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David Mielke: When Did “Union” Become a Four-Letter Word in Culver City?

“Community members may disagree with some union positions but the attacks on ACE and its president, Debbie Hamme, are unlike anything I've ever seen."

The ongoing conversation in our community about the parent-funded "adjuncts" working at El Marino has raised a number of difficult issues for the Culver City Unified School District:

  1. Does a regular paycheck change someone's status from a "volunteer" to an "employee"?
  2. When parent groups fundraise and place people in our classrooms, should they retain control over those employees or should the district be the employer of record?
  3. Who is legally responsible for the actions of these employees:  the parent groups or CCUSD?
  4. Will parent groups continue to fund-raise if control of these programs shifts to CCUSD?
  5. Does CCUSD need a consistent set of rules for all parent groups, or can policies be set site by site according to each school's particular issues?
  6. When does it become an educational fairness issue when students at School A have classroom aides while students at School B do not?

One of our school district's greatest strengths is the support we get from our parents and from our community.  In recent years we've passed a bond and a parcel tax, and as the Great Recession has squeezed school funding in California our parents have stepped up again. One can only applaud that effort. But the anti-union rhetoric that has accompanied this conversation is a surprise to me.  

The Culver City Federation of Teachers represents teachers and nurses; The Association of Classified Employees represents support staff. One of our responsibilities is to make sure that people working in our schools are represented.  From time to time we seek clarification about particular employees' status.

Community members may disagree with some union positions and proposals - that's nothing new - but the attacks on ACE and its president, Debbie Hamme, are unlike anything I've ever seen in our community and I've been living and working here since 1979.

Employee unions are service organizations. Just this past month, CCFT has written a check to our Education Foundation (we help sponsor their annual "Tribute to the Stars" event); a check to cover the annual scholarship we award to a deserving CCHS graduate and a check to our state organization as we work to get the "Millionaires' Tax" initiative on the ballot in November. (If passed, CCUSD would receive an additional 2.4 million dollars each year, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.)

Both CCFT and ACE bargain collectively so that our members receive competitive salaries and benefits and have working conditions that enable us to be successful with Culver City's students. When our members face obstacles, either at work or with personal issues, we provide support. Neither union has old guys in suits smoking cigars and making deals in a back room.  CCFT: we're your teachers and nurses. ACE: they're your school's administrative assistants, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, custodians, drivers and instructional aides.  

Each of us has chosen work that takes us into our schools on a daily basis. We're on the front lines and one of our union slogans is "Making a Difference Every Day." And when CCUSD came to us and asked for unpaid furlough days to get them through this crisis, both ACE and CCFT agreed.  Our members saved CCUSD millions of dollars by donating nine unpaid furlough days over these past two years.

In the weeks ahead CCUSD will need to make some tough decisions about these parent-funded programs. CCUSD board members and district administration will listen to parents; they'll find out what the law requires and they'll provide the leadership and direction our schools need.  In the meantime, can we cool it a little on the anti-union rhetoric?  Schools work best when we can forge positive partnerships between parents, teachers, support staff and district management.  

Finally, those of us working in our schools, whether we're in a classroom or working in the cafeteria, try each day to treat each and every student with respect.  Modeling respectful behavior is what we do.  As our community works through these and other issues, let's remember that Golden Rule we teach and live in our schools:  “Always treat others the way you'd like to be treated."

