"Alan Bersin can't offer to hire me to a District position; I am already a District employee. You can find me listed in the staff directory under Labor Relations as regular teacher at cost center #520. My term as President ends this school year, and I will be going through the regular Post and Bid process just like many of you. I am not guaranteed a position. I have not been offered any position by the Superintendent or anyone else.
"We've seen these kinds of slanderous tactics before; most recently during the Fran Zimmerman School Board race. I guess 'those misinformed people' never ever get it. They believe they will divide and defeat us. Instead of spreading rumors and defaming our leadership and our candidates, 'those people' ought to call me with their rumors... I need a good laugh."
Over at the San Diego- Imperial Counties Labor Council, the umbrella group for 110 AFL-CIO locals in the region, political director Donald Cohen says there has been little or no controversy over the Perkins endorsement, largely because the council is convinced that he would vote its way on an array of bread-and-butter issues of special interest to its members. (The labor council is not affiliated with the teachers' union.)
"He passed the test. He seems good on our issues and is a viable candidate and seems like he would be independent of the superintendent, independent of the chamber, independent of everybody. We want to ramp this down by having people on the board who aren't in one camp or the other but who actually have an opportunity to vote with the kids."
Cohen would not make public the questionnaire used to evaluate the school-board candidates, but he said the labor council was confident that Perkins would vote with labor on a number of crucial issues, which largely involve unionizing the district's contractors and higher wages for its workers, or else he wouldn't have received the council's endorsement.
"We want construction, definitely. A lot of schools are being built. We want to make sure they're done -- we helped the school district to put together a labor-compliance program at the school district. Even though they have to pay prevailing wage, a lot of them [school contractors] were cheating. It's the law, but a lot of them don't do it.
"We'd like for [schools] to be built with project-labor agreements to actually get a well-built school. We'd like all public agencies, including school districts, to look at living-wage policies to make sure that subcontracting isn't used to downsize wages and benefits for workers. Living-wage policies usually apply to the contractors of school districts.
"We don't want people who support vouchers. We don't oppose charter schools, but we want to make sure there are collective-bargaining rights within charter schools. That's important, it's a core union value. Those kinds of things."
In an interview, Perkins confirmed he supported prevailing wage laws and voiced qualified opposition to vouchers. "I am not in favor of vouchers, and the reason is, I am a product of the public school system, and I just look at what it did for me, and I think I turned out pretty good. So, vouchers are not really something -- at least at this time -- that I'd be willing to support. Because there are still some things we can do at the public school level to get that improvement, to get the confidence of the teachers and parents back."
On the question of unionization of charter schools, Perkins said he had no position. "I just haven't given that much thought, so I don't know. I haven't really thought through that one at all."
As for Alan Bersin's future, so heatedly debated by the school teachers, Cohen says that, in the long-running battle for control of educational policy, the ball is ultimately in the court of the school board, not the superintendent.
"I don't agree that he is the issue. He is an issue. He has done things that have been the wrong approach, the wrong method. And then there are some things educationally that he's probably right on and probably wrong on, when it comes to curriculum and this and that. But he has certainly pushed too damn hard. I mean, he's made some mistakes and further polarized the school district. The school board -- the elected representatives -- need to be in control. He needs to work for a school board. They don't need to work for him.
"That's the difference. He's a smart guy, right? But whether he can work for somebody is another question. But that's what has to happen here. The school board needs to be in control of the policies of the schools, and when the staff comes forward with a good idea, they need to say yea, and when they come forward with a bad idea, they need to say nay. That's the difference, and that's what we believe is important."
Yet, despite the studied and unanimous assurance from labor leaders that Perkins is their man, some union members continue to fire salvos from within. Much of the dissent involves the haste in which critics say the teachers' union took up the endorsement. Knapp confirms that Perkins did not fill out a questionnaire prior to his pre-endorsement interview, as required of the other candidates, but says he did so afterward. "Johnnie had his [questionnaire], but he hadn't turned it in before the interview, and that was part of what we were depending on afterwards, looking at the [videotaped] interview to check and make sure that the answers squared with it, before it went to the board of directors."
But Knapp acknowledged that while his board does its best to screen potential candidates, its due diligence is limited by time and resources.
"We don't go back and check and see if they graduated from UCLA or Harvard or whatever," says Knapp. "We can't do that kind of an extensive background check; we never have on any of our folks, and the assumption is that people are coming in and telling you the truth," says Knapp. "But we do go back and say, 'What kind of a person is this? Do they stand up for their word? Are they way left, are they way right? Are they the kind of person who is looking for a solution or confrontation?' That kind of thing.