The relationship between Superintendent Terry Grier and the teachers union in San Diego Unified has gotten off to a rocky start — and so did his relationship with the teachers association in Guilford County, North Carolina, his last school district.

Grier has mentioned Guilford County Association of Educators president Mark Jewell as a union leader who “knew how to disagree,” and said the two had a civil relationship. Here’s an excerpt from a May interview, when Grier explained how he foresaw his relationship with the union in San Diego:

Frankly, I hope it grows stronger. I had a good relationship with the union in North Carolina. Mark Jewell, the union president there, I consider a friend and a professional colleague. We didn’t agree on everything. Mark knew how to disagree.

Relationships are two-sided. I want to have a strong relationship, and I hope the teachers union does here. But a strong relationship doesn’t mean that every time you do something that someone else disagrees with, they react in a different way than perhaps I would.

But Jewell said their relationship took finessing. And it didn’t begin well.

Jewell said he would give Grier a D or a D+ grade as superintendent when he came to Guilford County, and a B- when he left. Grier’s plans included a controversial move to use a county-paid supplement to teacher salaries to pay bonuses for teachers in “hard-to-staff” schools, Jewell said. He was overruled.

“The teachers were up in arms,” Jewell said. “We viewed it as a tax on the teachers.”

Over several years, Grier became more inclusive of the teachers association and better at communicating big changes before they went to the school board, Jewell said. That could be a promising sign for San Diego, where the rift between the union and the school district helped derailed discussions of a parcel tax,“target=”_blank”>as I wrote today.

But the power dynamic in North Carolina is fundamentally different than in San Diego, said Richard Barrera, a candidate for school board who works as a labor organizer. North Carolina is a “right to work” state and its teachers contract is much more limited than in San Diego, Jewell said.

“Terry believes he had a good working relationship with the union in North Carolina. And he probably did,” Barrera said. “But he’s got to understand that that union was in a fundamentally weak position and by necessity, (the union) had to make concessions and accommodations to district management that a union in California doesn’t have to make. You’re talking about apples and oranges.”


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