David Mielke
President, Culver City Federation of Teachers

Editor's note: Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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Kelly Hartog (Editor) March 05, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Just a quick reminder regarding comments. Patch believes in transparency in its conversations and does not allow aliases or acronyms to mask a community member's true identity. Failure to use your full name is a violation of the Culver City Patch Terms of Use and may result in your account being removed. Patch also doesn't allow personal attacks on individuals. If you have any questions, please refer to the Culver City Patch Terms of Use. http://culvercity.patch.com/terms. Thank you.
Steve Levin March 05, 2012 at 08:44 PM
I have not seen as much vitriol as Mr Mielke describes, but I certainly agree that we should all remain civil, and that the union has every right and in fact has a duty to represent the welfare of its members. We should remember, however, that what's best for the employees is not always what's best for the kids. Along those lines, I would like to add one more question to Mr. Mielkes list: "What is in the best interests of the students ?" That may be the most important question of all. -Steve Levin (parent of 2 kids at Farragut, and 1 at CCMS)
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin March 05, 2012 at 10:11 PM
The grab for parent-funded positions is about fairness and equity and ALL of our children in each and every school in Culver City. Parents believe that parents in ALL Culver City schools have the right to raise funds through their nonprofit booster clubs and provide support and positions that the school district does not and in many cases never will provide.
George Laase March 06, 2012 at 12:52 AM
It's great that the local CCFT union supports the Ed Foundation and offers annual scholarship(s) to deserving student(s). But I wonder which checks was bigger: the two for the Ed Foundation/Scholarship or the one written for their state organization, the CFT's political action comittee? The infusion of $2.4M would be a welcomed addition after years of shirking budgets. But, before we pop the corks in celebration of this windfall; understand this: even if the district were to receive the additional $2.4M in funding, district employees' salaries are about 80% to 84% of the district's budget. So after taking out for the district employees' share of the $2.4M, that would leave about $400K or about an average of $58 for each student enrolled in the district. Well, I guess it's better than a poke in the eye.
Brian Kinkel March 06, 2012 at 12:59 AM
I agree with Mr Mielke regarding the personal attacks on Ms Hamme. It is unfortunate, but this issue has struck a cord with the community and they want to protect our children like Ms Hamme wants to protect the union. I believe the children come first! How come after 26 years this has become a issue? Aren't they coming to the table very late? What legal right does ACE have to these parent donated funds? Me like most parents I know will no longer donate to this fund if it is controlled by ACE. So where will the funds come from to pay for this amazing program if parents are no longer donating money? I think the district shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Destroy this program and watch the major damage it does to the whole school district.
CARMEN CAMPOS March 06, 2012 at 01:39 AM
As a Culver City teacher and a CCFT member, I will always put the students first. I will put them before my benefits and my union. I believe most teachers in our district do, that is why many have signed the Parents Have Rights petition. Leave the Adjunct Program alone, allow the parents to supplement the district through CCEF and allow the parents at each school to assist through their booster clubs. Keep it simple and let the parents donate where they wish to donate.
CARMEN CAMPOS March 06, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Dear Steve, that IS the most important question. Thank you for asking it. Carmen
Jeff Cooper March 06, 2012 at 06:34 AM
I am proud to have signed the parents have rights petition the moment it came to my attention. It's not too often that an issue has complete clarity for me; the audacity of the unions to press this boggles me. But what concerns me more is that there are viable candidates for our city council who still have not signed this petition due to their large union support base. This should concern voters also as these potential representatives of our community have made a clear choice not to represent the people.
Michelle Ford March 06, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Jeff, can you be specific about the candidates? I am not aware. Thanks!
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin March 06, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Petition Link: http://signon.org/sign/culver-city-board-of
Jana Williams March 06, 2012 at 05:21 PM
I think the biggest issue is that these funds are PRIVATELY donated funds raised by hardworking volunteers through our booster clubs. Parents believe in the adjunct program, and other positions at other schools, that assist teachers and create a positive environment for students. No one is denying that a union support staff member could do an equally good job--and here's the kicker--should the STATE tax base be able to fund such workers! If there was suddenly a windfall to replace the current adjuncts with equally qualified, native speaking individuals funded through the State of California, this would be a much different discussion. However, it's not. You are talking about private funds that have been privately donated to a 501(c)3 non-profit. I am not donating money to pay for overhead and expenses,. I am donating money to go towards programs that directly affect my child. However positive, unions are still bureaucratic organizations with large overheads. And who's to say you won't take my donated money and use it to fund your political action organizations feeling that it is the in the "long-term best interest", whilst removing adjuncts and other positions in the meantime. Let parents help where parents can help. Let us continue to support our schools, and help our teachers. Use your state mandated funds and union dues for what you deem appropriate, but stop trying to destroy a system that doesn't need fixing.
