California's Official Antipathy to Educational Innovation and Accountability

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
August 11, 2015

California's Official Antipathy to Educational Innovation and Accountability

“With a hearing now scheduled for Aug. 21, LA Unified’s teachers union, UTLA, will have the chance to argue before a neutral party that Alliance College-Ready Public Charter Schools, violated state education law by blocking the union’s efforts to bring Alliance teachers into its membership.”

– Mike Szymanski, “UTLA outlines accusations against Alliance for anti-union efforts,” LA School Report, August 6, 2015

The “neutral party” to which Szymanski refers is California’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), “a quasi-judicial administrative agency charged with administering the eight collective bargaining statutes covering employees of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities, employees of the State of California, employees of California local public agencies,” etc.

“Neutral.” Really?

A quick look at the directors of PERB provides yet another example of just how stacked the deck has gotten in favor of public employee unions. Following their names are excerpts from their official biographies:

  • Anita I. Martinez, Chair, “has been employed with PERB since 1976 and was recently appointed Member and Chair. Prior to that she has served as the PERB San Francisco Regional Director since 1982.”
  • A. Eugene Huguenin, “Before relocating to Sacramento in 2000, Huguenin practiced labor and education law in Los Angeles and Burlingame for more than 20 years, advising and representing the California Teachers Association and it’s locals throughout the state.”
  • Priscilla Winslow‘s “career in public sector labor law spans over 30 years, during which time she served for 15 years as Assistant Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association where she litigated and advised on a variety of labor, education, and constitutional law issues.”
  • Eric Banks, “served in multiple positions at the Service Employees International Union, Local 221 from 2001 to 2013, including Advisor to the President, President, and Director of Government and Community Relations.”
  • Mark C. Gregersen‘s. career in public sector labor relations spans over 35 years. Prior to his appointment to the California Public Employment Relations Board, he has served as director of labor and work force strategy for the City of Sacramento and director of human resources for a number of California cities and counties.

Just a quick scan of these biographical excerpts suggests that government unions have at least three advocates – Huguenin and Winslow, who were long-time CTA professionals, and Banks, who worked for over a decade for the SEIU. What about the chairperson, Martinez? Here’s an excerpt from Gov. Brown’s announcement of her appointment – Martinez is a long-time Democrat public employee who has spent her entire career in labor bureaucracies:

“She has worked for the Board since 1976, where she currently serves as a regional director. Previously, Martinez was a board agent for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1975 to 1976. She was an intern at the National Labor Relations Board from 1973 to 1976. Martinez is a Democrat.”

What about Gregersen? Do reformers have one voice out of five on PERB? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s are excerpts from Gov. Brown’s 2015 announcement of Gregerson’s appointment to PERB – Gregersen is a long-time Democrat public employee who, among other things, presided as city manager for Vallejo throughout the 1990’s:

“He served as director of labor and workforce strategy for the City of Sacramento from 2011 to 2012 and was director of human resources for Napa County from 2005 to 2009, for El Dorado County from 2004 to 2005 and for the City of Sunnyvale from 2001 to 2004. Gregersen was  director of human resources for the City of Vallejo from 1990 to 1999. Gregersen is a Democrat.”

Not convinced yet? On another hot-button topic for government unions, pension reform, read the ultra-liberal San Jose Mercury’s take on PERB, in an article entitled “State employee panel seems stacked against San Jose pension reformers.” The title says it all.

“Neutral.” Really?

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

The fight to unionize the Alliance charter school network, the largest charter school operator within Los Angeles Unified School District and one of the largest in California, comes at a time when the growth of charter schools is reaching critical mass and constitutes a material threat to union power. As reported today in the Los Angeles Times “Major charter school expansion in the works for L.A. Unified students,” billionaire Democrat and education reformer Eli Broad is behind an effort to greatly increase the charter school enrollment in LAUSD, currently at 16% of all students.” As reported in the Times, “there was discussion of an option that involved enrolling 50% of students currently at schools with low test scores. A source said the cost was estimated to be $450 million; another said hundreds of millions of dollars are needed.”

Most charter schools are not unionized. In non union schools, the process of innovation is unhindered by union work rules, and principals and teachers alike are held accountable for the academic performance of their students. A recent “Urban Charter School Study” published by Stanford University’s nonpartisan Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) “shows that many urban charter schools are providing superior academic learning for their students, in many cases quite dramatically better.”

These findings are corroborated by a recent California Policy Center study on charter school performance, far more limited in scope, that focused on the non-union Alliance charter schools within LAUSD, comparing the performance of their students to those in traditional LAUSD high-schools in the same neighborhoods. Here is a summary of the findings:

“Comparing LAUSD Alliance charter high schools to LAUSD traditional high schools located in the same communities, we found the Alliance schools to have decisively higher API scores, 762 vs. 701, and measurably higher graduation rates, 91.5% vs. 84.1%. With respect to SAT scores, when we normalized the comparison between the LAUSD Alliance and LAUSD traditional schools under consideration to equalize the rate of participation, we found that the LAUSD Alliance students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average scores of 1417 vs. 1299.”

Both CREDO and the CPC found unambiguous evidence that urban charter schools academically outperform traditional public schools. The CPC study also estimated per pupil costs for Alliance charter high school students to be $10,649 per year, compared to $15,372 per year for students at traditional public high schools within LAUSD.

Facing a growing bipartisan consensus that charter schools are working and should be expanded, California’s teachers unions are fighting to unionize them. Alliance management is in for a hard fight. They face not only the might of California’s teachers unions, who collect and spend dues totaling well over $300 million every year, but the power of the state itself, in the form of a Public Employee Relations Board whose management is “stacked” overwhelmingly with pro-union directors.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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