Editorial: Shouldn’t ‘First, Do No Harm’ Apply to School Unions as Much as to Doctors?

By Patric Hedlund

Good parenting, good health and a good education are the three legs of the stool that support strong futures for our children. Fortunately, nature endows most parents with an instinct to nurture and protect their vulnerable young.

New doctors cannot practice medicine until they take the pledge to “first do no harm.” But what ethical responsibility is held most sacred by those who lead the people who work in our schools?

The surprising performance of leaders from the California School Employees Association (CSEA) last week made it appear their pledge of priorities was hatched aboard a pirate ship: “Give us what we want or we’ll take your children hostage.”

In fact, they have been doing just that for two years, without coming out and saying it until now.

The people CSEA represents are among the most beloved in our community. School bus drivers, custodians and teachers’ aides are our neighbors, our customers, our family members and our friends. We want more urgently than anyone at CSEA headquarters in Fresno to get those people back to work in our classrooms.

But the only way that is going to happen is by bringing more children back into our rural schools.

This month 67 fewer students are enrolled for the new school year than in September 2012. That is a loss of $399,381—enough money to hire back all those teachers’ aides and more.

So, for many at the El Tejon Unified School District board meetings August 22 and September 12, it was hard to believe what CSEA’s Senior Labor Relations Representative Michael Noland of Fresno and CSEA Labor Representative Carol Georges of Bakersfield were telling the ETUSD trustees and the public. What evil menace had triggered the need for CSEA’s big guns to be sent on their mission to wave around lawsuits and threaten to make the district pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in union settlements?

All that bravado was focused on two things: Moms in the classroom and the threat that a love of reading might be encouraged at Frazier Park School.

Noland and Georges were brought in (1) to fight against the evil of Mountain Community parents helping in their children’s classrooms and (2) to intimidate community volunteers from participating in a one-hour-a-day program that assists second graders to fall in love with the magic of reading.

Like Somalian pirates, the only thing Georges and Noland wanted to talk about was not children, but “bargaining units.”

When ETUSD school board president Scott Robinson tried to turn the focus back on the urgent needs of young learners despite tough economic realities, Noland ridiculed him, saying he was “wrapping the issue in pretty words and putting a bow on it.”

In just a few extraordinary moments, the CSEA leadership team illustrated complete callousness to the critical need for our mountain schools to reverse declining enrollment and to revive parents’ confidence that these schools can be a great place for their children’s education.

CSEA’s members did not praise the determination of our parents and community to reclaim our public school classrooms as the heart of our community. They also did not show much grasp of fundamental arithmetic.

The people who live here know we are waging our own war to turn around the loss of students caused in this rural district by fallout from the recession made worse by the disastrous PR generated by an insensitive former superintendent. Bringing back students is the only thing that will bring back sufficient revenue to reverse layoffs of CSEA members.

Rapid positive changes are being made here. This school district is taking forward strides as parents, teachers and community members work together. The goal is to help our kids and our schools reclaim their winners’ spirit.

CSEA has an obligation to step up and tell us how they are going to work with this community instead of pulling against its efforts to increase enrollment.

Teamwork, not threats of litigation, will make it possible to bring more CSEA members back on the job.

For CSEA to try to cripple the spirit that is being rebuilt now is not only wrong, it punishes their own Mountain Community members and the children they are supposed to serve…and I don’t apologize for saying it.

Photo captions:

Fresno-based CSEA Senior Labor Relations Representative Michael Noland showing ETUSD the lawsuit the union brought against another district.

In photo at left: CSEA union members from Bakersfield and a union manager from Fresno came to the Sept.ember 12 ETUSD board meeting, wearing their ‘Union, Yes’ T-shirts: (l-r, front) Anna Dickason, Kern High School District (KHSD); Patrice Barnes and Angela Witham of ETUSD; Sylvia Contreras, KHSD; (middle) Celia Daddario, KHSD; Andrea Juarez, KHSD; Senior Labor Relations Representative Michael Noland; Labor Relations Rep. Carol Georges; Kelly Dennis, KHSD; (back) Robert Infante, KHSD; and Carlos Flores, KHSD.

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This is part of the September 20, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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