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Union Election in Los Angeles: Candidate Mottus

Coleen Bondy, Los Angeles teacher, has prepared special coverage of the upcoming teacher's union election in her city. Here is her report:

United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers' union for Los Angeles Unified School District, is holding elections for all of its major offices this spring. Ballots will be mailed out to the membership beginning Feb. 25.

Effective leadership has never been so critical to UTLA members as it is now. Teachers have endured years of brutal budget cuts, including furlough days, pink slips, increased class sizes, and have gone seven years without a raise.

In addition, LAUSD has implemented programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom that are wildly unpopular with teachers, who already deal with cleanliness issues in the classroom because of a lack of adequate custodial staffing.

LAUSD's school board appears to be charging full steam ahead on a plan to equip every student with an iPad, at a total cost of about $1 billion. It is planning to use bond money that voters specifically earmarked for construction of new facilities and maintenance of old ones.

Perhaps most important of all, many LAUSD teachers perceive that the district has been hijacked by employees and school board members who are bent upon implementing corporate-style reforms in the district, without the approval of parents or teachers.

With so much at stake this year, we asked the candidates running for president of UTLA to answer the same 10 questions. The questions were emailed to all of the candidates in January. More information can also be found here.

We kicked off the series yesterday with Gregg Solkovits. Today we continue with candidate Kevin Mottus. whose is a former District Wide Teacher Trainer/School Mental Health/School Counselor. He is currently at Leland Elementary South Region and South Region Elementary #10 in West Region 

1. How did you come to be a teacher in Los Angeles?

My specialty is helping children and adults with learning disabilities and ADHD succeed.  After helping to train teachers at UCLA's graduate teaching program as a graduate student myself, everyone encouraged me to go to work for the school district where I could put my skills to most use.  When I arrived I began to train the counselors within our department and within a few years, I had my own program traveling around the school district training teachers, counselors, administrators and parents about how to best support the success of students with learning differences. 

My department estimated that I indirectly impacted 23,000 students a year.  I was extremely well received because participants could see the tremendous need for this kind of training program with so many students being diagnosed with specific learning disabilities and ADHD.  My program lasted for 5 years until funding changes lead me back into the schools providing direct service as a counselor.  But having my own district wide program was an invaluable experience; it allowed me to see and directly interact with entire schools staffs from across the district.  I got to hear the concerns, complaints and dreams of teachers from schools in every area and all instructional levels: elementary, middle school, high schools and continuing education centers.  I bring all that input with me as I run for President.  My expertise gives me insight into the estimated forty percent of students who drop out of LAUSD who are largely composed of students with learning differences.  I understand what it takes to reach them, teach them and how to make organizational changes to support their success.

2. Why are you running for President of UTLA?  

It is time for a change.  It is time for a President who cares.

I think everyone within UTLA knows it is time for a change with so many candidates running against our current president and his current officers organizing in a slate against him.  Clearly our current President has lost the support of the officers and the organization he must lead.  As it is now as a union, we are taking whatever the district gives us rather than being part of the educational solution.  Educational practices are being forced upon using a very top down approach that has proven to produce poor results in any organization that it has been used.  I have worked for non-profit, for profit, small and large companies.  I have worked for companies dominated by men and others dominated by women.  I bring all of this experience in different ways to approach organization problems to the office of President.  But in my experience in all of these different types of organizations top down approaches are inefficient and ultimately ineffective in producing the best results.  

UTLA members need to have input into the solution that they will be implementing and not have that solution forced upon them from others who often have not ever been in the classroom or for whom it has been years since they have been in the classroom.  What I know from my BA in Business and Economics and Government and Law minor from Lafayette College is that solutions resulting from collective input or group think are always far superior to those developed by a relative few.  Our country was founded on this principle and if it is good enough for our country, why is it not good enough for this district?  

The way in which our current president has run things makes it very difficult to bring motions in front of the UTLA House of Representatives.  I remember current Treasurer Arlene Inouye saying it took her a year to have a motion heard.  This is not democratic; by making it so difficult for motions to be heard, we have excluded the critical input of our committees and areas. This is not the way to involve your membership, make sure they are heard, and represent their interests and concerns.  We have gone from a union of many to a union of one or few.  We have gone from a democratic process to an autocratic process. The result is disengagement and apathy and this is exactly what we are seeing across the district.  This has got to change. 

