Local Elections

Sacramento teachers union flips on support for Cuneo, Woo

The Sacramento City Teachers Association threw its support behind Jeff Cuneo and Darrel Woo in 2010. Now the union is working to oust them in next month’s Sacramento City Unified School District elections.

Beneath the reversal lies the specter of former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, who left in December following battles with the teachers association over seniority protections, contract negotiations and tying evaluations to test scores. Though the union has scored victories in recent months, it holds some sitting trustees responsible for not blocking Raymond’s efforts.

The teachers union is backing candidates – none of whom are incumbents – in four races: former Sacramento Planning Commissioner Anna Molander in Area 1; public school teacher Ellen Cochrane in Area 2; District Advisory Council President Maria Haro-Sullivan in Area 6; and former SCTA President Linda Tuttle in Area 7.

Besides taking aim at Cuneo and Woo, the union is trying to replace incumbent Jay Hansen, who was appointed two years ago to fill an Area 1 vacancy. Four candidates are vying for the open Area 7 seat created by the departure of Patrick Kennedy to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

SCTA leaders specifically criticized Cuneo as too supportive of using student test scores in teacher evaluations, while it blames Woo for supporting Raymond’s “Priority Schools” initiative, which suspended teacher seniority rules at low-performing campuses.

The group’s latest cause is what it called “the illegal gutting of the health care for Sacramento’s teachers” in a campaign update last week, blaming incumbents for the district’s decision to eliminate Health Net as an insurance option.

“It is up to our elected officials to approve or reject this advice,” the SCTA campaign update declared. “Let’s be clear about where the blame lies for the damage: The incumbents. It is time to clean house.”

Those incumbents say they have been unfairly blamed for the union’s complaints. They said they tried to be pragmatic by working with Raymond on some issues, attempted to forge compromises and sided with the teachers union on other occasions.

“I tried to be the collaborator,” Woo said. “I tried to get Jonathan Raymond to sit down with SCTA. And I think SCTA leadership had it in their minds that they were not going to participate until he left.”

The union has built momentum following Raymond’s departure. The district replaced hard-charging Raymond with José Banda, a lower-profile leader who says he’s eager to partner with teachers. After lean years during the recession, about 2,000 teachers stand to receive a 2 percent retroactive pay boost this school year, as well as another 1 percent in June, thanks to more state education dollars.

Not long after Raymond left, Sacramento City Unified officials stood with teachers at union headquarters to announce that the district would no longer pursue a federal waiver that came with the potential requirement of evaluating teachers based on student test scores.

Area 1

Hansen faces the best-financed challenger in SCTA-backed Molander, whose campaign committee has raised more than $50,000 since Jan. 1 compared to Hansen’s $30,000.

Hansen defended the health insurance change, saying the switch has made a “significant and positive change” for many nonteaching employees. The district has defended the move as a cost-saving measure that does not reduce access to health services.

“We have a gigantic unfunded liability for teachers,” said Hansen, who serves on the state Health Facilities Financing Authority. “We need the union leadership to step up to the plate with us and help us solve this problem.”

Hansen said he worked cooperatively with previous teachers union head Scott Smith.

“I think they had a leadership change at the union that seems to have taken them in an entirely different direction,” Hansen said. “I think they have the Jonathan Raymond hangover and they’re punishing everyone who was associated.”

Molander, who chaired the school district’s committee on the reuse of closed school sites, disagrees. SCTA endorsed her early – in March – and has since provided nearly $17,000 in-kind support for mailers, printing and more.

“My hope is the reason they did that was they see a new day,” she said. “We can’t keep fighting over scraps. In fact, we can’t keep fighting. We have to come together.”

“I think one of the problems with elected officials in general is when they have to deliver bad news, they don’t go ahead and deliver,” Molander said.

Another Area 1 challenger, Katherine Woolley, is a real estate agent with three children in three district schools. She said she has support from small businesses in Curtis Park and Land Park. She was endorsed by the Sacramento Association of Realtors and local education leaders, including County Board of Education Trustee Harold Fong and Sacramento City Unified Trustee Christina Pritchett.

