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CSEA training invigorates chapter

11/01/09

Members of Esparto Chapter 510 didn’t know how powerful their influence could be, even though there are 36 of them.
Through CSEA’s training programs, they discovered that even a small chapter can have a big influence.

In 2001, chapter members went to work and paid their union dues, but didn’t get involved in the district’s decision-making process. Bad fiscal choices by administrators left the Esparto Unified School District in a financial mess that it solved by cutting classified jobs and hours.

“The very people who had warned the school board members and the superintendent over and over again that our district’s finances were a mess had lost their jobs,” said Julie Jackson, Esparto Chapter 510 president. “We were very unhappy with the board because they made some bad decisions. We felt that the board and the superintendent didn’t act in the best interest of the students.”

Jackson said that around the same time, she realized that CSEA could give the chapter the tools necessary to change the district for the better. She began to network with fellow CSEA members at conferences and trainings, and began soliciting help from CSEA staff.

“These people really took me under their wing and made sure that I was properly trained,” she said.

Jackson enrolled in leadership training, took the chapter president’s training and became a jacketed job steward. She also completed research/ negotiations training, served on the Public Relations Committee and received chapter secretary training. Jackson used the information she learned at these trainings to mobilize her chapter.

“We learned how to recruit people to run for the school board and how to promote a board candidate,” Jackson said.

Esparto Chapter 510 members endorsed supportive board candidates and went door-to-door informing neighbors about why their candidates should get the vote. After nearly a decade of training and action, Chapter 510 helped all CSEA-endorsed school board candidates get elected.
“This does not guarantee us their vote, but it certainly has given us board members who listen to our input and weigh everything before making a decision,” Jackson said.

Indeed, Chapter 510 takes advantage of the open-door policy of their current school board and superintendent.

“The atmosphere has changed so much in our school district,” Jackson said. “We still had some cuts this year, but they were our fair share. We give input at board meetings, and we can pick up the phone and call board members or the superintendent anytime, and I even send our newsletter to our board members and the superintendent.”

The board members at Esparto Unified said that they appreciate the chapter’s involvement. School board member Pam Miller said that if any CSEA chapter has issues or concerns about what is going on in their school district, they should bring it to the attention of their school board members.
“It’s the only way that we can know about what’s going on,” Miller said. “It’s nice to know about everything, including about what is going well, and (Chapter 510) communicates that well with us.”

Jackson encourages all chapters—no matter how small—to take advantage of the training CSEA offers.

“We literally knew nothing about the organization before. Now, we have become an active, participating chapter,” she said. “We’re not isolated and we became empowered by learning that we are part of a larger organization.”