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L.A. teachers union advised to sue to block potential handover of new schools to charter operators

October 16, 2009 |  6:00 am

Attorneys advising the Los Angeles teachers union have recommended filing a lawsuit to block the potential handover of newly constructed campuses to charter schools, The Times has learned.

Fifty new schools are scheduled to open over the next four years, and charter schools could bid to operate them under a resolution passed in August by the Los Angeles Board of Education. The policy, authored by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, also applies to persistently low-performing existing schools.

Most charter schools are non-union, so an influx of charter schools could weaken United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union in the district.

The legal advice is contained in a Sept. 30 memo, obtained through confidential sources, from the Los Angeles-based firm Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad to union President A.J. Duffy.

The memo lists grounds for litigation, including alleged violations of the state Education Code, of rules regulating taxpayer-funded school-construction dollars and of the collective-bargaining agreement between the union and the school district.

The union contract, for example, stipulates that currently employed district teachers are entitled to teaching jobs at new schools built to relieve overcrowding. In other words, when students leave an overcrowded school for a new campus, their teachers are allowed to follow them. Charter schools, in contrast, typically control their own teacher recruiting and hiring.

The lawyers urged swift action.

“If UTLA wishes to challenge the legality of the resolution,” the memo advised, “litigation should be initiated probably no later than November of this year.…Unless the litigation is pursued early, the court could deny equitable relief on the basis that plaintiffs unreasonably delayed.”

A confidential source with a different employee union confirmed that there have been discussions among district unions about the best time to file suit and about who would take part.

In a Wednesday interview, L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines acknowledged that there would be issues to work through involving the provisions of union contracts.

Even as the teachers union prepares for litigation, its officials are urging school faculties to participate in the bidding process for the 12 existing schools that Cortines singled out for action this year. Not just charter operators, but internal groups, including teachers, can submit proposals. The affected campuses include Garfield, Lincoln, Jefferson, Gardena and San Pedro high schools.

On this front, however, the union is struggling with internal dissension that could hinder a grass-roots faculty effort. Members of the union’s Board of Directors have, for now, delayed Duffy’s attempt to expand the number of quasi-independent “pilot schools.” The pilot school model is officially a union-sanctioned reform, but the union’s board has raised concerns about approving more than the 10 small pilots already in operation. The pilot model also is well-regarded by L.A. school board President Monica Garcia and Cortines, who said he "felt sorry for Duffy" over the internal union resistance.

A delay could give charter schools an edge, given that “letters of intent” for reform proposals are due by mid-November. 

-- Howard Blume 

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