She said she supports teachers, but added, “What do you do with bad teachers? The union is not always on the side of the kids.

“There needs to be another way to move the people who have no business in the classroom. That’s from a parent’s perspective. I’m not a politician.”

Area 2

Cuneo, finishing his first term in office, said it’s no secret that SCTA clashed with Raymond. He said he understands teachers’ frustration about some key issues, such as the district’s decision to seek a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind. And he said the teachers have a “fair position” about the process followed in changing teachers’ health insurance.

“I stood up for students in my school district, and when Jonathan was on the side of students, I agreed with him,” Cuneo said. “When he was not on the side of students, I didn’t agree with him.”

County records show his campaign has raised $43,000 so far, “sufficient resources to communicate what I’ve done for the community over the last four years,” and far outweighing the funds raised thus far by Cochrane.

Cochrane, who has SCTA’s endorsement, ran an unsuccessful campaign for Sacramento City Council in June. In an interview with The Bee’s editorial board, she described herself as a “hometown girl” who hopes to bring community members more into the education process, “which, in my opinion, has not been happening adequately.”

Her campaign website notes that many of the same neighborhood issues in her City Council primary race exist in the school district campaign. “I really believe if you fix the schools, the neighborhoods will follow,” she said.

Area 6

Woo said he made tough decisions on Raymond’s “Priority Schools” that proved unpopular with the union. The schools allowed principals to replace teachers with no regard for tenure, and Woo said he supported “skipping” less experienced teachers for purposes of layoffs.

But Woo also said he was unfairly linked to “union busting” after agreeing last year to be on a California School Boards Association conference panel. The topic: “Breaking the Seniority Barrier in Teacher Layoffs.”

“I spent 90 percent of the time defending our teachers,” Woo explained. Since then, he said, “one of the teachers in leadership has been linking me to union-busting.”

Woo said current and retired teachers support his candidacy.

“I like to think I was elected to ensure quality education for our children,” Woo said. “Working with the teachers is part of that. But it’s not the only factor.”

Woo’s challenger, Haro-Sullivan, said she has been a parent volunteer for the last nine years and has two children in the district. She criticized Woo in social media for being out of touch with parents and students on socioeconomic issues.

Among her endorsements are those of former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and district trustees Gustavo Arroyo and Christina Pritchett.

Area 7

In Area 7, candidate Jessie Ryan, an Oak Park resident, said she hopes to be “that rare candidate” elected without SCTA support. Ryan, associate director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity, described herself as student-focused and independent.

“I’m somebody who very much sees the value of great teachers and working with educators in making sure they have a voice and a seat at the table,” she said. “Despite the politics and this difficult election, I’m out there focusing on a vision for the district, not on the politics and the divisiveness at hand.”

She noted that she does have labor support, including Sacramento-Sierra’s Building & Construction Trades Council, the Sacramento Police Officers Association and the local plumbers and pipefitters union.

As organizer of Hmong Innovating Politics, Jonathan Tran was a leader last year in a movement to block Sacramento City Unified’s closure of seven elementary campuses. Three of them are in Area 7.

He said he hopes the board and community will be more collaborative. But, he added, “The fact that every incumbent is being challenged says a lot about the unsatisfaction.”

Tuttle, in an interview with The Bee’s editorial board, said she has lived in Hollywood Park for 28 years and was a teacher in the district for 29 years. She said she knows the district, had been a longtime mentor for teachers and “got along great” with Raymond. She said she isn’t sure what went wrong between teachers and the superintendent after she stepped down as union leader.

“I can guess,” she said. “When money dries up and you can’t do the kinds of things you had hoped to do, then there’s tension. It’s extremely difficult on everyone’s part.” She cited furloughs and an episode when teachers gave up some of their pay.

Area 7 candidate Ralph Merletti, a substitute teacher, said he has won support from church members, anti-abortion groups and other conservatives. He has been endorsed by the Sacramento County Republican Party. He ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2012 and the 7th Assembly District in June.

Voters, he said, “need to have the choice of a more traditional-view person rather than just a person who might be permissively liberal. They need a contrast.”

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.