CTA
Reconstitution used to punish those critical of school policies
Volume 12, Issue 6 - March 2008

When Regina Williams appeared before the school board, she wore a bright red “R”
around her neck to symbolize the pain, suffering and shame she has suffered as a
result of reconstitution.

Regina Williams, of the Fairfield Suisun Unified Teachers Association, dons a Scarlet
Letter "R" to show the shame she feels after being chosen for reconstitution.

“I might as well wear a ‘Scarlet Letter,’ because I will feel shame for the rest of my
life,” says the Fairfield-Suisun Unified Teachers Association (F-SUTA) member.
“People are whispering behind my back now and wondering what I did, and I’ve done
nothing wrong. It’s devastating.”

Williams is one of 41 teachers “reconstituted” by the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School
District. But it was no ordinary reconstitution. In this case, Williams believes the
district used No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a pretext to engage in anti-union, racist,
ageist and homophobic behavior.

Under true reconstitution, administrators tell all employees at a campus to reapply for
their own jobs and then involuntarily transfer the majority of applicants to other school
sites. Under federal NCLB mandates, it is one of several plans that districts may use
to punish schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for four
consecutive years. But it is not the only option for schools entering years 4 and 5 of
PI.  Schools can also be closed down or converted into charters, can be taken over by
the state, or can fall under the vague alternative category: “Any other major
restructuring of the school’s governance arrangement.”

The Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District Board — at the urging of Superintendent
Woodrow Carter, who has since left the district — selected the “Other” category to do
something unique called partial reconstitution. Rather than reconstituting entire
school sites, administrators hand-picked teachers at four Title I schools last spring
for involuntary transfer to non-Title I school sites this fall.

Much to the amazement of F-SUTA members, the majority selected for reconstitution
happened to be teachers who were active union members and prone to question
district policy. Says F-SUTA President Melanie Driver, “A disproportionate number
were African American teachers and teachers over the age of 40. One teacher was
selected on the basis of his sexual orientation.”

Even more amazing to teachers was that the district announced its plans one week
before STAR testing, which demoralized students and may have contributed to even
lower test scores. Some tearful students were heard asking, “If we do good on the
test, can we have our teachers back?”

Fairview Elementary was just in year 3 of PI in 2005-06 and made AYP that year. The
school could have come out of PI by making AYP the following year. However, scores
dropped by 25 points in 2006-07, which some teachers say is the result of students
being traumatized a few days before testing.

“My students were extremely upset to find out that I was being removed from the
school,” says Nancy Dunn, former vice president of F-SUTA and a teacher at Fairview
Elementary for nine years before being sent to Dover Middle School. “It was
devastating for students to find out that over half the teachers they’d grown up with in
that school were being removed the following year.”

The involuntary transfers were not based on performance or classroom evaluations
by administrators. Most of those targeted teachers, in fact, had glowing evaluations in
their personnel files.

Driver believes that targeted teachers were the victims of racism, ageism,
homophobia and union-busting tactics. There was also retaliation from the district
office. At Fairview Elementary School, teachers were punished for “working to rule” —
or not performing extra duties such as supervising lunchtime clubs or providing after-
school homework assistance — a union strategy protected by law that is used to
express displeasure with administrators. At Bransford Elementary School, adds
Driver, teachers were targeted because they didn’t vote for collaborative planning.

“It is interesting to note that most of the reconstituted teachers have had good
evaluations for as many as 25 years and some have no evaluations for five to seven
years running,” says Driver. “So how can a ‘good teacher’ suddenly become a ‘bad
teacher’ with no evaluation? It happened because they spoke up about something
that needed attention at their site — discipline issues, the contract not being followed,
or saying that the direct instruction method with the SRA/McGraw-Hill reading program
was not working. They were slandered for using their First Amendment rights.”

----------------------

Under NCLB guidelines, sanctions for PI schools are not supposed to supersede
collective bargaining agreements. F-SUTA members say that the “partial
reconstitution” clearly violates the contract negotiated between F-SUTA and the district.

