In the 2010-11 school year, the San Diego Unified School District employed 7,095 teachers. The best information I can find suggests that about 450 were laid off for the 2011-12 school year and not recalled. That left 6,645 potential teacher members for the San Diego Education Association, the 26th largest teacher union local in the nation. We can only guess at how many are fee-payers and non-members, but historical data in California would put the figure at about 5 percent – or 332 teachers. That leaves 6,313 SDEA members eligible to vote in internal union elections.
That electorate has spoken – sort of. SDEA members re-elected Bill Freeman as president (he ran unopposed), but challenger Lindsay Burningham defeated incumbent vice president Camille Zombro. SDEA’s incumbent secretary and treasurer were also unopposed.
Zombro was a former SDEA president, and was considered to be philosophically aligned with executive director Craig Leedham, who was placed on administrative leave by the union for undisclosed reasons earlier this month. Zombro reportedly won’t be returning to the classroom, but will retain her full-time release position for SDEA in charge of organizing charter schools.
I still find it hard to believe that this executive house-cleaning is based on a desire to change the union’s “tone” in contract negotiations. However, it is clear that whatever the problem was with Leedham and Zombro, it mostly concerned a band of union insiders who came to the conclusion it was time for them to go.
Union officer elections are notorious for their low turnout, but the SDEA turnout was low even by low standards.
According to the union’s official results, only 734 ballots were submitted for the Zombro seat, of which 70 were “illegal.” One was blank, leaving 663 valid ballots. Burningham easily defeated Zombro, 381-279, with three write-ins.
To sum up, 10.5 percent of those eligible voted, and six percent of those eligible voted for Burningham. As few as 162 votes (2.6% of eligible votes) were enough to get you elected as a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly.
You might think that’s a bad enough indictment of the failure to involve the rank-and-file, but it’s even worse than you think. By my count, 63 SDEA members ran for office. Almost ten percent of the votes cast were cast by people up for election. That may be democracy, but it’s a rather insular brand.
I don’t know what hero can swoop in and save SDEA from member apathy, but there were three write-ins who might fit the bill: