Exodus

Orange teachers union destroying education to save it

Photo by Joy BastThey may not win a contract for their teachers any time soon, but teachers union officials in Orange are closing in on a related goal—the total destruction of the Orange Unified School District.

A July 30 report in the Los Angeles Times revealed that almost one-fourth of the district's teachers have resigned. The exodus has left school officials scrambling to fill vacancies and traveling to job fairs around the U.S. and Canada in search of replacement teachers.

But mostly unreported is this salient feature: teachers union officials have encouraged their veteran members to leave.

In May, the union held its own unofficial job fair for district teachers. With the support of the powerful state California Teachers Association (CTA), union officials handed out more than 400 applications for employment in other local school districts.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said CTA official Val Steine when contacted by the Weekly. We refreshed her memory: hundreds of teachers arriving at union headquarters on Katella Avenue? Met there by distraught parents begging them not to abandon the district? Steine then said she recalled the event but said it was unclear how many teachers who received applications actually pursued jobs elsewhere.

Destroying your union to save it may seem beyond ironic, but it's part of union boss John Rossman's effort to settle a contract dispute now more than two years old: make the district ungovernable and arm-twist board members into approving higher pay and better benefits for teachers. If he fails, Rossman says he will surrender his union post.

The union's tactics might go largely unnoticed outside the city of Orange, thanks in part to the higher-profile antics of the right-wing Orange Unified school board. In the past, ideologues on the board have argued against any federal funding of schools—including lunch and counseling programs—as unconstitutional interference; tried shortsightedly to privatize bus service; ended bilingual education in a manner so imperious that it seemed calculated to inflame the district's Latino parents; vowed to shut down all extracurricular clubs in the district rather than allow students at El Modena High School to run a gay/ straight alliance; and attempted to replace an outgoing superintendent with a cadre of board-picked minirulers.

Rossman has used the resulting controversies as a cover for his subtler but no less destructive tactics to achieve a contract. He has attacked the district's newest teachers as unqualified and directed union employees to choke off the flow of new applicants to the district by tirelessly picketing college job fairs—including those as far away as Canada and the Midwest. Union representatives have contacted local universities to discourage them from sending student teachers to the district and bulk-mailed antiboard propaganda to local neighborhoods with mailing labels from a CTA database; a CTA official told the Weekly it had reprimanded Rossman's union for unauthorized use of its mailing list.

Most recently, a union-backed group calling itself the "Kids First! Coalition" sent a terse lawsuit threat to Orange city manager David Rudat after police were dispatched to settle a pissing match in the parking lot outside a school board meeting. The letter charged that Orange police are being used to "further the board's agenda" and went on to warn Rudat that "we hope the city of Orange is willing to avoid an alliance with the Orange School Board in federal court."

The letter was a classic example of the union's tactics—self-righteous, threatening, conspiratorial. If the district's 31,000 kids are watching, they've learned (presumably without ever reading) most of the lessons of Machiavelli's The Prince.

 
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