F-SUTA has filed two grievances against the district for violations of the collective
bargaining agreement pertaining to involuntary transfer, and for violations of
members’ rights guaranteed by the Educational Employment Relations Act based on
the union agreement and state and federal laws. These grievances are currently in
arbitration. Additionally, with the assistance of union attorneys, affected members
have filed Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and Department of Fair
Employment and Housing charges on the basis of gender, race and age
discrimination.

There have been several Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) filings against
the district by F-SUTA, which resulted in a complaint being issued against the district
by PERB. Due to the PERB complaint against the district, the parties will participate in
a mandatory settlement conference with the PERB regional attorney in the near future.
(The settlement conference is not a guarantee of resolution; it is just part of the
mandatory process of PERB.)

CTA has received verbal and written support from the ACLU and the NAACP, and a
local NAACP representative has appeared at meetings and spoken on behalf of
members.

“After the district imposed the involuntary transfers, CTA entered into months of
bargaining and obtained, for impacted members, access to open positions on the
basis of seniority,” says Ted Bynum of the CTA Regional Resource Center in Fairfield,
who has worked tirelessly on behalf of teachers along with members of CTA’s Legal
Department. Impacted teachers, however, are not allowed by the district to transfer to
Title I schools.

“CTA has also obtained $1,000 per each affected unit member for materials,
equipment and supplies, time for attending conferences, three days of per diem pay
for moving, and other benefits,” says Bynum. “We have organized the membership,
the community and other groups of influence through meetings, rallies, personal
contact, broadcast and print media. The association worked on the recent school
board campaign and was successful in electing two out of four candidates endorsed.”

"It is interesting to note that most of the reconstituted teachers have had good
evaluations for as many as 25 years and some have no evaluations for five to seven
years. So how can a good teacher suddenly become a bad teacher with no
evaluation?"
-Melanie Driver
F-SUTA president
While these actions have heartened F-SUTA members, reconstitution victims say they
continue to suffer the stigma, heartbreak and shame of public mistreatment.

“I grew up in this community and I mentored and taught hundreds of kids, but now I
don’t like to run into people,” says Williams, who wore the “Scarlet Letter” at a board
meeting. “For me it’s embarrassing because people now think I’m a rabble-rouser
and a troublemaker.”

Williams, the F-SUTA membership chair and an African American, was transferred
from a teaching position at Bransford Elementary School to Dover Middle School,
where she is now a library media teacher. Like most teachers, she was told that she
was picked because she did not “embrace district initiatives,” including direct
instruction with the SRA program.

“That was a total lie,” says Williams. “From the time the district piloted the program I
went to all the workshops. I thought it was a good program and had no problem with
it. I never said anything negative about the program. But I am the membership chair,
and I sat in on grievances and took notes.”

Rosemary Louissaint, who was reassigned from Suisun Elementary School to Dover
Middle School, is the F-SUTA bargaining chair and is also African American. In her
last evaluation for the 2006-07 school year, she was given the highest rating of
“proficient” in every category and received glowing remarks from her administrator.
She was praised for “faithfully implementing the approved materials” for reading and
math as well as her “cooperation and collaboration with respectful communication.”
The principal even called her a valuable member of the school staff who “continues to
be an asset” to Suisun Elementary School.

“My first reaction to hearing I would be transferred was shock,” recalls Louissaint.
“Emotionally I was very distraught, because my site administrator and district
personnel had walked into my room a gazillion times and complimented my ability to
teach. But I knew that the reconstitution list was also a union list and that my name
was probably on it.”

Partial reconstitution may have been intended to break the union, says Louissaint, but
it has only made members stronger. “Maybe the district didn’t understand, but those
of us who teach and belong to unions keep things very separate in terms of our daily
tasks. When we walk in the door as teachers — that’s what we do. We are paid to
teach our kids. Our union work is done after hours.”

