By Bill Guy
A reporter captures Sweetwater Education Association members as they gather for the protest.
We're happy to have all our RIF'd members ‘back on the bus,' but we still believe Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Jesus Gándara wants to keep SUHSD employees at the back of the bus, and that he is driving us over a cliff," said Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) President Sam Lucero after the SUHSD Board of Education voted May 11 to rescind remaining RIF (reduction in force) notices to SEA members. All 120 SEA members who had received RIFs have now had them rescinded. The school board also pulled a proposed 2 percent salary cut off the table. SEA members say that they merely wish to keep the current contract language, where neither side has anything to lose or gain.
Earlier that evening, hundreds of SEA members — joined by education employee union brothers and sisters in the Sweetwater Guidance and Counseling Association (SGCA), the California State Employees Association (CSEA), and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and by students, parents and community citizens — presented petitions of no confidence in Superintendent Gándara with some 2,000 signatures to the SUHSD Board.
The petitions cite Gándara's refusal to accept input from education community stakeholders; his unwillingness to facilitate dialogue; his failure to foster collaboration; and his inability to build a "culture of integrity, respect, and trust" — contrary to the ideas expressed in the Sweetwater District's Strategic Plan.
"Of course, we are glad that the board rescinded the reduction in force notices for our members, and that they took the proposal to cut our salaries off the table, but these were contract takebacks and we have no confidence in Superintendent Gándara's willingness or ability to bargain with us in good faith," said Lucero. "The district yielded to SEA pressure to do what's right. His budget priorities, as articulated in the district's bargaining proposals, demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the needs and priorities of students, parents and the community of SUHSD."
"District spokesperson Lillian Leopold complains that the unions want to maintain status-quo contracts in the midst of a difficult economy," said CSEA Chapter 471 President Stephanie Napier, "but what the district's bargaining team fails to recognize is that our contracts' pass-through language states that if the district receives any monies from the state, then the dollars pass through to all employees' wages and benefits. If no monies come down from the state, then no money is given to employees, the district gets nothing, we get nothing — very simple. Instead, the district wants to break our pass-through contract language, so that in the future when things are better and the COLA comes from the state it would require all bargaining units to negotiate any monies for employees of the district. District employees understand this is a very tough economy and are not asking for anything at all other than to maintain current language. With our current language, neither side has anything to lose or gain at this point."
Lucero said that the SUHSD Board is slated to review Gándara's job performance soon, but that the efforts of SEA and of its education employee union colleagues will be directed toward persuading the board to initiate the search for a new district superintendent instead. "We definitely need a new leader as we face the challenges ahead," said Lucero.
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