A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Tough Bargaining in Pacific Northwest

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 19•15

School districts officials know that contract negotiations with the teachers’ union can be difficult. Teachers’ union officers get to experience the same pain themselves when negotiating with their own employees, represented by a staff union.

UniServ directors and other professional staffers of the Oregon Education Association have worked for more than a year without a contract, while negotiations between employees and management at the Washington Education Association have deteriorated to the point where the staff union is asking UniServ directors across the country to turn down any temporary assignments to the state.

Staff union strikes were once fairly common, but if memory serves there has not been one at an NEA state affiliate since Ohio Education Association employees walked out in 2010.


Put Those Back On

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 17•15

Dateline – Broward County, Florida:

Former Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo is due in court Monday to face new federal fraud charges, court records show.

Santeramo, 67, was indicted on two mail fraud charges, accused of misappropriating more than $35,000 from the Broward school district’s “accountability program,” according to court records filed Friday.

Santeramo, of Sewall’s Point, is expected to appear Monday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale for a hearing on the charges.

The federal charges each carry a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison. Santeramo did not immediately respond to a phone message left at his home Sunday.

His lawyer, Ben Kuehne, said Santeramo denies any wrongdoing.

“Pat Santeramo intends to fight these charges, just as he is fighting for vindication against baseless allegations of financial misconduct lodged by the State of Florida,” Kuehne said.

The indictment alleges that Santeramo diverted at least $35,000 from the district’s accountability program payments to the union between 2006 and June 2011. Monthly payments were then illegally made to Santeramo and at least one other employee, prosecutors wrote in the indictment, though Santeramo is the only suspect identified by name in court records.

The money, provided to the union by the School Board, was supposed to be used for training, guest speakers and to give teachers time to work on related projects, prosecutors wrote.

In a separate case, Santeramo is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 19 in Broward Circuit court on state charges that he misappropriated about $300,000 from the union and contractor kickbacks.

Santeramo has pleaded not guilty to the state charges, which include racketeering conspiracy, grand theft, money laundering and fraud. He has been free on bond since those charges were filed in July 2012.

For more background on the state charges, click here.


How to Keep the Union Away? It’s No Secret

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 14•15

I have been asked this question in various forms many times over the past two decades. The answer most people expect is some kind of list of campaign tactics, but I always respond in the same way. Nothing you do can keep the teachers’ union away. Your teachers keep the teachers’ union away.

Last Tuesday, Floyd “Doc” Buchanan passed away at the age of 91. From 1960 to 1991 he was the superintendent of the Clovis Unified School District, a district that has since grown to more than 40,000 students. At the midpoint of his tenure, a revolutionary change occurred in the California school system. Public school teachers were granted the right to bargain collectively.

All over the state, local unions formed and affiliated with the California Teachers Association or the California Federation of Teachers. But Clovis was unique among all but the very smallest of districts. It never had a union, and still does not, almost 40 years later.

Buchanan was opposed to unions, but he was apparently alone with the knowledge of turning them back. A colleague recalls Buchanan saying, “you need to serve your teachers and serve them so well that the trust is high, and they don’t feel they need a union.”

There has never been a group of workers who said to themselves, “We’re well paid, our working conditions are excellent, we’re treated with respect and our opinions matter… Let’s get a union in here!” Districts or charter schools faced with a union organizing drive should first look to their own practices and philosophies before worrying about what the union is up to.

When it came to education, Buchanan also favored an approach that has fallen out of favor in California’s schools: competition.

He would send a letter to each new teacher in the district that spelled out his doctrine:

Our philosophy is simple. A fair break for every kid.

We believe in high standards in Clovis schools. We believe competition is an ingredient of high standards and an important motivational tool. We recognize three levels of competition. First, we want you to make sure that all of our students learn to compete against themselves; that’s the toughest competition of all. Second, we want you to encourage our students to compete in specialty areas to help them build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, because that’s the way they get jobs and that’s the way they have to perform in life. Third, we want you to teach our students to work in groups and to compete in groups, because we think that students who can’t work in groups are going to have trouble in tomorrow’s world.

Should agency fee disappear in California, in many places the teachers’ unions will press on as exclusive representatives despite not having the power to compel dues. But some places will have to develop new systems of labor relations. Let’s hope Doc Buchanan’s model finds new life.



Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 13•15

The executive board of the Detroit Federation of Teachers removed president Steve Conn from office after only 8 months on the job. Conn was also expelled as a member.

After much deliberation, President Conn was found guilty of the following charges:

1. Illegal cancellation of meetings, illegal attempts to convene special meetings, and failure to preside over meetings in accordance with the bylaws.
2. Unauthorized affiliation of the DFT with By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).
3. Failure to investigate abuse of members.
4. Failure to address physical assault on member.
5. Failure to pay per capita dues.