I will change the format of House of Representative meetings to limit the time for the President's Report and work to add an additional House of Representatives meeting so motions have time to be heard and considered.  This is why your article is so important to let people know there is an alternative-a real choice. 

It is time for a UTLA president who cares about teachers as people not numbers to be managed.  Our greatest loss of compensation and physical security has been at the hands of UTLA.  UTLA chose to eliminate our PPO coverage from our medical plans and cut out UCLA and Cedars Medical groups from our Blue Cross HMO coverage.  These devastating changes place our members in jeopardy at a time of their greatest vulnerability when they become ill.  This is not how we take care of our workers in their time of greatest need.  This is not how we reward our union members for their daily hard work and sacrifice.  This is completely unacceptable.  I will demand and work furiously to restore our PPO coverage to our medical coverage and bring UCLA and Cedars back into our Blue Cross HMO. 

Our teachers and HHS personnel deserve to have a real choice and deserve the opportunity to seek out the best possible medical care and help when they need it most.  Our members have worked hard and fought for this coverage and it was a mistake for UTLA to weaken this protection. I will also fight to have disability insurance coverage included as part of our union dues.  Current disability coverage available to members pays 75% of a workers salary for up to two years if they should become sick and disabled but few have this protection.  Our current system where members have to donate their sick time to others who are sick is archaic, often inadequate and unnecessary given the disability coverage available.  We should not be putting our members, their lives, homes, families in jeopardy because they become sick. 

I will empower our teachers.  I will give them a voice.  I will fight for their health and well being.  I will be their champion.  I will demand that our teachers get the respect, protection and compensation they deserve for all they do and sacrifice to serve our children. 

3. Have you been involved with any Gates-funded education reform projects such as Educators 4 Excellence? If so, what did you learn from that experience?

I have not been involved with any Gates funded education reform projects such as Educators 4 Excellence.   I can tell you I believe in teachers having input into education policy and the operation of their school districts.  I have seen Bill Gates speak on education reform and what concerns me about Bill Gates is that he has never taught in the classroom.  I believe that he and other critics of classroom teachers would not last a week in a real classroom dealing with the realities of an urban school.  My concern is that his ultimate aim seems to be to minimize the importance of the human interaction between teacher and student and minimize the importance of one human reaching out to connect, motivate, and inspire another in favor of technology.  I am also concerned about the emphasis on standardization and the sanitization of the material being taught rather than an emphasis on encouraging and inspiring creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration with others through interpersonal teaching. 

I think it is ironic that when speaking about education reform Bill Gates reminds us that he dropped out of college.  This is the person we are looking to lead education reform a man who dropped out of college?  He dropped out of Harvard, one of the finest universities in the nation.  He dropped out of higher level education where most people agree we excel in comparison to the rest of the world and where we catch up in terms of educating our youth.  I am not sure how he feels about education in general or what his motivation is but I am concerned that it might be to sell more technology into the schools.  The fact is that LAUSD is spending more than a billion dollars on technology and Superintendent Deasy used to work for the Gates foundation which would support my concern. 

What I would like to see Bill Gates do is actively reach out to teachers working on the front lines of our schools and continually survey and meet with them to find out what they say is and is not working in the schools and find out what they say they need to succeed.  I would like to see him use his billions of dollars to lower class sizes.  I have not seen research which was not funded by the companies selling these new technologies into the schools that shows that these new classroom technologies really lead to improved student achievement.  But what we do know leads to improved student achievement is small class sizes and experienced, highly trained teachers. 

4. How will the recent iPad purchase affect LAUSD over the next few years?

There has been broad opposition to the Ipad program.  Spending ultimately 1.25 billion dollars on technology after years of devastating cuts to programs and personnel is undefendable especially when there are so many other glaring basic needs in the schools.  The district does want us to know that an additional 40% of the cost of the program is recommended for teacher training and maintenance of the program all of which must come directly out of general funds; that is coming out of money that directly effects our schools, teachers, administrators, and HHS personnel.   Everything in a school's budget will be affected for years and years to come as we eliminate textbooks and replace them with Ipads. 

