99. I was issued an Emergency Credential, in 1993, in science and began teaching at MaClay Middle. I had a lot of encouragement and support from administrators, unfortunately these times are gone. Now many administrators are set and geared against teachers and are abusing their power.

2. Why are you running for President of UTLA?

As I already stated, there are administrators, that tend to be abusive with their power. I currently find myself in Teacher Jail, due to what I believe was caused by incompetency on the part of administration. I was walking to a meeting on a Tuesday and witnessed a sexual assault on a young lady. I stopped the assault, a fellow teacher came and assisted. The teacher left and I took kids to office, a security guard got mad, cause I didn’t turn them over to her. This was a police matter, I wanted the police officer, unable to locate an officer, I left them in the office. When the officer spoke to me, she told me, “I should learn to walk around with blinders.” I couldn’t believe it, I said, “how dare you?, you are a woman, my daughter went to this school, my son comes here.” I was enraged, I couldn’t believe my ears.

So, because we cannot discipline by suspension, nor arrest, they elevated the student to celebrity status, and I was remove for yelling at perpetrator, and the security guard accused me of using the “F” word. They pull me out, between 5 and 6 period, seven officers and 3 administrators, parade me to office. Here, with her door open, my principal typed out my reassignment papers. She kept her door open, exposing me to the Main Office and anyone who happened to be there. Then 5 more officers arrive, I was then paraded back to the place of apprehension and ushered out of my school. I am a good Teacher and didn’t do anything wrong. I stopped a crime and now, I am, the criminal and in Teacher Jail.

So, I haven’t taught since October 4, 2013, I am tired of a weak Union, that allows its employee’s to work without a current contract. I find the need to answer the call to represent our member’s, not buckle under pressure, and demand clarity and justice for all members of UTLA.

3. Have you been involved with any Gates-funded education reform projects such as Educators 4 Excellence? If so, what did you learn from that experience?

No, it isn’t till recently that I joined, to be included in a UTLA Presidential Forum in Boyle Heights, on March 4, and did become a member. I respect, anyone who is seeking reform, cause current trends show things are not working. I think it’s nice of Mr. Gates to seek ways to make education work. So, as far as what I have learned, not much, for I just became a member. But, I would encourage Mr. Gates to talk to educators and seek our guidance in our reformation and apply pressure on the corrupt agencies that are ruining education.

4. How will the recent iPad purchase affect LAUSD over the next few years?

I see this as a waste of money that could go to better the quality of education. I don’t know, if the public is aware of the real purpose. Obama is mandating that all student be tested on computers, so the LAUSD and Mr. Deasy, are investing in these iPad’s, for this sole purpose. So, when kids get tested the will be issued one, then after test they will be collected and kept in storage, until the next test. I fail to understand how they will benefit our students at all, Data will be easier to collect but how accurate will it be. How are these instruments helping our kids, no the are helping corporations and the district assessments easier to interpret.

They are overpriced and are not even going to be used as a tool for learning just to show there ineptness for lack of exposure to these devices. They way the district plans to use is a waste of money and time, not to mention storage space.

5. What do you think of recent changes in the way teachers are evaluated in LAUSD?

I adamantly appose, this is a violation of our contract, this is proof that we have a weak Union, for they allowed the District to roll it out and forced it on us. There was nothing wrong with the other system, with the exception, that, mostly, all of us get satisfactory evaluations, due to the ineptness of our administrators. This old system was agreed upon by both parties, yet, because we are working without a contract the District can do these things. This new system is allowing the district to deem us unsatisfactory and now they can discipline us or get rid of us for incompetency, when it’s their form of evaluation, that is an incompetent.

This should be stopped and the Union should not be allowing this to harm it’s members as it is doing, and should have file a lawsuit. Most of teachers in Teacher Jail are over 50, UTLA should file an age discrimination suit, against these practices. I cannot believe, that we, the experienced are the problem, oh they can’t push us around, well the weakness of our UTLA is allowing it. The new recruits are vulnerable, think about we with tenure are being incarcerated (Teacher Jail), what can they expect. This new evaluation system is flawed and should be stopped, now.

6. Are you in favor of implementing the Common Core State Standards in LAUSD? If so, why? If not, why not

Yes, because this is the direction that the State and District are headed. I believe it is the current law or policy the State has adopted. Even though I don’t agree with them, I agree that we have a problem, and if this is the answer, then so be it. What I agree with or not isn’t important, as President, I have to leave my biases aside and do the best for my members and collaborate with the District and the State, by implementing programs they have adopted. I would utilize the training funds to secure their success.

I am against them, for I see them, as a totalitarian maneuver, that our forefathers tried to warn us about. They left education to the States and not the Federal government. The beauty of the united, States, is that, they are different not homogeneous, this is virtues, for we retain individuality which is essential in the protection of a heterogeneous society.

I think, it is, a direct assault on our constitution, and a glorification of the Federal government, at the cost of the people’s rights and ultimately the demise of the State.

As President, I will do my best to comply with current law and insure of their implementation.

7. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing teachers/UTLA today? How would you address those issues as president?

The main issue facing UTLA are lack of leadership, publics perception of teachers, and lack of collaboration with LAUSD.

