The following letter was submitted to Patch by Bryan Tjomsland
In a nutshell, the Association of Classified Employees leadership (the city union representing clerical and other non-instructional occupations) wants to take over a wildly successful, decades old program in Culver City where parents pool donations to provide native speaking ‘adjuncts’ (paid volunteers) into language immersion classrooms. There is no public money involved.
Teachers love and need the help as kids get critical time with native speakers in the target language. The original program at El Marino is a model that other Culver City schools are beginning to emulate. Teachers win, kids win. Who on earth would be unhappy about that? Well, ACE. And they are threatening a lawsuit. (Your tax dollars and union dues at work!)
The problem for ACE is that parent organizations like ALLEM that administer parent donations at El Marino school are very efficient and their adjuncts gladly accept a fraction of what union workers demand. Unfortunately, the union simply wants to grab the money that parents donate and to stick union workers in those positions regardless of the effect on our kids.
The union also wants to prohibit other Culver City schools from emulating El Marino’s successful arrangement. Sadly, using more expensive union workers, current donations would only pay for around half of the classroom hours that the adjuncts are providing right now. Even worse, many parents who donate money now have expressed little interest in funding an inefficient unionized program, so the predictable result is that this beautiful model of parental involvement will be gutted or killed in the name of union turf.
It is difficult to find any argument on the web supporting the union position. Understandably, it appears the union isn’t eager for public scrutiny of this shameful business. However, back in June 2011 the leader of the ACE union, Debbie Hamme, did address the issue in response to an article ‘Language Immersion Is the Solution, Not the Problem,’ on the Culver City Patch forum. In practice, defending a position like the union’s requires some logical gymnastics.
With regard to the adjuncts at both El Marino and Lin Howe, the first problem is this: While schools work hard to fundraise, the amount they raise from year to year is bound to fluctuate. That being said, you are asking people to work from year to year in a state of uncertainty because their job depends on the ability of the PTA, Booster Club or ALLEM to sustain the funding for their position. This is apparently not a problem at El Marino, but the inequality of the situation comes into play when other schools with less effective fundraising groups can not provide their teachers with the same level of support.
Hamme seems concerned about “inequality.” According to her, the El Marino’s adjunct program is not experiencing a problem, therefore it and similar programs should be unionized, because that will resolve the “inequality” with the other schools that may experience problems raising donations for their programs.
This logical backflip is hard to follow, but let’s try. Unionization will indisputably reduce adjunct hours, predictably reduce parent donations and maybe kill the program. So it seems unionization brings “equality” by crippling El Marino’s program and probably preventing any other schools from developing programs of their own.
In fairness, judging by events, Hamme and ACE truly are concerned about the ability of other Culver City schools to raise donations. Emulating El Marino, Linwood E. Howe School raised donations for six adjuncts this year, but because of objections from ACE, the school was limited to three. The union clearly is concerned; they are concerned that other parents groups will be successful in supporting teachers and kids with donations.
Hamme then says:
The second problem is that the bargaining unit work of the Association of Classified Employees, the union that represents the support staff of CCUSD, is being transferred to lesser-paid adjuncts, and should not be. If this trend continues, I fear that the Instructional Assistants in our district could conceivably be displaced entirely.
Well, no. This parental support is not “bargaining unit work” since ACE doesn’t have a contract with parents nor a claim to donations. Further, adjuncts are not Instructional Assistants. Adjuncts perform the specific function of speaking on subject matter with proper native fluency to the kids. Besides, it’s hard to imagine a day when teacher workload is so light that their assistants would be “displaced entirely.” What Hamme should admit is: every dollar that parents donate is a dollar the district didn’t spend and is therefore available for union workers.
Hamme finally shares her solution to the sticky problem of involved parents trying to support kids and teachers:
The solution to this would be that all adjuncts be asked to join our union. This, of course, would mean that they would have to be paid at a higher salary rate, which is only fair. Additionally, if adjuncts are doing the same work that Instructional Assistants are doing, they should have to fulfill the same requirements that are required of our members under No Child Left Behind, which would be an AA degree or better.
This is where logical gymnastics becomes more of a magic show. Hamme says the “solution” is easy. In order to pay more for what kids are already getting, just give out more of the parents' money. Never mind that these donations are already scarce and will predictably dry up when the adjuncts become unionized and that unionization will likely end the whole program.
Of course all workers have the right to unionize, but when Hamme says “asked” she means forced to join the union. If Hamme really want to criticize the qualifications of our fabulous adjuncts, she should go ahead and make that point. She will meet a wall of indignation from parents and teachers who actually know the contributions of these people.
Though she won’t address it, Hamme understands that unionization means, at best, reduced adjunct classroom hours, and most probably an end to the 23-year-old adjunct program.
Hopefully, future dialogue from her and the union on this issue will be more honest, because what is alarmingly absent from Hamme’s and the union’s position is an explanation of how unionization and the inevitable reduction in adjuncts hours could possibly result in anything but a tragic loss for students, not to mention their teachers.
Absent that explanation, the Culver City School Board and ACE should not be surprised when Culver City parents and voters conclude that this lawsuit is simply a blatant, arrogant power grab by a powerful union that has no concern for the effect of its actions on our children. Shame on the ACE union leadership.
The school board has an inescapable responsibility to fight for the best interests of our kids. Period. That means fighting for parent funded adjuncts in the successful, efficient current form. It doesn’t matter who is suing.
Youc an learn more about this issue at Parents Have Rights
Editor's Note: Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.