The board’s report on the trial and verdict makes for entertaining reading.

Conn was elected by only 15 votes and brought no allies with him onto the executive board. Surrounded by his opponents, Conn evidently created a shadow organization populated by his supporters from BAMN. Unfortunately, many of these folks were not DFT members, though they were far more active in the union than most members.

Conn called several special membership meetings, a process which requires petitions signed by at least 500 members. Conn claimed to have these, though he refused to show them to the board, and did not have them verified.

There was also the charge that Conn failed to discipline supporter Patrick Burton after he allegedly assaulted member Emma Howland-Bolton at a meeting. The board report states two surveillance cameras caught the incident on tape.

They showed Patrick Burton grabbing Ms. Howland-Bolton from behind, dragging her across the lobby of the IBEW hall, shaking her, and grabbing her cell phone and throwing it to the ground, where it broke. The evidence was clear not only to those who viewed the videotape but also to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which has brought charges against Mr. Burton for felony assault and malicious destruction of property…. President Conn’s response to this incident was to claim that Ms. Howland-Bolton was a saboteur, that she deliberately provoked Burton by interfering with him in the performance of his duties, and by pressing false charges against him.

Actually, the most serious charge was failure to pass along AFT’s share of member dues. Conn apparently didn’t sign the checks until the week before his trial.

The decision of the board can be overturned by a two-thirds vote of members attending the September 10 meeting. The final appeal would be to the AFT.

Conn’s response, as you might expect, was defiance. He released a statement accusing the board of a coup, based on “fraudulent and politically motivated charges.”

Conn plans to organize a recall of the executive board members, file a lawsuit against them, and hold a Labor Day rally.


Chicago Teachers Union Spanks Novelist

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 12•15

Here’s a story from the Tucson Weekly that I offer without comment:

The Chicago Teachers Union is pissed at a Tucson writer—who goes by the pseudonym Gabby Matthews—over a political erotica novel he wrote about a teachers strike that shut down part of Chicago’s public school system for about a week back in 2012.

The union has told the author they do not want to be associated with this “spanking novel,” titled The Teacher’s Strike, citing alleged trademark violations, according to the author. CTU’s communications director, Stephanie Gadlin, says a fictional Teachers Union logo on a shirt worn by the teacher’s character on the cover should be removed from both print and online copies, because it is way too similar to the union’s actual logo. The union also demands that any copies of the book already printed be recalled, a letter from the union’s attorney says.

The publisher and author have until Aug. 14 to comply, or the union will “take steps” to ensure they do obey, the letter says.

“I think the union is widely overreacting. It’s just a book…I wish they’d recognize it is a political satire and just have a good laugh at it,” Matthews says. He’d prefer not to reveal his real name, but he’s a local activist and educator, as well. “I expected more open-minded sentiment about sexuality and gender from a union that purports itself to be liberal and progressive.”

The book, which was released in July, tells the story of an “illicit romantic affair” between a male student of legal age and his early-20-something-year-old female teacher. It takes place during the teachers’ strike from three years ago.

The novel is described as work that “takes a sympathetic perspective on the Union’s struggle over educational policy inside Chicago schools. The main and supporting characters take part in the high-profile labor battles against city policies, personified in the book’s unseen antagonist, ‘mayor of the 1 percent,’ the unflattering title used by activists to describe Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel…At one point in the story, the book title’s double meaning becomes clear when the teacher spanks (or ‘strikes’) the student’s bare behind (and vice versa) in a romantic act of affection during intercourse.”

Matthews says he, as a writing tutor, and the CTU fight for the same things: education equality and labor rights, so why are they so mad?

An attorney with the union says they reserve the right to seek damages and relief from the profit that comes from book sales—in the case the logo is not removed, that is.


What Happens in Vegas Could Happen Elsewhere

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 11•15

The first tentative steps towards a monumental break with historical trends are taking place in Nevada. A new law doesn’t exactly break up the Clark County School District (if I read the text correctly) but creates five school “precincts” within the boundaries of the district by 2018.

A committee is being formed to come up with a plan that must be approved by state legislators in 2017.

It is clear that the intent of the law is to reduce the 300,000+ student enrollment district to a manageable and more efficient size. But with the number of players involved and the amount of time before a decision is made, there is a danger that the process could actually add a layer of bureaucracy.

School districts have been getting bigger for decades. Sixty years ago there were five times as many districts serving far fewer students.

I’m pessimistic that breaking up large urban districts will catch fire across the country, but if it were to happen it could potentially be the biggest structural change the American public education system has ever introduced.


Declassified: Indiana and Kentucky Internal Documents

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Aug• 10•15

Click here to read.