Lorena Gonzalez wouldn’t say it.

No matter how hard she was prodded or pushed by the assembled reporters, region’s top organized labor leader would not directly say that San Diego Unified’s teachers need to consider making pay and benefit concessions to help avoid the more than 1,500 educator layoffs that were made final on Tuesday night.

“I’m not going to stand up here and negotiate for teachers,” Gonzalez said.

But Gonzalez, whose organization counts the teachers union as one of its members, painted around the issue so concisely at a press conference this morning that she left little doubt she expects concessions from teachers to be at least part of the solution to the layoff crisis.

Gonzalez said she has been involved in the annual battle over pink slips for the last three years, but that this year things are clearly different.

There are no magic bags of money that are suddenly going to appear from the state, she said. The school district may have some cash stashed away, but it’s not enough to solve the crisis, she added. And Gonzalez even hinted at how the teachers union could make concessions without opening its contract: By agreeing on a deal with the district that would overlap that contract, leaving it intact.

Gonzalez called the press conference “the hardest one of my career.” Indeed, it comes at tumultuous time for the San Diego Unified School District and the San Diego Education Association, the most powerful union in local education.

In recent days, the union has shown signs of fracturing.

A simmering schism at the teachers union burst out into public view this month. Vice President Camille Zombro and Executive Director Craig Leedham, both pushed out recently, created the union’s former hard-line bargaining approach and aren’t going quietly. On the other side, current President Bill Freeman has argued for open discussions with the district.

Gonzalez’s statements endorsed Freeman’s approach, but essentially urged him to go further.

She almost begged the union and the district to sit down immediately and start hashing out some sort of agreement to save teaching jobs. And she warned strongly against the brinksmanship advocated by Zombro and her followers.

“It doesn’t make any sense to play a game of chicken, it’s not going to work on either side,” Gonzalez said.

In doing so, Gonzalez has laid out a carpet for Freeman to walk on into the bargaining room. Despite opening up dialogue with the district, he’s so far continued to push back against any talk of concessions. At a time when teachers across the district are weighing which side to pick in this labor battle, Gonzalez’s endorsement doubtless carries significant heft.

Not that Gonzalez let the school district off the hook.

Her comments at the press conference, and her answers to follow-up questions, made clear she thinks the district has to do much more to convince teachers of the seriousness of its financial condition. Pressed on this, Gonzalez said that she doesn’t think the district is lying about the size of its deficit, but that she thinks it could do a much better job outlining the menu of options available to labor unions.

For example, Gonzalez said the district has been too slow to announce changes that would lead to it recalling some of the layoffs. She said she has asked school board members how many teachers have recently announced they will retire or take a leave of absence next year. She’s hasn’t gotten a response, Gonzalez said.

But the overwhelming message from Gonzalez and the other education leaders and parents who spoke at Thursday’s press conference was clear: San Diego’s teachers, and their union, need to be a big part of forging a solution to the district’s problems. And they need to snap to it.

We’ll be watching to see if Freeman ramps up his efforts to get those discussions going in the coming days.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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    Written by Will Carless

    Will Carless is the former head of investigations at Voice of San Diego. He currently lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is a freelance foreign correspondent and occasional contributor to VOSD. You can reach him at will.carless.work@gmail.com.

    67 comments
    Tom rice
    Tom rice subscriber

    The Teachers union took a huge leap backwards today. Shame on the SDEA Board of Directors.

    tr767
    tr767

    The Teachers union took a huge leap backwards today. Shame on the SDEA Board of Directors.

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    BTW - please review the "reserve" requirements and the historical admonishments from the County Office of Ed who as fiduciary oversight on SDUSD budget.

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad

    BTW - please review the "reserve" requirements and the historical admonishments from the County Office of Ed who as fiduciary oversight on SDUSD budget.

    Stuart Morse
    Stuart Morse subscriber

    Mr deBeck, I still do not understand why you think that any promise the district makes is even worth the paper it is printed on. Surely you would agree that the district has a history of going back on their promises. What is to stop them from going back on their promise "when the economy get better"? You say we should create a binding agreement that will force the district to give raises when the economy is better, but what is to stop the district from threatening layoffs if teachers do not re-open negotiations? As you are well aware, the district issued 500 layoffs they themselves admit is not necessary. Clearly, the district is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. You must be willing to admit that???

    smorse
    smorse

    Mr deBeck, I still do not understand why you think that any promise the district makes is even worth the paper it is printed on. Surely you would agree that the district has a history of going back on their promises. What is to stop them from going back on their promise "when the economy get better"? You say we should create a binding agreement that will force the district to give raises when the economy is better, but what is to stop the district from threatening layoffs if teachers do not re-open negotiations? As you are well aware, the district issued 500 layoffs they themselves admit is not necessary. Clearly, the district is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. You must be willing to admit that???