James Province March 06, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Why does everyone assume whats good for our kids and whats good for the unions serving our kids is mutually exclusive? I'm with Mr. Milke in his calls for civility here and was quite impressed with his principled stand at the school board meeting the other night, but unlike him, I'm not surprised at the anti-union sentiment. It's been bubbling under the surface in our community for a long time. It's ugly, and closely related to the red-baiting of past decades. I understand parents wanting to preserve effective programs, but clearly there are those who wish to make political hay by encouraging conflicts betweens unions and parents. Ms. Hamme nor the union are the villains here. Mistakes were made in the past by the district that should have considered the implications of having non-district personnel in our classrooms, but it can and should be corrected in a way that preserves programs AND benefits the employees in all our schools. Those are complimentary goals. All kids and schools should be equally important to our District Administrators and School Board members. Elected officials who pander should be looked at with a critical eye or ignored. Board members that gather all relevant information before jumping on a bandwagon and taking what seems like a popular position should be valued. This is not the zero-sum game that many would want you to believe it is. Pandering is the cheap route, but what's harder is a little thought and consideration.
Jana Williams March 06, 2012 at 06:51 PM
As I mentioned above, if there was funding through our tax dollars for these positions, which maintained the same level of quality, the discussion would be different. I am not anti-union. But clearly, there isn't even enough funding to maintain teacher services (evidenced by the need for furlough days), so why take away a program(s) that work? However you look at it, the kids will be the ones hurt. There simply isn't enough money to fund the adjunct program--and probably others--at the same level as it is currently running at. Let boosters do what they do--boost! And if some "volunteers" can receive compensation for their time in non-district positions, I don't see why the district, who can't pay for it with state money, should take away those volunteers, which will harm our children's education no matter how you cut it.
Jana Williams March 06, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Well said, Carmen. Your union is definitely important, but so are parents and their support.
Mike King March 06, 2012 at 07:15 PM
David, I have attended scores of meetings at which you, as the sole representative of hundreds of teachers, have fought for your members and I commend you on the job you do. This is what you are paid to do. The challenge here is that parents do not have one person to be “the” spokesperson for them. This puts parents at a major disadvantage, as this current issue over control over the funding of adjuncts and classroom aides, is demonstrating perfectly. With great respect, I would like to offer a different perspective and perhaps you may start to understand why there is frustration out there. As a local real estate agent I have had many difficult conversations with folks in the private sector, who over the last 4 years or so, have lost their jobs and now their very home is threatened. So when you talk about how the teachers union has sacrificed by taking furlough days, there simply is no comparison. Your members very rarely get fired, they have tenure after two years of service, and they have amazing pensions. Now, I don’t believe there are any parents out there who do not wish for the educators of their children to be well compensated and their benefits be adequate. Just understand that the recession has decimated their financial stability in many cases. I still see these residents at the fundraisers doing whatever they can to ensure monies roll in so that their children can benefit. Not everyone out there is lucky enough to have guaranteed jobs and pensions.
Paul Blechner March 06, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Personally, I'd like to see less rhetoric about the alleged rhetoric, and more discussion of the issues. Ms. Hamme is the president and voice of her union on this matter. She issued the union's (outrageous) demands, tried to keep it secret from the parents, and has since sought to defend these insupportable actions. It is no surprise she is being mentioned by name and completely appropriate to question the decisions, threats, and misleading arguments that have been made. While I don't claim knowledge of every comment made by every parent, I believe the parents have, if anything, exhibited a great deal of restraint given what's at stake. As for any anti-union sentiment, ACE seeks to force the school district to reject significant charitable donations (i.e., adjuncts) that have a proven track record of helping our children. If you actually think about what ACE is demanding, it makes no sense under any circumstances, and certainly not in the current economic climate. Multiple groups stand to be harmed by such action, starting first and foremost with our children who will likely see adjunct hours decreased if not eliminated entirely. Raising questions about these issues isn't anti-union; it's just common sense. As for the Golden Rule and helping the community work through these issues, how about we start by agreeing that no one is going to use anyone's children as a pawn or hostage in any negotiations? Children first! Always!
James Province March 07, 2012 at 01:15 AM
