Former LAUSD Superintendent draws $238k pension

Retired LA schools chief Ramon Cortines received pension benefits totaling a remarkable $238,383.67 last year, possibly through a controversial pension-spiking practice known as “air time” – the purchase of credit for time not worked.

LAUSD – Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, pro-school-choice candidates defeat union-backed rivals

25 UC Retirees Receive Annual Pensions Exceeding $300,000

Twenty-five University of California retirees receive more than $300,000 annually in retirement,  the California Policy Center has learned. The information, contained in documents released to CPC through a public records request, comes amidst controversy over excessive compensation at the UC system and revelations of a secret slush fund at the system’s headquarters. CPC’s findings were broadcast by KPIX San Francisco and other CBS affiliates on May 5.

The highest paid pensioner is Professor Lewis L. Judd, a UC San Diego Psychiatry professor. He receives an annual pension of $385,765.

Lewis surpasses previous pension champion, Dr. Fawzy I. Fawzy, a UCLA Psychiatry Professor who retired in 2014 on a $354,469 annual pension. Assuming annual cost of living increases of 2%, Dr. Fawzy is now estimated to be receiving around $369,000 annually. But Fawzy also draws a UC salary, one of several hundred UC retirees brought back to teach after retiring. “Recalled” retirees, such as Fawzy, are eligible to draw both a salary and a pension. Fawzy’s total university income exceeded $650,000 in 2015.

Behind the shocking numbers is a six-month battle with university administrators who tried to block release of compensation. CPC Director of Policy Research Marc Joffe originally sent the UC president’s office a Public Records Act request for pension data in December 2016. After numerous delays and negotiations with CPC General Counsel Craig Alexander, the university released a limited amount of data to Joffe today. CPC made the request in connection with its 100k Pension Club project, a website database that contains a list of 50,000 retired California public sector employees who receive annual pensions greater than $100,000. That website is at

Ultimately, UC provided a list of 2015 and 2016 retirees, eight of whom are receiving $300,000 or more. The remaining 17 names were included in UC’s previous pension disclosures, last updated for 2014. UC did not provide precise cost of living adjustments for each retiree. CPC estimated their current pensions by adding 2% per year since their date of retirement.

The complete list appears below:


Retiree Name Appointment Type Last Employer Annual Pension Benefit Date of Retirement
JUDD, LEWIS L Teaching Faculty San Diego $ 385,765 Jul 1, 2016
MATTHEWS, DENNIS L Non-Teaching Faculty Davis 370,880 2012
FAWZY, FAWZY I Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 368,790 2014
DE PAOLO, DONALD J Non-Teaching Faculty Lawrence Berkeley 359,922 Jul 1, 2016
HOLST, JAMES E. Staff Los Angeles 358,428 2006
RUDNICK, JOSEPH A Non-Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 344,925 Jul 1, 2016
VAZIRI, NOSRATOLA D Teaching Faculty Irvine 340,410 2011
GREENSPAN, JOHN S Teaching Faculty San Francisco 339,243 2014
GRAY, JOE W Non-Teaching Faculty Lawrence Berkeley 335,482 2011
SCHELBERT, HEINRICH R Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 333,247 2013
BRESLAUER, GEORGE W Non-Teaching Faculty Berkeley 328,476 2014
MARSHALL, LAWRENCE F Teaching Faculty San Diego 324,067 2010
KRUPNICK, JAMES T Non-Teaching Faculty Lawrence Berkeley 323,957 2012
DISAIA, PHILIP J Teaching Faculty Irvine 323,839 2010
GRUNSTEIN, MICHAEL Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 322,150 Jul 1, 2016
SIEFKIN, ALLAN D Non-Teaching Faculty Davis 322,101 2014
KENNEY, ERNEST B Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 320,608 2012
DARLING, BRUCE B. Non-Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 320,403 2012
DONALD, PAUL J. Teaching Faculty Davis 317,156 2011
CHERRY, JAMES D Non-Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 315,449 2013
ROLL, RICHARD W Non-Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 315,418 2014
TILLISCH, JAN H Non-Teaching Faculty Los Angeles 311,732 Aug 1, 2016
CYGAN, RALPH W Teaching Faculty Irvine 306,734 Jul 1, 2015
BRAFF, DAVID L Teaching Faculty San Diego 306,407 Feb 1, 2015
EISENBERG, MELVIN A Teaching Faculty Berkeley 305,012 Jan 1, 2015

While Retired City Manager Golfs, New Americans in El Monte Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Over a fourth of El Monte’s residents live in poverty, but, among public-sector workers poverty is unlikely. Retired City Manager James Mundessen told the LA Times that he personally receives $216,000 a year in retirement – an amount that finances a lavish lifestyle that includes golfing trips in Scotland. Mundessen is one of eight city officials collecting over $200,000 per year.

