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North County Report: San Dieguito Teachers Union Is at War With the Board

The lobby of the San Dieguito Union High School District office / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Tensions between parents and educators over when to reopen schools and other pandemic-induced dilemmas have been flaring at school districts across North County and beyond. But in San Dieguito Union High School District, those tensions are playing out in extreme ways [1] — with a forced special election, a recall attempt and accusations of stalking, racism and criminal wrongdoing.

Over the last several months, the district’s superintendent and one board trustee have resigned. Three candidates who were not endorsed by the San Dieguito Faculty Association, the union that represents the district’s teachers, made it onto the school board.

The union already moved to oust one of them and is now pushing to get the other two out. The Union-Tribune laid out [1] what’s going on with all three members.

It turns out the union paid a private investigator to follow Maureen Muir, purportedly to show she doesn’t actually live in the district she represents. Muir told me in an email that she has provided the necessary information to confirm her residency status, and if she sells her primary residence and leaves the district, she would “obviously resign from the board as required.”

The union is also trying to oust Michael Allman, the former CEO of Sentra Renewables, with a recall petition [2]. Duncan Brown, the president of the San Dieguito Faculty Association, previously told Times of San Diego that Allman has created “havoc” within the district since taking office, and much of his criticism surrounds a Facebook group he previously administered called SDUHSD Families for School Reopening. Allman was elected in November.

In April, board trustees tapped Ty Humes to fill a vacated seat, making him the first Black man on the board. Two months after he was appointed, the union worked with parents to gather enough signatures to remove him [3] and force a special election.

Muir, Allman and Humes have all made a version of the same charge: that the union is going to extreme lengths to quash dissent. Humes has said [3] he strongly believes that if the person appointed to the board was White, the union would not be forcing him to face a special election, and that it’s turning its back on efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. He also told the Union-Tribune that he believes the union mobilized against him because he wouldn’t make any guarantees upfront on how he intends to vote on important issues in the future.

Allman has said that the union does not like anyone who disagrees with it, is accustomed to having the majority backing on the board and called [4] the recall effort against him a “disturbing use of power.”

At the same time, Muir accused the union, through its private investigator, of “stalking me to get readily available information.” She hopes the union can clearly understand the board’s roles and responsibility as an oversight body, and the board can get back to a place of mutual understanding and respect, she wrote.

“Working together is much better than working apart,” Muir wrote.

I talked to Duncan Brown, the president of the San Dieguito Faculty Association, about the union’s current relationship with the school board. Brown said he, too, wants to restore the union’s relationship with the district and the school board, but he’s not optimistic about reconciliation anytime soon.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s going on between the Faculty Association and the San Dieguito school board from your perspective? 

The Faculty Association has historically had a very good relationship with the district and our school board. With the recent election and Trustee Allman coming into that seat, things really did change quite dramatically. He had campaigned [on] anti-union beliefs. He has gone after individual teachers as well as teachers as a group. And that was early on and pretty much throughout his campaign. So obviously that was a red flag for us. We were very interested to see how he would move forward. And then right from the beginning he really tried to dictate a lot of what he wanted to do … which was in many ways in direct conflict with what we have done [over] the last 25 or 30 years. Our district is extremely high-performing. … And it appeared that he was trying to dismantle the collaborative relationship that teachers have had with the district pretty much right from the get-go.

Do you think this tension in the school board arose out of the frustrations between the debate between some parents and teachers on going back to school, or staying home to learn this last school year? 

I don’t think there’s any question that that issue polarized a large part of the community. And there were large groups of parents on both sides of that issue. But this is really, very different from that. Teachers are resting this summer. They’re going to enjoy their summer and they’re ready to come back full time once we get back. This was a very difficult year for a number of reasons. And certainly, the teaching model of teaching online and in the classroom was very difficult. But I firmly believe that our teachers rose to the occasion and did the very best that any public high school district could have done.

What does an ideal candidate on the school board look like, from your perspective?

Somebody that understands education. Ideally has some educational background. But even that’s not as crucial as a respect for the employees, a respect for the administrators and the ability to be open [to] seeing both sides. And that is what we’ve always had … there’s a number of things that we did not agree with but there was a mutual respect and we knew that even if we were in disagreement that we have a relationship and that we’re going to get past it.

At the end of the first year of the pandemic when really, as a matter of equity, the teachers association felt strongly that offering students credit/no credit was the best way to move forward. Not all of the curriculum was introduced. Not everybody had access to the internet. There were definitely issues there. And the school board decided no, they were going to issue grades, and did it in such a timeframe where it was very disruptive for teachers. But we got past it, and that was a clear example of when it was a school board dominated by people we had endorsed but we didn’t see eye to eye on that issue.  But it was the mutual respect, the mutual cooperation.

How do you think trust and respect can be rebuilt at this point?

A lot of damage has been done. The first thing that I would offer is that Mr. Allman stops the rhetoric on his Facebook page. That would be good for starters. We’re entering contract negotiations, and he has said that he’s going to be oppositional during that process. That’s not going to help anybody. And I do believe that the interim superintendent is trying to build bridges. I honestly do. I know that’s her intent, but there’s a lot of work to be done. At this point, I’m not overly optimistic that anything can be done relatively soon. But with that said, I’m certainly open to suggestions on how we can move forward.

I’ve been a school counselor for over 30 years. It’s my intent to try to work things out, and I would very much like the opportunity to do that.

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