With all due respect, I just feel a lot of this anger is misplaced among some of my fellow parents. A Labor Union's pupose is to protect the members' interests with respect to wages and working conditions. As Mr. Milke said at the Board meeting, our unions also happen to be made up of people who care deeply for the welfare of our kids. As frustrating as this is to those who have worked so hard to raise money for these programs, to suggest otherwise is not only unkind, but inacccurate and misleading. Anyone who has been through a bargaining process knows how difficult it is to come to an agreement. These agreements are not worth the paper they are printed on if they are not honored by all parties involved afterword. This is how the system is designed to work. I apperciate Mr. King, Ms. Williams, and Ms. Thaylor and others here at the school board meetings and their well reasoned arguments. We all benefit from civil discourse, but it remains that any union leader worth their salt is bound by definition to act in the interests of their bargaining unit and insure the provisions of their union's contract. That's not a defense, it's their job as a union leader. It's time for the board and district administration to do their job now and work out a solution and for parents to give the guidance they think will help both parties. What's the old saying, you can attract more flies with sugar than vinegar?
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin March 07, 2012 at 01:29 AM
I agree. ALL kids should be equally important. But did you know that there are many non-district personnel in the classrooms? This conflict seems to only be about parent-funded programs and personnel. From what I can tell, the union has no problem with volunteer personnel supplied by Sony, The Music Center, We Tell Stories, and others. What kind of message does that send to our Culver City families? Outside money and support is okay, but parents...stay away? There are a goodly number of teachers who have signed the ParentsHaveRights petition. Why? Because it is indeed possible to love the messenger (the unions) but disagree with the message.
Daniel Rabiner March 13, 2012 at 08:09 PM
The 6 questions posed by David Mielke at the start of this article is really the crux of the issue. I find myself agreeing with his position until those questions can be answered fully and with satisfaction. These aids are being paid and thus are not volunteers but rather employees, but of whom? What risk to the district are these employees if they injure a child? Are they covered legally by the district when claims of misconduct rise? Who hires the aid? the fundraisers or the district? What process is used to hire them? The last issue I have is #6 which I find to be extremely important. Should schools that having a larger fundraising capacity through various parental networks enjoy more aids than a school without those benefits? I'd say that the entire district should have the funds that are raised for aid positions pooled evenly across the district for equal benefit of all students.
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin March 13, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Hi Daniel, David Mielke's questions have been answered in another article. I think that you will find the answers very informative and enlightening. Basically though I want to tell you that parents from all schools have signed a petition to ask the school board to protect parent funded programs and positions in ALL schools. The petition has been signed by Culver City parents, teachers and community leaders. Petition Link: http://signon.org/sign/culver-city-board-of Here is the article which answers David Mielke's questions directly. It was written by a parent advocate who has kids in several Culver City schools. She is also a former school board member. She really knows her stuff. I would post a link to the version on this website, but it was edited. The full version is here: http://culvercitycrossroads.com/2012/03/07/dear-editor-lets-not-lose-sight-of-the-best-interests-of-the-children/
Jessica Beagles-Roos March 14, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Hi, When did she serve or work on the school board?
CARMEN CAMPOS March 14, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Sandi Levin was former Mayor and Culver City Council Member not a CCUSD Board Member.
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin March 14, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Hi Carmen thank you for the clarification
Patrick Meighan March 14, 2012 at 06:00 PM
<i>"The last issue I have is #6 which I find to be extremely important. Should schools that having a larger fundraising capacity through various parental networks enjoy more aids than a school without those benefits? I'd say that the entire district should have the funds that are raised for aid positions pooled evenly across the district for equal benefit of all students."</i> The school which my daughter attends, Linwood E. Howe Elementary, is a Title 1 school with many, many students who hail from working-class and working-poor families and also plenty of ESL students. Yet, through the hard work of the Linwood E. Howe Boosters, we have raised tens of thousands of dollars from Lin Howe parents all across the economic spectrum in order to put instructional aides in every Lin Howe classroom from K through 3. I can't fathom a reasonable rationale for punishing an active and organized booster club at a Title 1 school by taking away its parent-contributed funds and redistributing them to other schools where the families are relatively wealthier but the booster clubs have not yet done the same work of organizing and mobilizing. If the parents at El Marino and at Lin Howe are scraping their pennies together to add value to their children's classrooms in the form of classroom aides, the answer is not to punish those parents, but rather for the parents at Culver City's other schools to do likewise. Patrick Meighan Culver City, CA (and a Lin Howe parent)
Jamie Wallace March 14, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Simple answer to some of your questions. The adjuncts are hired by ALLEM, a 501(c)(3) booster club at El Marino. ALLEM provides workers comp, takes out taxes and social security from the paychecks, and has an umbrella insurance policy that covers all activities of ALLEM and its employees on campus. As for hiring, when there is an opening. ALLEM searches for native language speakers of Japanese and Spanish. The applicants are interviewed and presented to the teachers for whom they will be directly working. The teachers then interview the applicants and decide who they would like to work with. ALLEM then takes care of scheduling, payroll, and everything else an employer has to do. Many of the adjuncts have been on the payroll for years, one since the beginning. At this point, I think the most recent hire was about 5 years ago. As to your last issue, I will leave that to the eloquence of others.

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