Last month, unionized teachers at The Accelerated Schools (TAS) went on a nearly two week strike against The Accelerated Schools – an award-winning charter school in South Central LA. Picketing with them were officers of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA) – the Anaheim Union High School District teachers union:
Among the ASTA leaders picketing with the strikers was Ryan Ruelas – an AUHSD teacher and Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education member:
Note the time stamp on the union’s Facebook post: Nice to know these teachers union activists don’t let school hours get in the way of disrupting the education of charter school students in Los Angeles.
The Accelerated Schools Los Angeles is one of the state’s first charter schools. The original The Accelerated School is a K-8 school founded in 1994 by two LAUSD teachers with 50 students in space rented from a local church. Since then, it has been joined by a pre-K learning center; the Accelerated Charter Elementary School (ACES), a K-6 school utilizing dual language immersion curriculum; and the Wallis Annenberg High School. The Accelerated Schools also provide special education programs (contrary to a popular union talking point against charter schools) and GATE programs.
Nearly all TAS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Last year, 99% of the high school’s graduates were accepted in two-year and/or four-year colleges.
While most charter schools are not unionized, TAS teachers are represented by Unite Teachers of Los Angeles – the same giant union that was simultaneously striking against the LAUSD.
Its important to understand why the union was striking against TAS in order to put the picketing by Ruelas and his fellow ASTA activists into proper context.
The union’s principal issue wasn’t teacher pay: the school and the union had reached agreement on salaries 10 months earlier. As TAS Co-founder and CEO Jonathan Williams stated in mid-January:
TAS and UTLA have already agreed on salary. Back in March 2018, TAS and its teachers agreed on a three-year contract for a significant salary raise of more than 17%, which teachers now enjoy. Under TAS’ pending proposal for health benefits and life insurance, teachers could receive more than $17,000 per year in benefits coverage.
In hopes of averting a strike, TAS presented UTLA with a new offer that included a process for teachers with strong performance evaluations to receive a guaranteed two-year contract with a $2,000 bonus upon completion. UTLA refused the offer.
TAS teachers’ health benefits are at the top of the market, exceeding the average per-employee allocation at comparable charter schools by $5,634 per employee.
Ruelas, ASTA Officers Support Union Interests Over Student Interests
UTLA focus was watering down standards for teacher retention, making it more difficult to fire low-performing teachers – even those engaged in serious misconduct.
TAS’ stated mission is “to retain teachers who excel” and that “As long as teachers continue to perform well, they will continue to have a position at TAS.”
The school’s system for evaluating teacher performance contains an “exceeds standards” metric. The union, however, was demanding automatic re-hiring of teachers who are evaluated as merely “satisfactory.”
As the school’s representative stated in the UTLA-TAS fact finding report:
I agree with the following observation of the Panel Chair: “TAS stated that students and parents demand more than just “satisfactory” from their teachers” Indeed, it is the expectation of excellence over mere satisfactory is embedded in TAS’ mission. TAS is committed to the best interests of its students, which include setting and maintaining very high standards of excellence for its students. The performance evaluation system for TAS teachers currently in place has an “exceeds standards” metric. TAS expects excellence from its students. Thus, it is entirely reasonable for TAS to aspire to more than just “satisfactory” from its teachers.
In short, the teachers union was demanding school lower its standards for re-hiring teachers. How is that serving the best interests of students? And why would a member of the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education support such a demand?
Another UTLA demand: strip the TAS Board of Trustees of final decision-making authority in resolving grievances. The union wanted to subject all termination decisions – even those related to egregious misconduct – subject to binding arbitration.
In other words, the UTLA was demanding this award-winning charter school serving a disadvantaged community lower teacher hiring standards and make it more difficult to fire even the worst teachers.
Escaping such excellence-stifling shackles is one of the reasons charter schools were created. It’s a major reason they are successful and popular with parents – especially parents in economically disadvantaged communities who can’t afford send their kids to private school in order to escape low-performing traditional public schools.
Luckily for the students and parents of The Accelerated Schools, when the strike ended on January 28, the union failed in to achieve its goals in this area.
Publicly, UTLA and allies such as the Socialist Worker Party focused on the pay raises, which – as noted – had been largely agreed to 10 months earlier – although the agreement sets a more generous severance for teachers whose contracts aren’t renewed. The school also agreed to renew the employment agreements for all its UTLA members for the 2019-2020 school year.
For nearly two weeks, the union disrupted the education of TAS students, primarily to lower teacher hiring standards and increase protections for lousy teachers – rendering hollow union rhetoric about striking “for the children.”
Ramifications For Anaheim Parents
The actions of Ruelas and other ASTA officers should be cause for concern for AUHSD and AESD parents and voters. Ruelas and his fellow ASTA officers walked the picket line in support of teachers strike who primary goal was enshrining lower teaching standards and greater protection of bad teachers. It should be cause for concern that Ruelas and ASTA equate that with a “fair contract.”
This was a case of putting the union’s interests ahead of the interests of students and parents.
Furthermore, it calls into question the wisdom of entrusting the governance of these districts to teachers union activists who march in support of teachers union strikes that are in opposition to the best interests of students and parents. Four of the five members of the AESD Board of Education are members of ASTA (and the fifth AESD Board member is in the union’s pocket). Two of the Board members – Ruelas and Juan Alvarez – are ASTA officers.
Is it in the best interests of AESD parents and taxpayers that come contract time, the teachers union is sitting on both sides of the negotiating table? Especially trustees who have publicly supported the goals of the teachers strike against TAS?
As Ruelas has made clear, he stands with the teachers union first, last and always: