Modesto Teachers Association, state union to take complaints to court Thursday

naustin@modbee.comMay 13, 2014 

The Modesto Teachers Association and its state affiliate, the California Teachers Association, will meet in court Thursday, each hoping to end the stalemate that has frozen the local union’s accounts and delayed work on its contract with Modesto City Schools.

The local chapter is fighting a trusteeship imposed by the state union in the face of Modesto’s self-styled proposal to break away.

The Modesto leadership proposed leaving the state association based on local rules requiring a simple majority of votes cast. State rules require a two-thirds vote of all members. Modesto teachers voted by a wide margin to remain with the statewide group, making the distinction moot.

But the legal tug of war continues, hinging on whether the Modesto chapter is a member of the state union or an independent agent contracting for state services. Thursday’s joint hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. in Stanislaus Superior Court, is on legal actions each party has filed against the other. MTA attorney Rafael Ruano said both were temporary restraining orders, with the MTA seeking an injunction to nullify the trusteeship.

The state union tried to seize the Modesto office and accounts last week. It was not successful in gaining control, but banks have frozen MTA assets pending a court order, Ruano and CTA trustee Bill McMurray said Tuesday. Ruano said the freeze could last no more than three days, to allow the court to rule on the matter.

Ruano and McMurray said attorneys met and resolved concerns over paychecks and scholarships that come due in the meantime. “Any checks written for typical operating expenses are authorized to go forward. Outstanding checks won’t bounce,” McMurray said. Efforts to proceed with bargaining for the 2014-15 contract are on hold, with the district “taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said.

Thursday, CTA trustees will hold an informational meeting for Modesto members, McMurray said. CTA plans to rewrite local governing rules to parallel state bylaws, with members voting on those changes and a fresh slate of officers, who will take the reins as CTA exits.

“We want to get things moving back to normalcy,” McMurray said.

But Ruano characterized the effort to rewrite MTA rules as “punishment for abiding by its own internal procedures.” He said, “CTA is in the midst of trying to crush MTA so that it can never object to CTA’s mandates and policies in the future.”

The rift began over a $280,000 staffing subsidy through the state union that MTA enjoyed for the past three decades. The MTA leadership council voted to lose the grant rather than comply with its terms. An MTA pre-election flier said breaking away would let MTA keep dues now sent to the state, enabling it to maintain current staffing and use some of the extra to reduce dues.

McMurray said the local union will not lose the staffing subsidy if it follows grant requirements that the funds be paid directly to union employees. For the past 22 years, the MTA executive director has been appointed by the MTA board, but paid as a Modesto City Schools employee through a side agreement with the district.

The arrangement allowed the staff member to continue to accrue retirement credit under the California State Teachers Retirement System as if still teaching, and preserved teacher job guarantees and seniority. MTA Executive Director Megan Gowans announced that she will exercise that guarantee, resigning from the union job she has held since 2008 and returning to the classroom next year.

Gowans received her teaching credential in 1978, and it last was updated in 1985, according to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She is certified to teach English and social science in junior high and high schools.

She has no added certificate for teaching students not proficient in English, but she can obtain an emergency permit to allow her to teach in 2014-15, said Craig Rydquist, responding to Bee inquiries via email. Rydquist, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, said Gowans last taught in 2004-05.

The district has openings, but Rydquist did not address if other teachers would be reassigned, or bumped, to accommodate the return of a senior instructor. All teachers will have three paid days before the school year starts to get specialized training in Common Core standards and teaching strategies, he said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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