I’m just learning about learning. And the San Diego Education Association is teaching me a great deal about politics.

I began my involvement with San Diego’s city schools three years ago when our son entered kindergarten. I volunteered in the classroom, served on the PTA and held weekend work parties in our school’s garden. Being a self-employed small business owner, I was (and remain) fascinated by the scale of an operation like the San Diego Unified School District — it’s massively complex. Simple changes are often either impossible or Herculean tasks, the exact opposite of my career’s worth of business experience. As my volunteer involvement grew, my frustration grew right along with it. The more I learned about the relationships between the large interest groups — mainly between the District and the San Diego Education Association, the more my head shook — paraphrasing (way out of context) the popular Amy Winehouse song, I said “No, no, no!”

I blog about one parent’s navigation through San Diego’s education community, and the immediate lesson has been recently named (drum roll, use BIG announcer voice) Proposition S.

Prop S is slated to replace the in-decline Prop MM, both of which were created to fund capital improvement projects — big stuff, such as new buildings, large-scale repairs and working environments. As taxpayers, we have a responsibility to provide the best possible facilities in which teachers and students can do their best work, like safe, clean and functional environments that promote teaching and learning. One would think teachers would be excited at the idea — as has been the case with the teachers I’ve spoken to about it.

But not with SDEA.

I’ve learned SDEA has its own agenda for nearly everything, and frequently operates contrary to the obvious interests of its members.

California is not a right-to-work state, which means to be a teacher at San Diego Unified, you must pay dues to the union — which is the SDEA. The SDEA is constantly grasping for power and control over the San Diego Unified Board of Education and its superintendent, Terry Grier.

Because Prop S is intended for capital improvements and not teacher pay raises, SDEA has opted to withhold its support. It’s much more difficult to persuade taxpayers to vote for a school bond that’s not supported by the teacher’s union, and SDEA is trying to place San Diego Unified over a barrel in anticipation of their upcoming contract renegotiation.

This power play demeans teachers, the majority of whom are hardworking, dedicated individuals who deserve excellent working environments. Their union has deserted them for a political game — the primary objective is to keep the union active and seemingly powerful, regardless of the consequences to our children or it’s membership.

What have I learned about this? Teachers deserve my support; SDEA does not.

Paul M. Bowers blogs about school issues at sandiegounifiedparent.com and is a self-employed advertising photographer. Drunk with the elixir of power, Bowers also serves as chairman of the Grant Community Foundation and the school site council/governance team at Ulysses S Grant Elementary, a K-8 math and science magnet school where his son is in third grade.

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