The San Diego Unified teachers union has tapped a Wisconsin educator to serve as its executive director, replacing former leader Dick Gale, who left the job on Halloween. The hire was finalized last night.

Steven Johnson, who serves as a director with a National Education Association-affiliated union in Wisconsin, will begin the job on Feb. 5. His job consists of managing and advising union staff and leading negotiations. Johnson joins the group in the middle of a bitter series of bargaining sessions over salaries, benefits and workplace protections, overshadowed by the ongoing financial crisis faced by all California school districts. Union President Camille Zombro will maintain her position as president, serving as the spokesperson and political leader of the group.

Gale’s departure spurred rumors that the union was split from within and that it would lose money by cutting off an agreement with Gale, who was loaned to the union by the statewide group, the California Teachers Association. A previous executive director loaned from CTA, Robin Whitlow, left amid similar speculation.

“What I hear is that they have basically withdrawn from the CTA,” school board member John de Beck said in an interview in late October. “When you tell CTA, ‘I don’t want your person,’ which they have done twice now, that is bound to affect their relationship. … It looks like a power struggle between the president and the moderate views of the experienced CTA personnel.”

Countering such statements, Zombro has repeatedly said that the split with Gale was not rancorous, that the San Diego union has not lost revenue, and that the California Teachers Association gives the union the same financial support as before Gale left. Nor will Johnson cost more than Gale did, Zombro said.

“He is really great,” she said, adding that people are “going to love him.”


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