OpEd–Dear local CSEA members: Is this union really speaking for you?

OpEd by Kelly Franti, Community Reading Project volunteer and parent

What does it mean that 9 of the 11 California School Employees Association (CSEA) union members at the September 12 ETUSD board meeting were from “off the hill”? Are our local CSEA members aware of how they are being portrayed by their union representatives? Does a single one of them truly object to the United Way’s Community Reading Project being allowed at Frazier Park School?

And when it comes to parents in the classroom, are our local CSEA members truly interested in blocking our students from getting help with math facts, spelling words and flash cards?

Surely the people from Bakersfield and Fresno were not here on behalf of our local children. They were here to “defend a principle,” a phrase used by Bakersfield CSEA Labor Representative Carol Georges at the September 12 meeting.

Michael Noland, senior labor relations representative for the CSEA from Fresno, kept using the phrase, “taking our work,” in reference to volunteers helping children in the classrooms. Both of them have told our school board and community, nine ways to Sunday, what we cannot do and what they will not do. Those representatives have zero interest in the children of this community.

I have heard insults, threats and general nastiness from these Bakersfield and Fresno union organizers. What I have not heard is what can be done to help the kids of this district get the education they deserve, without additional cost.

I have not heard one good-faith suggestion from the CSEA that indicates they are concerned with the children they are supposed to help educate. Are any of the laid-off CSEA members willing to volunteer? Would that be a conflict of their bargaining agreement? I ask these questions in all sincerity. When I asked the school board in May about getting more volunteers into our schools (proven benefits with zero costs to a district still taking from reserves to pay the bills), my thought was to utilize the volunteers to reinforce what the teacher had already taught.

We all want our local CSEA members to get their jobs back. We have been operating with an austere budget for the past five years. When the district received extra money this year, it was decided to increase the number of teachers to relieve overcrowded classrooms. As a result, we have smaller class sizes and no money left to re-hire the aides.

It seems that now the business of the CSEA is to block volunteers in our schools. How is this helping children or teachers? Or the local union members for that matter?

The only way I can envision the laid-off CSEA members being rehired is if we increase district enrollment substantially. The only way I can envision that happening is to improve the quality of education that our district is providing, and the only way I can envision that happening is by putting volunteers in the schools the way the Pine Mountain Learning Center did and as Peak to Peak Charter continues to do. Their test scores tell the benefit of that approach.

Am I wrong? If so, I truly want to hear other solutions —not roadblocks, threats, scare tactics or evasions.

I have been told by a couple of local CSEA members that they have not been paying attention to what has been going on at recent board meetings. I hope they start now. I do understand the union’s desire to keep its members’ jobs intact and not have them taken over by someone working for free. We are all between a rock and a hard place on this issue, but a solution and a compromise is possible.

As times change, virtually every other industry must make adjustments to stay alive. Does a union have the responsibility to do so, also? Some of our CSEA members have been out of this job for years. What is happening to our schools, our community and the children of this district in the meantime? The teachers cannot do everything alone. We cannot afford to hire more help for them.

People were leaving because they feared the district was failing their children. The district is suffering from a resulting drop in funding based on enrollment.

One of the first things people with children do when deciding to move to a new community is to check out the schools. If we don’t have families with kids, we don’t have schools and we lose even more jobs in a downward spiral. This is a topic that affects every single member of this community, whether they have kids or not. Everyone’s property values are affected.

Now things are getting back on track in the El Tejon Unified School District, but we have a way to go. How can the CSEA help us? Local CSEA members, please come to the board meetings. See how you are being represented by those who have no interest in our community or our children.

Are they truly speaking for you? Let’s try to come to a solution that will benefit us all.

Compromise and cooperation—they’re just crazy enough to work.

Kelly Franti lives in Piñon Pines with her husband and two sons. They are a union family.

This is part of the September 27, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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