    Akamai
    Akamai

    Eastern Airlines, meet Shawne.

    Jim Withers
    Jim Withers subscriber

    This will be remembered in labor circles in California for a long, long, time.

    Wiz1
    Wiz1

    This will be remembered in labor circles in California for a long, long, time.

    Stuart Morse
    Stuart Morse subscriber

    @Hpoland - I completely agree with your sentiment. The district issuing the 500 layofss they admit are not necessary clearly shows that the district can not be relied upon to be a trustworthy negotiating partner...and this example is only the latest of many other reasons the district has lost all trust with most teachers.

    smorse
    smorse

    @Hpoland - I completely agree with your sentiment. The district issuing the 500 layofss they admit are not necessary clearly shows that the district can not be relied upon to be a trustworthy negotiating partner...and this example is only the latest of many other reasons the district has lost all trust with most teachers.

    Heather Poland
    Heather Poland subscriber

    Regarding class size, our contract has class size limits. Because of this, the district cannot have classes with 40 kids in a room. Don't let their scare tactics convince you otherwise.

    hpoland
    hpoland

    Regarding class size, our contract has class size limits. Because of this, the district cannot have classes with 40 kids in a room. Don't let their scare tactics convince you otherwise.

    Angela Carter
    Angela Carter subscriber

    Also what do you mean that there are too many teachers on the list to bridge healthcare this year? Do you even know how much it would cost? If our healthcare is $1000 a month, and 1000 of us end up actually laid off come September, then three months of extended healthcare would cost the district $3 million. Couldn't they pay for most of that just by getting rid of their six totally useless Area Superintendents?

    ACarter
    ACarter

    Also what do you mean that there are too many teachers on the list to bridge healthcare this year? Do you even know how much it would cost? If our healthcare is $1000 a month, and 1000 of us end up actually laid off come September, then three months of extended healthcare would cost the district $3 million. Couldn't they pay for most of that just by getting rid of their six totally useless Area Superintendents?

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    Zombro Road is not the correct path at this time.

    Dennis Michael
    Dennis Michael

    Zombro Road is not the correct path at this time.

    Shawn Carter
    Shawn Carter subscriber

    You did something yesteday that can't be excused and I believe you know that. I come from a long line of teacher and none of us can remember anything like this before. ever.

    shawnc
    shawnc

    You did something yesteday that can't be excused and I believe you know that. I come from a long line of teacher and none of us can remember anything like this before. ever.

    Lorena Gonzalez
    Lorena Gonzalez subscriber

    only right and fair for the rank and file members of the teachers union be presented with the true facts of the districts financial situation, with a menu of options, and then make a choice. That can only be done if the union and district sit down and talk. Whatever the teachers decide, I will stand by that decision and fight like hell for them. I always have and always will. But,I could not sleep at night knowing that many of the teachers are not aware how different this year could be for them and their brothers and sisters. Now it is up to you to make the decisions that are best for you, your family and your union. I will always stand in solidarity.

    Lorena Gonzalez
    Lorena Gonzalez

    only right and fair for the rank and file members of the teachers union be presented with the true facts of the districts financial situation, with a menu of options, and then make a choice. That can only be done if the union and district sit down and talk. Whatever the teachers decide, I will stand by that decision and fight like hell for them. I always have and always will. But,I could not sleep at night knowing that many of the teachers are not aware how different this year could be for them and their brothers and sisters. Now it is up to you to make the decisions that are best for you, your family and your union. I will always stand in solidarity.

    richard gibson
    richard gibson subscriber

    ide that context, nothing can be understood.

    Rich Gibson
    Rich Gibson

    ide that context, nothing can be understood.

    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa subscriber

    We'll negotiate our next contract but we will not reopen our current closed contract.

