CARLSBAD — A letter authored by a Carlsbad teachers’ union president and hand-delivered to educators’ work inboxes is being investigated by school district officials for potential campaign violations.
Rachel Merino-Ott, president of the Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association (CUTA) and a teacher at Sage Creek High School, delivered the letter one day before Rick Grove, assistant superintendent of Carlsbad Unified School District, issued a warning to all employees about election policies and behavior.
Merino-Ott’s letter targets two Carlsbad Unified school board candidates — Scott Davison and Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe — as two individuals allegedly intent on union busting and dismantling public education.
But using district resources for election-related activities and materials violates state education and government codes, along with the school district’s policies.
“I am disappointed that CUTA felt the need to falsely attack my campaign, particularly by violating state laws against on-campus campaign activities,” Davison said. “The letter reveals what I have always known — that many teachers disagree with the overtly political activities of CUTA and the (California Teachers Association), where my opponent is employed. Unions would be better off focusing on their core mission of working for fair wages and benefits for their members instead of attacking parents who want what is best for their kids.”
Merino-Ott’s letter also claims “professional organizations funded by wealthy backers,” such as the Freedom Foundation, are “committed to breaking unions.” The foundation, Merino-Ott said, advises teachers to pay for liability insurance through an alternative teachers union with political ties to groups “working to actively dismantle public schools.”
The California Teachers Association (CTA) has donated at least $15,000 to two candidates opposing Davison and McKeeman: Incumbent Trustee Kathy Rallings of Area 5 ($7,200), and Michelle Ward, running against McKeeman in Area 4 ($8,000).
Rallings is also employed by the CTA as a health benefits specialist, according to her LinkedIn bio.
Merino-Ott did not respond to a message from The Coast News seeking comment.
“To the degree that letter distributed in our mailboxes, that is a violation of our policies,” said Assistant Superintendent Rick Grove. “The sentence calling out Davison and McKeeman is not allowed. This type of action usually results in a written warning.”
The letter is also a call to action after sources said an unknown number of district teachers left the Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association. The letter begins with “misconceptions that need clarification” about CUTA’s role and political activities, which sources believe is in response to a previous letter voicing concerns with the local teachers union.
In the letter, Merino-Ott said a “larger percentage” of the CUTA dues are paid to the largest state and national teachers’ unions — California Teachers Association and National Education Association.
According to Merino-Ott’s letter, working with both entities allows the statewide organization to access to a larger network, leadership training, negotiations, bargaining, budget documents and more.
For teachers not aligned with CTA’s political actions, Merino-Ott writes they can choose not to send a portion of their dues to the CTA’s Better Citizenship Committee, the political action arm that provides funding for local affiliates.
As for the national union, there is no opt out. According to Merino-Ott, only 18% of an employee’s total contribution goes to NEA, which gives teachers a collective voice and “seat at the table.”