She also believes racism is a factor, since four out of five reassigned teachers at her
school — along with a reassigned secretary — are African American. The one African
American teacher who was not reassigned was planning to leave anyway.

The district singled out black teachers in disproportionate numbers, adds Louissaint,
since just 3.8 percent of the district’s teachers are black, and of those involuntarily
transferred, nearly 20 percent — eight teachers — are black. “In addition, a
disproportionately high number of them were also veteran teachers over the age of
40.”

Joan Gaut is one such veteran teacher who was singled out.  Gaut hasn’t had an
evaluation since 2000, received positive ones before then, and has been with the
district 27 years. She was told by administrators that the reason she was being
involuntarily transferred from Fairview Elementary School was that she did not support
district initiatives — meaning she didn’t teach through direct instruction.

“I teach music through direct instruction — that is the only way you can teach music,”
says an outraged Gaut, who now teaches at Rolling Hills Elementary School. “I was
never asked to teach SRA materials at any time nor given any training in SRA
materials.”

She believes the real reason for her transfer is her position on the F-SUTA Executive
Board and serving as chair of the chapter’s health and safety committee. “I won an
arbitration last year and three grievances were decided in my favor,” she says.

Travis Nelson believes that he was involuntarily transferred from Bransford
Elementary School after seven years on the basis of union activity and his sexual
orientation. And he was turned down for a position at the district’s adult school after
that because he had been reconstituted.

“I am active in the union, and I spoke out to administrators if I didn’t agree with things,”
says Nelson, who is now at Laurel Creek Elementary School. “Another part of it is my
sexuality. I am gay, and one of my co-workers who did not get along with me told my
principal and vice principal that I was talking about my personal life with the kids. It
was totally untrue.”

--------------------

Life after reconstitution has been a mixed bag, say F-SUTA members. Some were
given the benefit of the doubt by their new principals and are eternally grateful for
being welcomed. Some say they were met with suspicion and treated as “damaged
goods” in their new schools and communities. In one case, parents found out their
children were being taught by a reconstituted teacher and demanded that their
children be removed from that classroom.

“I believe my reputation has been damaged, and I’m not sure I’ll ever recover,” says
Dunn. “Once you have been labeled or branded as a reconstituted teacher I’m not
sure it can ever be undone. I was awarded for years of good teaching with being
publicly labeled a poor teacher.”

Travis Nelson believes he was one of the teachers involuntarily transferred from
Bransford Elementary School after seven years in part because of his union activity.
“I take my hat off to all reconstituted teachers, who are still doing the best professional
job they know how,” says Louissaint. “People are looking at us differently, yet we are
continuing to do a professional job out of love for kids. To do that takes a person of
character.”

“I’m over the anger, but in the beginning there was a lot of anger, tears and emotions,”
relates Stephanie Cobb, a member of the F-SUTA bargaining team who was
transferred against her will from Suisun Elementary School to Laurel Creek
Elementary. “People have said to me that I’m better off not teaching at a Title I school,
but I don’t see it that way. I’m lucky that the staff at my new school was very welcoming
and understood my situation.”

“I feel that my reputation has been tarnished,” says Gaut. “I have been slandered and
libeled.” She says many reconstituted teachers suffer from sleeplessness and health
problems resulting from their harsh treatment.

What reconstitution victims would really like is a public apology from the district and a
retraction from local newspapers that quoted administrators calling them poor
teachers.

“I would like a public apology from our school board and district office saying what
they did was wrong, and to make sure that nothing is placed in our personnel files,”
says Dave Montz, who taught at Suisun Elementary School before being transferred to
Green Valley Middle School.

“I want to make sure this never happens to anybody again.”
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CTA is similar, if not worse, than the school districts it
complains about in the following article.  CTA used malicious
and criminal tactics instead of administrative transfers at
Castle Park Elementary in Chula Vista.
CTA
CVESD