Google’s fail and teacher jail

By Larry Sand
August 15, 2017

Firing one employee is big news, while not firing hundreds is ignored.

Without going through another weedy analysis of James Damore’s firing from Google – Holman Jenkins, George Leef and Nick Gillespie have done a fine job of that – let’s just say the Silicon Valley engineer was canned for stating what most scientists and sensible people have known ever since Adam and Eve frolicked in Eden – that there are biological differences between men and women and also for suggesting that the tech giant has become an “ideological echo chamber.” So the politically correct, party line zealots at Google decided, 1984-like, to shove the thought-criminal out the door.

That Google chose to fire Damore is pathetic, but did they have the right to do it? Do employers’ rights trump those of an employee? High-priced lawyers will collect barrels of money as they try to sort it all out, but I say that Google had every right to do so – no matter how wrong-headed and self-defeating it is. He was an at-will employee and, as such, had no “job protections.” Damore will be fine, however, even without a “wrongful termination” lawsuit. Job offers have already been rolling in for the young über-nerd and Harvard Ph.D.

In deep contrast, we have the “housed teacher” syndrome in many school districts across the country. Also known as “teacher jail” in Los Angeles, these holding pens are for public school teachers who have been accused of various misdeeds, like sexual abuse, violence, fraud, drug use, etc. Due to the teacher union contact, it is almost impossible to fire them. Instead the teachers typically report to a central location where they get to sit and stare at the ceiling for the length of the school day and then get to go home, all the while collecting their salary, maintaining full benefits and adding to their pensions. In 2016, this idiotic set-up cost taxpayers $15 million to house 181 “inmates” in Los Angeles alone.

One year later, the teacher jail population in Los Angeles is down 25 percent to 137. I guess this qualifies as good news, but the cost to the taxpayer is still $15 million. When a district spokeswoman was asked why the budgeted amounts were the same even though there are 44 fewer housed teachers, she only said “the budget has been $15 million for the last several years.” (Nothing like trying to get a thoughtful, coherent answer from a bureaucrat.)

And the bureaucracy is the problem. The school district really doesn’t give a rip about teacher jail and who and how many warm bodies inhabit them. The district superintendent, her underlings and all the other bureaucrats aren’t out a penny as various miscreants sit around and do nothing. The taxpayer has it covered. The housed teachers are fine; they never miss a paycheck and if they become ill, their health woes are promptly dealt with through their Cadillac health care plan, courtesy of the taxpayer. Most of all, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, despite its mock outrage at teacher jail – is fine with it. The union doesn’t miss a forced union dues payment, and in fact even profits as it get to collect dues from all the subs who are needed to replace their “jailed” brethren. (AB 215 in 2014 was supposed to improve things – streamlining this and expediting that, but there is scant evidence that anything has changed.)

In fact, the system is so rotten that, as pointed out during the Vergara trial in 2014, less than 0.002 percent of California’s 300,000 teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 8 percent of employees in the private sector dismissed annually for cause.

At the end of the day, Google will probably pay dearly – lawsuit, bad PR, etc. – for firing Mr. Damore. Most responsible people – left and right – thought the firing was wrong.  Only the politically correct who mischaracterize what Damore said are fine with Google’s decision.

The outrage of Damore’s firing is justified, but please save some indignation for a system that virtually refuses to fire anybody, thereby abusing already overburdened California taxpayers year-in and year-out.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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