Teacher's Union unhappy with SF school chief process

UESF teachers rally against layoffs March 16 (photo from uesf.org)

Key Tray from the United Educators of San Francisco called me to comment on my description of the outgoing and incoming school superintendent, which he found a little too flattering:

I haven't agreed with him on everything, but overall, he's done a good job -- the schools are better than when he arrived, enrollment is increasing, and there's no more of the imperious attitude and gag orders of the old Ackerman days. The district is on the right track -- although Garcia would be the first to admit that there's a lot more work to be done. And I have nothing bad to say about his annointed successor, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza. He'll probably do a fine job.

Tray's point: Yes, on a lot of levels Garcia did well, but in the past few weeks he's created a labor mess. "It's a big disappointment," Tray told me. "He's poisoned the well and now he's leaving the farm."

The problem: Garcia decided this year to exempt 14 low-performing schools from the annual round of layoffs. The layoff process is annoying anyway -- by state law, teachers have to be warned of layoffs in the spring although the state budget isn't done until the summer so the schools don't really know how much money they'll have. In most cases, the layoffs are later rescinded. Out of the 500-plus layoff notices this year, "most won't come to fruition," Tray notes.

But the bigger problem for the union is that Garcia tossed out the seniority process when he made the decision to protect schools in the "Superintendent's Zone." And while some people think that's just dandy, the teacher's union calls it a disaster: Seniority is one of the most sacred elements of a union contract.

"Now he's at war with the teacher's union," Tray said.

That, he said, won't be pleasant for the new superintendent, who has been one of Garcia's top aides: "Carranza's walking into a toxic mess."

Garcia, not too surprisingly, sees it very differently. "I'm the most pro-union guy you'll ever find," he told me. The 14 schools have a history of high turnover -- and in an effort to keep a team of teachers, some of whom don't have the highest seniority, in place, he exempted them from the layoffs. "We're talking about 70 people," he said. "And our figures suggest that this would have an impact on only three tenured teachers" who might face pink slips that they otherwise would have avoided.

As for the toxic labor environment? "It's too bad they see it that way. We've worked together on every issue for five years, and I hope this one area where we disagree doesn't ruin the entire relationship. This isn't the only issue that matters in the world; I just wish they wouldn't be this extreme."

Good luck, Mr. Carranza -- you've got some fence-mending to do.