    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa

    We'll negotiate our next contract but we will not reopen our current closed contract.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Sorry, but there is no logic behind the claim that not giving raises or taking steps toward normalizing pay hurts kids.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Sorry, but there is no logic behind the claim that not giving raises or taking steps toward normalizing pay hurts kids.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Teachers had a good run at the expense of the common man, but in the name of fairness and getting everyone to do their fair share, it's time to fix the excess.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Teachers had a good run at the expense of the common man, but in the name of fairness and getting everyone to do their fair share, it's time to fix the excess.

    Scott Hasson
    Scott Hasson subscriber

    But Lorena's comments have opened the door...Scott Barnett's insolvency comment is really close to reality and lets hope that this can now be worked out for our children's sake. NOW DO IT!!

    scotthasson
    scotthasson

    But Lorena's comments have opened the door...Scott Barnett's insolvency comment is really close to reality and lets hope that this can now be worked out for our children's sake. NOW DO IT!!

    Shawn Carter
    Shawn Carter subscriber

    As for the fiscal crisis, it was not created by working families, yet everyone, even labor leaders like Gonzalez are now saying that we should shoulder the expense and blame. I'd like to know how she sleeps at night after this.

    shawnc
    shawnc

    As for the fiscal crisis, it was not created by working families, yet everyone, even labor leaders like Gonzalez are now saying that we should shoulder the expense and blame. I'd like to know how she sleeps at night after this.

    Steve Mehlman
    Steve Mehlman subscriber

    This is not about the value of teachers. It is about everybody doing their share to deal with a fiscal crisis.

    stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto

    This is not about the value of teachers. It is about everybody doing their share to deal with a fiscal crisis.

    Will Dawson
    Will Dawson subscriber

    Now that the result is reduced services kit is just a little late to come to the ballot box, if you ever bothered to show up to express your opinion. "We have met the enemy and he/she is us" (Pogo)

    Sandawg
    Sandawg

    Now that the result is reduced services kit is just a little late to come to the ballot box, if you ever bothered to show up to express your opinion. "We have met the enemy and he/she is us" (Pogo)

    Roxanne Hinchman
    Roxanne Hinchman subscriber

    up coming back at some time. I for one do not think "my" union speaks for me.

    RoxyTeach
    RoxyTeach

    up coming back at some time. I for one do not think "my" union speaks for me.

    Deb Kegel
    Deb Kegel subscriber

    Perhaps Lorena has more vision - after all the labor unions generally represent workers with FAMILIES with children that need good, working schools. Let's try to come up with a plan that benefits the students and keeps good teachers at our schools. Pull together as a community San Diego and do what's right for everyone. The District superintendent and board needs to cut out unnecessary admin positions, replace ineffective principals and managers, and give the union leadership more info on the budget and the number of teachers retiring. Work together and stop fighting please. We need good schools & motivated teachers and students to keep our San Diego economy going. No decent schools = no decent jobs -->> no future taxpayers.

    SDDeb
    SDDeb

    Perhaps Lorena has more vision - after all the labor unions generally represent workers with FAMILIES with children that need good, working schools. Let's try to come up with a plan that benefits the students and keeps good teachers at our schools. Pull together as a community San Diego and do what's right for everyone. The District superintendent and board needs to cut out unnecessary admin positions, replace ineffective principals and managers, and give the union leadership more info on the budget and the number of teachers retiring. Work together and stop fighting please. We need good schools & motivated teachers and students to keep our San Diego economy going. No decent schools = no decent jobs -->> no future taxpayers.

    Angela Carter
    Angela Carter subscriber

    But if and when she won't publicly state that SDEA knew nothing about this ahead of time, I will continue to suspect that our union president is playing both sides of the field. This just doesn't add up.

    ACarter
    ACarter

    But if and when she won't publicly state that SDEA knew nothing about this ahead of time, I will continue to suspect that our union president is playing both sides of the field. This just doesn't add up.

    Bruno Schonian
    Bruno Schonian subscriber

    It is time for the district to open up their books and be honest about who they can afford to rehire. As far as the Union, there is no need to open up negotiations and set a precedence of having to lose every year and sacrifice teachers over fiscal responsibility.

    Bruno
    Bruno

    It is time for the district to open up their books and be honest about who they can afford to rehire. As far as the Union, there is no need to open up negotiations and set a precedence of having to lose every year and sacrifice teachers over fiscal responsibility.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp subscriber

    Do you honestly think that the schools will be able to safely open in the fall with numbers like that? I don't.

    Dennis Schamp
    Dennis Schamp

    Do you honestly think that the schools will be able to safely open in the fall with numbers like that? I don't.

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