What is the Price for MDEA’s Endorsement? Backroom Deals at MDUSD
By Jim Mills
UPDATE: The East Bay Times picked up this story EAST BAY TIMES
Yesterday’s MDUSD school board meeting yielded a remarkable, if not shocking, report from board member Brian Lawrence, who spoke about actions of MDEA teacher union president Guy Moore as “unethical and improper”. Those of us who want a smaller school district are often asked why smaller is better, and this incident offers another excellent example. Teachers are major stakeholders in any school district, and the voice of their union needs to be heard. But with a large, dysfunctional district like MDUSD, where few in the media or the voting public are paying attention, there is an ongoing risk that union influences will predominate and begin to exclude the voices of students and district residents—and sometimes even the teachers themselves. That risk is especially critical if board members also fall under undue union influence and begin making backroom deals that aren’t transparent to the public.
Lawrence’s comments concerned MDEA union endorsements of prospective school board members that may have involved “behind-the-scenes” promises regarding the district’s current negotiations on a new contract with teachers. Although negotiations often take place behind closed doors, after board members have heard factual presentations from the district and union representatives, it would be highly unethical for prospective school board candidates to gain union endorsements by promising positions on certain contract issues when they have not yet even participated in the deliberations.
According to Lawrence’s report below, he was told by MDEA president Guy Moore that the union had endorsed board candidate Joanne Durkee at the
request of board president Cheryl Hansen. Mr. Moore went on to say, according to Lawrence, that “deals have been made behind closed doors that I (Lawrence) wasn’t aware of.” Moore then went on to say, according to Lawrence, that “Cheryl hasn’t delivered’” and that the union was therefore withdrawing its endorsement of Ms Durkee (presumably as retribution) and offering it to Brian Lawrence instead.
Evidently, Mr. Moore, exhibiting all of the savvy for which he is known, failed to ask Lawrence first whether he was even still planning to run – he is not – before divulging such sensitive and damaging information. (Alas, the union that surrendered health care coverage for its members in exchange for a modest one-time raise, has never been known for its strategic or tactical acumen.) Mr. Lawrence then informed Moore that he was not, in fact, planning to run, but that even if he were, he would not accept a union endorsement as a quid pro quo for supporting a particular position in the ongoing contract negotiations. To be perfectly clear, Lawrence told the board, “I find Mr. Moore’s actions to be unethical and improper.”
One should note here that, according to Lawrence, Mr. Moore had earlier in the year indicated that he would personally support Lawrence for re-election and would ask MDEA’s executive committee to formally endorse him. But that never happened. Perhaps MDEA found a candidate, or candidates, who would be more pliable than Brian Lawrence? Maybe voters should be asking our three school board candidates – now, before the election – if they have cut any side deals with MDEA that deserve the light of day. (Herbert Lee has already said he would not consider any such deals, and alas, he is probably running well behind the other two.)
So to sum up: here we may have a board president who obtained the union’s endorsement of a certain candidate who, presumably, would vote with Hansen on major board issues, only to lose the endorsement when Hansen “failed to deliver”. One has to ask, has anything else been promised to MDEA as part of this election, outside the negotiations over the new contract?
You may wish to go directly to where Brian Lawrence makes his surprising revelation, at approximately 47:50 to 50:47.
For those of us who have dealt with MDUSD over the years, none of this is new or particularly surprising. We are not naïve about the influence of political factions and favors. But we hope Northgate residents can understand how much more damaging “politics-as-usual” can be at the scale of MDUSD, where no one in the media, and almost no one in the public, pays attention to the workings of this enormous institution.