We need this Ipad money for what we know that works and what works is experienced teachers, highly trained, in classrooms with low teacher to student ratios along with adequate administrative and HHS support to deal with outside issues affecting the classroom.  This is what works and this is not going to change. This is where we need to invest our funding.  Sadly without enough investment in teacher training and maintenance, the Ipad program is going to become just another gimic program to go along with all the rest but a very expensive one that will ultimately financially devastate the other programs.  What the district is not telling you is that the schools that have Ipads are hardly using them because they have not been integrated into the educational program because there certainly has not been enough teacher training to adequately do so.

The aspect of the IPad program that few are talking about is the health effects from exposure to microwave Radio Frequency Radiation that is transmitted from every Ipad and every Wireless WiFi router.  The fact is that the World Health Organization has classified the microwaves used by wireless as a Class 2B Carcinogen.   As a result, no one can say this technology is safe especially for children.  The fact is that there are no real safety standards in place to protect us from harmful exposure to wireless RF radiation.  The fact is that the FCC guidelines that are in place explicitly exclude children and pregnant teachers which fill our schools yet the district feels comfortable exposing students and our members to what they themselves characterize as "industrial strength" WIFI/microwave radiation. 

The fact is that each Ipad and each WiFi router is a microwave transmitter and we can expect to have 20-40 microwave transmitters in every classroom.  The fact is children are more absorbent and more effected by microwave radiation than adults due to their developing neurology.  The fact is there are documented measurements of RF radiation in classrooms that are 3 times that measured at the base of a cell tower.  The district currently has a policy in place that mandates cell towers be kept at least 200 ft away from any school to prevent health effects from RF radiation.  Now we are bringing those microwave transmitters into our classrooms and exposing our teachers and students to microwave radiation in close proximity. 

The fact is that people are really getting sick from these exposures.  These people have testified to the school board and experts from around the world have written letters directly to LAUSD asking them to use wired versus wireless connectivity to the internet due to health effects as the school board recommended themselves in their own resolution in 2009 declaring "the Board supports responsible deployment of fiber optic broadband technology, which is superior to wireless technology in speed, reliability, security, durability and protection it affords people and the environment from the potential hazards of exposure to radio-frequency radiation...."(LAUSD Board Resolution Acted 5-26-09). 

Some people are becoming electrosensitive that is developing neurological symptoms and studies show that RF radiation is neurotoxic, carcinogenic and genotoxic.  Others are developing cardiac arrhythmias as the electromagnetic microwaves interfere with our own bodies electrical system. The greatest amount of research has shown an increase in the risk of cancer especially from long term continuous exposure as will be the case with WiFi in the classroom.  Look for yourself at the studies from around the world posted by UC Berkeley at saferemr.com.  Look at a review of 1800 studies from around the world at bioinitiative.org.   Read the stories of people suffering terribly from exposure at citizensforsafetechnology.org and stopsmartmeters.org.  Look at safeschool.ca to see that we are far from alone in our concern about health effects from wireless.  Just because we cannot see, feel, or hear the billions of electromagnetic waves hitting us per second from wireless does not mean it is not harming us on a celluar level. 

Teachers are not being warned of the risks and it is unacceptable.  Teachers are not being told how to minimize their exposure.  Our teachers should be concerned very concerned.  If they knew of the thousands of studies showing health effects, they would be outraged.  Our current UTLA President has done little to nothing to warn and protect our teachers.  He stood by and said NOTHING as I took on the school board reminding them of their own resolutions warning of health effects which cite research from all over the world.   

I will not let our staff and students be used as human guinea pigs for some massive human experiment on the health effects of long term intensive exposure to microwave Radio Frequency Radiation.  Teachers are already getting sick with electrosensitivity and most do not realize the source and that it is completely preventable.  At Johnnie Cochran MS we have already had 6 teacher deaths in one year: 4 due to heart attacks and 2 to rare types of cancer.  The district has turned off the schools WiFi but still our union President does nothing to warn others.  How can you say you care about our teachers and do nothing?  How can you say you represent the interests of our teachers and HHS personnel and do nothing? This is unacceptable.  Our teachers deserve better.  I will do better.

