By Gary Walker
Two contested internal school elections have opened an existing chasm between two groups of teachers at Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey days before the end of the school year.
The two sides are at odds on the election over the school’s Title I/bilingual coordinator and its United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) chapter representative, with one side alleging that the coordinator election was not conducted properly.
UTLA is the union that represents teachers and certificated personnel in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Supporters of the school’s current UTLA representative, Leticia Escajeda, who finished in a 19-19 tie with seventh grade science teacher Darlene Haezaert, claim Haezaert’s backers are not being consistent by asking the two finalists to participate in a coin-flip to decide the winner of the election.
According to Escajeda, there was also a tie last year and Haezaert demanded another vote, which Escajeda won.
“I’m not going to agree to that. No way,” the chapter chair responded when asked if she would participate in a coin flip.
Seth Kastenbaum said the school is at a crossroads and the elections could determine how the faculty will coexist next year and how teacher morale will be affected.
“(The elections) were between two different philosophies and two polar opposites,” said Kastenbaum, who teaches sixth grade history and English in the middle school’s Marine Science Academy. “One group is all about the union and the other group is all about the kids.”
He places Escajeda, who next year will begin her 20th year at Marina Del Rey, in the latter group.
Escajeda said the other option is to wait until the fall, when all of the teachers who will be working at the school are on campus, to have the election. “Wouldn’t it be fairer if the new people were able to choose who they want to represent them?” she asked.
The election to qualify for the school’s Title 1/bilingual coordinator, which took place last month, transpired while some of the teachers were off campus on a field trip to Catalina Island, say Escajeda’s supporters. Others claim they were not informed of the day that the voting was conducted.
Escajeda, who is also the school’s bilingual coordinator, did not qualify to continue as Marina Del Rey’s coordinator next year.
That vote is being challenged.
Escajeda said UTLA Secondary Vice President Gregg Solkovits conducted an investigation of the Title I/bilingual qualifying election, but did not interview a number of teachers who did not get the opportunity to vote, including her.
Marina Del Rey Magnet Coordinator Nancy Pierandozzi contested the Title I/ bilingual coordinator election process in a recent letter. Pierandozzi, a longtime teacher at the middle school, wrote to Solkovits about her concerns.
“I read your undated letter that was found in my box with concern. You stated that ‘the election that was conducted was done correctly, after being announced to the faculty, and after being conducted over a series of days,’” Pierandozzi wrote.
“This is simply not true. I am a coordinator for three hours per day and I teach three classes. I supervise before school, during lunch and nutrition, and after school. I am here every day and make the general announcements on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I was never informed of the election; there was nothing in my box, no note on the white board, and I did not make any announcements about the election or voting times,” the coordinator wrote.
“In fact, I emailed my principal immediately when I saw a result on the whiteboard in the main office. I informed her then, as I am informing you now, that this was not done correctly at all.”
UTLA spokeswoman Suzanne Spurgeon said she was unaware of any controversy surrounding the elections.
Haezaert, who has been featured in UTLA’s newsletter and is known as a vocal union supporter, did not respond to email inquiries at press time.
The challenge over the two internal elections is taking place against the backdrop of a difficult year for the middle school. Marina Del Rey is facing declining enrollment and is colocating with a charter school, Goethe International School.
Colocation, an outgrowth of Proposition 39, exists when a charter school shares campus facilities and uses classrooms at a traditional school. Goethe is slated to be at Marina Del Rey through next year.
Earlier this year, parents and members of the faculty voiced disapproval over a plan to move students from a popular Mandarin Chinese immersion program at Broadway Elementary School in Venice to their school for the 2014-15 school year.
A small but vocal group of parents with children in the Mandarin program have also indicated that they do not wish to come to Marina Del Rey after their failed attempt to oust Broadway students, who are not in the Mandarin group, from the school by demanding that LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer change the district’s boundary and send those students to Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice.
Many of the English language students have generational ties to the neighborhood where Broadway is located and have relatives who have attended the elementary school. Zimmer, who represents Del Rey and Venice in District 4, has vowed publicly not to change the school boundary.
Escajeda said she does not view UTLA as the enemy.
“I’m not anti-union,” she said. “I just want to see things done right.”
Marina Del Rey Principal Dr. Miranda Ra’oof could not be reached for comment at Argonaut press time.