The education profession has an image problem. On one hand, teachers are college-educated professionals who practice a critically important craft. On the other hand, the jobs of unionized public school teachers are largely immune from performance pressures and are locked into industrial-era pay scales that treat them as unskilled labor.
Teaching consistently ranks among the country’s most admired professions. Teacher unions, meanwhile, are not held in such regard, and remain reliable obstacles to proven education reforms, school choice and accountability. Teachers who work long hours to help struggling students: awesome. Unions that fight to protect the jobs of teachers who have sex with students: awful.
For more proof that labor leaders are a public relations liability for educators, consider John Vellardita. The executive director of the Clark County Education Association finally exhausted his appeal of a federal judgment against him and other leaders of his former union. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, meaning Mr. Vellardita must come up with his share of the $1.5 million judgment: about $78,000.
According to evidence in the case, Mr. Vellardita was the leader of an effort to sabotage United Healthcare Workers-West to create a new union, National Union of Healthcare Workers. His group destroyed documents and rendered members’ computer records useless before the parent Service Employees International Union could take over the Oakland, Calif., local it considered mismanaged and rife with financial improprieties.
The Clark County Education Association hired Mr. Vellardita to lead their bargaining unit with the full knowledge that he and others had been accused by the SEIU of diverting $3 million from a union educational fund into a sham entity. Meanwhile, the CCEA’s health trust is just about broke, and the union continues to draw fire for paying excessive salaries to its leadership over the years. (Mr. Vellardita’s salary has yet to be publicly disclosed.)
Many teachers are all too eager to criticize education reformers and prospective leaders who lack classroom experience. Such sniping was directed at former Clark County School District administrator and current Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who has a finance, business and accounting background. But teachers are OK with their union being run by a career organizer?
Mr. Vellardita doesn’t project a positive image of local education or the teaching profession. And that’s unfortunate for the valley’s hard-working teachers.