I will empower our members with information.  I will give them a voice.  I will fight for their health and well being.  I will be their champion.  I will demand that our members get the respect, protection and compensation they deserve for all they do and sacrifice for our children. 

5. What do you think of recent changes in the way teachers are evaluated in LAUSD? 

I do not believe in evaluating or rewarding teachers based on test scores because there are simply so so many factors affecting student achievement outside of school and outside of a teacher's control.  My concern is by focusing on test scores we would be encouraging teachers to vie for the highest achieving students within a school.  Within the school district, I would be concerned that a test based system may favor one area of the city over another.  We already have a problem getting teachers to teach in low socioeconomic areas of the district and this would just exacerbate the problem.  As a district, I would be concerned that an evaluation process that emphasized test scores would be biased against our children who 70-80% of them receive free lunches due to their economic need.  We know that with poverty comes a host of problems that affect student achievement.  We do not want a student evaluation process that punishes our teachers for the outside challenges of their students.  The designers of these evaluation processes forget teachers have a choice where they work and we would be encouraging new teachers to go to other school districts in surrounding areas who do not feel the need to use such a biased testing based system.

6. Are you in favor of implementing the Common Core State Standards in LAUSD? If so, why? If not, why not? 

The consensus I have heard from teachers is that Common Core represents a dumbing down of the curriculum, which can be expected when you are dealing with a system whose goal it is to unify or uniform.  This kind of system naturally seeks to serve the average rather than the excellent.  In our new economy, we need a focus on achieving real excellence utilizing higher learning which emphasizes concept formation, ingenuity, problem solving and team work.  The reality is that if the students of the future are going to have a satisfying and well paying job they are probably going to have to create it themselves. 

7. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing teachers/UTLA today? How would you address those issues as president? 

8. What has surprised you since you began running for this office? 

I am not really surprised by anything.  I would like UTLA to put videotape of all of the candidate forums on their website and advertise it to members so our teachers and HHS workers can make an informed choice when they decide who will be the future leaders of their union but this does not favor those already in office.  I would also like UTLA to post everything that has been written about this election on their website so members can easily access it when voting. 

9. How do you feel about Breakfast in the Classroom at the elementary, middle and high school levels? 

I like the idea of providing our students with adequate nutrition but I am concerned about its implementation.  I am concerned because it takes time away from instruction.  I am also concerned because it is just another thing that teachers have to do along with the array of other tasks they must manage other than instruction.  I am concerned because the food we are giving the children often contains much sugar and carbohydrates and is low in protein and thus lacks the real nutrition which supports healthy brain functioning.  We are really training the brain in school and I wonder if most people would train their brain with the food we are feeding our students with Breakfast in the Classroom.  Most teachers will not eat the food in their schools.  I would like to see the people working in Beaudry eating the same food we serve in the schools rather than the high quality food and tremendous variety they enjoy eat in the bottom floor of Beaudry then I think we would see real changes in the food we serve.

10.  Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The reality is we are teaching and training the brain in school.  If we are serious about producing excellence in our children, I would be in favor of starting the school day later at say 9am.  Brain research shows that most of our learning, retention and growth happens when we are asleep.  Children need much more sleep than they are getting now.  With students and teachers exhausted, everything is more difficult-learning, teaching, and behavioral problems. 

It is very difficult to genuinely create when you are exhausted.  This is what school should be about teaching our students how to create: ideas, essays, projects, solutions, their career and ultimately a meaningful life.  This is what school should really be about.  How we got away from inspiring and nurturing creation to overly focusing on compliance and uniformity I am not sure but given our future economy's need for small businesses, creation, and ingenuity I think it is the wrong path.  If you ask employers if we are training the type of workers they need, I think you will see that our emphasis is in the wrong place.  Our school model was designed to produce factory workers; now we need to produce entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, envisioners and schools need to be designed to reflect that change. 

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