We have been working without a contract, and the old one is not adhered to, it is only when it benefits the District, are they applied. We have money due to proposition 30, yet it is being channeled to other things. Not for what he public approved it for. Smaller classes and pay increase or at least to give us back all those days they took. It seems we don’t know any attorneys, we should be the ones filing lawsuits against Deasy, this way he wouldn’t have to sue himself, I guess, his conscience is bothering him. We have attorney’s, they are making bank, off those of us in Teacher Jail. Why would the Union close Teacher Jails, they need them open, so these attorneys can make money. Does the Union brass get kickbacks? Over 85% of teachers in these facilities are over 50. Why hasn’t an age discrimination suit been filed on our behalf? We have a corrupt Union that is not doing anything for their members. Once elected these practices, will Cease and Desist.

The public image has to be worked on, we need good PR campaign, one or two bad apples, should not define us all. It is, as if, we are carrying a big Red Target on our backs. We are not Targets, we need to, change this image. I propose we change our colors from Red to Pink. Red is not a good color for educators, it invokes blood, war, and is the color associated with Communism, and normally is the color of Targets. So, why wouldn’t, everyone take shoots at us. Pink on the other hand is soothing, relaxing. If you have ever been fired, they give you a pink slip. I, imagine it’s devastating, although I have never received one, I have seen colleagues that have. They tend to become enraged, then they look at the pink slip and relax. So, we would start slow by changing our color affiliation. Check out my video on you-tube, see how, I have changed my image. This, I will do for our UTLA, I will use the media to our advantage. Today teachers are being crucified in the media, and those good things we do are kept in the dark. We need to push for clarity, so I propose cameras in the classroom, this way parents could see, where the problem lies. Why should we hide our practice, why shouldn’t a parent have access, to view what happens in their child’s class. I am going to push for cameras in the classroom, to show the world, the quality Teachers, we have in LAUSD that are members of UTLA. We need to change our image, we start with getting rid of that war color red, there is power in the color Pink, a soothing power.

I see the UTLA and LAUSD at odds, we need to work hand in hand and collaborate as much as we can for the benefit of all. I believe, that our test scores should be used to evaluate and determine ones effectiveness. It is the point, which dwindles my support amongst Teachers, because Teachers fear it, when they should embrace it. I agree with the district and President Obama, the best craftsmen make the most money, so be it with us. I believe this would create a great incentive, and since most of us “Rock,” and have nothing to fear. We have to convince the public and show them we teachers are not the problem, we have nothing to hide. This would be exemplified by cameras in the classroom. We need to expose all corruption at any level. We need to be united, for today we stand divided, this is why, we, are failing.

There may be greater issues, yet, these steps, especially winning the publics support, is the most important. The public, ultimately decides, by putting pressure on agencies and enacting propositions, such as 30, UTLA most demand its implementation.

8. What has surprised you since you began running for this office?

I would say, the lack of support for those of us with no affiliations, the unfair campaigning practices. I have been excluded from forums, such as teach4excellence, on March 4, I have rectified and will be on their ballot. Why, Mr. Cody, who is going to be printing this, did not inform me on this process, I had to request to be included. The main thing, is how crooked the people at the UTLA are, all they care is their job preservation. I am a member of UTLA, yet, at a current meeting, I was pot bellied out, by two individuals from UTLA. Solely because, I asked a question they had no answer for, I would have accepted, I don’t know. The question was, why the Union wasn’t demanding a litmus test for administrators, to show their incompetency? This I believe is the root of the problem. I see, how these people in power lack back bone, and cannot believe most have been out of the class for so long, and thus have no idea what happens in the classroom. Time to change, get these career politicians out of office and back to the classroom.

9. How do you feel about Breakfast in the Classroom at the elementary, middle and high school levels?

I think this is crazy. It creates, more work and not sanitary. Currently we have an obesity problem in the United States. Now, student will eat in the classroom? Having the children not walk to get there nutrition, is going to exemplify the problem. We are educators, we should recognize that this is harmful and not permit it. These programs only benefit the administration, for they don’t have to supervise, and responsibility is now put on us, teachers. All our custodians do is pick up our trash, they aren’t going to clean or sanitize our rooms, more work for teachers, administrator’s are no except from yard duty, not good.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would hope that who ever wins, will take a proactive approach to the resolution of our problems. If we had cameras in the classroom, I assure you, I would not be in Teacher Jail. I cannot believe, that, all child or parent, or anyone has to do is make an allegation, no matter how frivolous, it is, regarded as fact. I service 175 students per semester, why should a few ruin it for the rest. Allegations should remain allegations, until proven, not fact until unproven. Is this not America? where you are innocent until proven guilty.

Firefighters and Teachers are super heroes, yet lately both have come under attack.

I have a metal plaque, that a former student made, it reads “Super Chunt.” Now, I won’t, tug on Superman’s cap. I don’t spit into the wind. Yet, Slim (Deasy) better watch out.

We need to face the issues at hand, be all that we can be, but most of all, we need the protection of a contract and representatives that cannot be bought. We need to change our image allow the public to see, we are doing nothing wrong, invite them into the classroom. Establish a test so administrator show, they are competent to rule. They take this attitude or royalty and guess who the peons are?

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