Union rules

A.J. DUFFY’S SUPPORT OF the mayor’s plan to reorganize the management of Los Angeles’ schools hardly qualifies as news. Duffy is president of the school district’s teachers union, which would gain even more power under the plan. But Duffy did propose a novel argument Wednesday in Sacramento, testifying in support of the bill that would authorize the restructuring.

He downplayed criticism that the bill fragments power and blurs accountability. It is “precisely the genius of this legislation,” he said, that it assigns “clear and responsible roles” to the superintendent, the mayor, the school board, teachers and parents. “We are building in the collaboration and shared accountability that will give schools what they need,” he said.

United Teachers Los Angeles opposes merit pay for top-performing teachers. It makes the firing of bad teachers almost impossible. It’s against allowing administrators to assign teachers to the schools where they are needed most. It’s sharply critical of charter schools. The union doesn’t like having a unified curriculum, and it thinks that teachers shouldn’t have to put up with training from coaches.

In other words, the union is largely opposed to most reforms that demand more of teachers. (Individual teachers, many of whom applaud changing the schools to benefit students, are another matter.)

One of the biggest criticisms of the school board has been that the union wields too much power over its decisions because the union is by far the biggest donor to board candidates. Mayoral control of schools, in theory at least, dilutes that power because mayoral candidates draw from a larger pool of donors, and a mayor’s decisions receive more public scrutiny.


So much for theory. As it turns out, a mayor eager to work out a legislative compromise -- and who has a long history with the teachers union -- can hand far more to the union than the school board has ever agreed to.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s agreement would allow schools a greater say in deciding their curriculum and whether to let coaches for teachers on campus. It would essentially give schools the same freedoms charter schools have but without the accountability. The bill also would severely limit the school board’s power to carry out most of its current responsibilities, save one: negotiating the teachers’ contract.

A weakened school board, as beholden to UTLA as ever, makes an ideal negotiating partner for a powerful union. A superintendent who isn’t answerable to the board gives the union enough wiggle room to continually challenge district policy. A situation in which no one is dominant provides a perfect opportunity for the strongest player to emerge as the leader of the district. And UTLA is a strong, well-financed player. No wonder Duffy likes this deal so much.