Volume 16 Issue 2
By Bill Guy
Capistrano Unified Education Association members on the picket lines, bolstered by parent and community support.
A new day is dawning in Capistrano. As a result of the hard work and unity of more than 2,000 members of the Capistrano Unified Education Association (CUEA) over a three-day strike in April 2010, positive change is occurring for students and teachers in the school district.
Their bold action, bolstered by parent and community support, forced the board’s negotiating team to back off their imposed contract and accept language promising to restore salary and benefits cuts should new revenue accrue to the district. Now, over a year and a half later, CUEA members say their strike was definitely worth the discomfort and disruption, and has brought positive, better-than-anticipated results to their entire community. “CUEA and the district office are working together in the best interest of our learning community. We have a new superintendent who is willing to support and collaborate with teachers,” says fifth-grade teacher Steve Ciolek. “I have a renewed sense of pride in working for the Capistrano school district and in belonging to CUEA.”
CUEA advocacy action didn’t stop at the end of the strike. Working within a broad coalition of educators, parents and community members in a petition recall campaign, CUEA members helped elect two new board members who support teachers. In addition, the CUEA-backed Measure H, which requires school board candidates to run from the areas where they reside, passed overwhelmingly. Supporters believe that the new voting method forces future school candidates to connect with their neighborhood constituencies instead of with potential political cabals.
“Without turning over those two school board members, key restoration language achieved in the settlement would never have been honored,” says CUEA President Vicki Soderberg. “Teachers received approximately 3.5 percent back into their pockets in 2010-11 from previously unanticipated revenue, allowing them to remain comparable in salary and benefits with their colleagues teaching throughout Orange County.” Teachers also received additional planning time to help improve student learning, as well as changes regarding annual transfer and leave time.
“While it’s definitely true that adequate salary and benefits help retain quality teachers, and that ultimately benefits our students, I’m most proud of a renewed sense of hope and collaboration that had been missing for years in our district,” says Joy Kelly, third-grade teacher and member of the CUEA bargaining team, which helped achieve the contract settlement.
“I came back to school after the strike with renewed enthusiasm to provide the best education possible for the community that stood behind me and my colleagues,” says 27-year CUSD veteran and secondgrade teacher Debbie Jungwirth. “We are restoring trust and confidence, and teachers are feeling appreciated. I’m proud of my profession, colleagues and leaders in CUEA and CTA.”
“There comes a time when you have to take a stand and fight for what you believe in, and I can proudly say that I will be forever grateful that I made the choice to participate in the strike,” says 15-year kindergarten teacher Lori Walker. “I learned that I could trust and lean on my fellow teachers who went out on strike with me. I do not regret for a single minute that I stood in unity with my brothers and sisters.”
“Teachers feel more cohesive,” agrees chemistry/physics teacher and 14-year Capistrano veteran Greg Young.
“The community knows now that CUEA members will stand united for our students, schools and community,” says 14-year Spanish teacher Ezequiel Barragan. “Teachers doing the unthinkable was precisely the wake-up call we needed. Never again will the CUSD community be complacent.”