SF teachers union elects first new president since 2003

San Francisco’s teachers union has elected new leadership for the first time in more than a decade.

Lita Blanc, an employee of the San Francisco Unified School District since 1986, narrowly defeated incumbent Dennis Kelly, garnering 419 votes from United Educators of San Francisco members while Kelly received 394 in the election that concluded Monday.

Blanc has taught at George Moscone Elementary School for 27 years and is a member of the San Francisco Labor Council. She served on the union’s executive board for six years.

“I ran [for president] because I want to see the union be able to take a stronger stand, involve more members,” Blanc told The San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday.

Blanc said she plans to bring a more progressive approach when she assumes office July 1.

“There are progressive teacher caucuses in Chicago, L.A., St. Louis that have taken over the leadership of unions and are pushing harder for a more progressive union politics,” said Blanc, who also ran for president in 2012. “We’re glad to be part of that movement. We think the teachers and paraprofessionals of San Francisco are ready for that.”

The election results, however, caught some by surprise. Kelly, who has held the post since 2003, is “widely regarded … as a founding father of UESF,” reads a statement from the union. “Throughout his tenure as president, Kelly has had a string of successes … and [established] UESF as a powerful voice for students, educators and working people throughout San Francisco.”

Last year, Kelly led the union in its negotiations for new teacher and paraprofessional salaries, successfully achieving a double-digit raise for teachers of 12 percent over three years in what was considered one of the largest recent contracts for an urban school district in California.

But some union members, including Blanc, felt the new contract fell short.

“We thought that the union should have held out for a higher raise for everybody, teachers and paraprofessionals,” Blanc said. “Two-thousand members voted for a strike in August. I thought that a strike would have resulted in a better contract for us.”

Blanc said she will work to gain support from teachers and parents to establish a greater consensus for a possible strike in the future, when the next contract is negotiated in three years. There is also room to reopen the current contract.

“We will do our best to get the best possible deal to bring the dollars to our members,” Blanc said.

Superintendent Richard Carranza said he is grateful for Kelly’s work over the years and looks forward to working with Blanc to support teachers in The City.

“In collaboration with current UESF President Dennis Kelly, SFUSD has improved the compensation and professional learning opportunities available for our teachers,” Carranza said in a statement. “I appreciate the progress we have made together and look forward to working with President-elect Lita Blanc to ensure San Francisco Unified educators receive the support they need to equitably serve each and every one of our students.”

Meanwhile, Susan Solomon was re-elected to serve as vice president of the union.

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