Testing Pension Club with TablePress

NameTitlePension SystemLast EmployerTotal Amount ReceivedPension AmountBenefits AmountDisability AmountYears of ServiceYear of RetirementReporting Yearnotes
Charles MehringerLos Angeles County PensionCOASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC419665.92395466.624199.32041.6220152015
Michael D JohnsonCalPERSCOUNTY OF SOLANO388407.56388407.5642.920112015
William HabermehlCalSTRSORANGE COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION354643.38354643.3847.1520122015
Fawzy I FawzyTeaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles354469.44354469.4440.4420142014
Robert MorinLos Angeles County PensionCOASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC344079.72319880.424199.32052.6720152015
Leroy BacaLos Angeles County PensionSHERIFF342849.36328410.2414439.12048.0820142015
Dennis L MatthewsNon-Teaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis342635.88342635.8839.0820122014
Stephen R MaguinCalPERSLOS ANGELES COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT NO. 2340810.7340810.74120122015
Joaquin M FusterCalPERSUNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT LOS ANGELES33841233841245.220022015
Marvin MarcusTeaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles337346.16337346.1640.5720112014
Thomas TidemansonLos Angeles County PensionPUBLIC WORKS336988.56312789.2424199.32038.7519942015
Larry WaldieLos Angeles County PensionSHERIFF336838.08319170.1217667.96044.0820112015
Thomas OrloffDistrict AttorneyAlameda County Pension335865.84335865.842015
Carol MeyerLos Angeles County PensionHEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION329218.8300886.5628332.24041.3720112015
Ruth E StringerCounty CounselSan Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA)County of San Bernardino328945.95328945.9533.4420112015
Michael JudgeLos Angeles County PensionPUBLIC DEFENDER328867.2311199.2417667.9604120102015
John S GreenspanTeaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Francisco326070.12326070.1238.1720142014
Harry StoneLos Angeles County PensionPUBLIC WORKS324113.04312666.2411446.8040.5820012015
Rinaldo CanalisLos Angeles County PensionCOASTAL CLUSTER-HARBOR/UCLA MC320766.6296567.2824199.32036.6720102015
Stephen CooleyLos Angeles County PensionDISTRICT ATTORNEY318530.88304091.7614439.12040.0420122015
Hye Kyung KimEXEMPT MED STF PHYSIContra Costa County PensionCONTRA COSTA COUNTY316886.42316886.42032.6920112015
George W BreslauerNon-Teaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeley315720.48315720.4843.2320142014
David GoldsteinLos Angeles County PensionNORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)314553.48292811.1621742.3203520122015
Albert NidenLos Angeles County PensionNORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)314364.36302917.5611446.8039.9220132015
Heinrich R SchelbertTeaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles314026.56314026.5640.5420132014
Raymond Fortner JrLos Angeles County PensionCOUNTY COUNSEL313884.6289685.2824199.32039.3320092015
Richard BrayCalSTRSTUSTIN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT312921.24312921.2443.8320112015
Michael PetersonCaptainAlameda County Pension311967.96311967.962015
William GarrettCalPERSCITY OF EL CAJON311364.84311364.8438.520042015
Edward Hernandez JrCalSTRSRANCHO SANTIAGO COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT310269.3310269.340.3120102015
Allan D SiefkinNon-Teaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis309593.04309593.0436.1720142014
Ramesh VermaLos Angeles County PensionSFV CLUSTER-OLIVE VIEW/UCLA MC308935.08291267.1217667.96036.6220112015
Nosratola D VaziriTeaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvine308320.08308320.0836.7520112014
Virginia ShattuckCalSTRSNORWALK-LA MIRADA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT306346.86306346.8647.9420092015
Daniel IkemotoLos Angeles County PensionAUDITOR - CONTROLLER306270294823.211446.8038.5819932015
Albert YellinLos Angeles County PensionNORTHEAST CLUSTER (LAC+USC)305836.3228163724199.32039.6720022015
Vena RickettsLos Angeles County PensionSFV CLUSTER-OLIVE VIEW/UCLA MC304440.24298736.525703.72035.6720132015
Sharon HarperLos Angeles County PensionSHERIFF303913.44290600.6413312.8040.520102015
Joe W GrayNon-Teaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaLawrence Berkeley303855.96303855.9638.5620112014
Alfred ZuckerCalSTRSLOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT303624.99303624.9935.8220152015
Richard W RollNon-Teaching FacultyUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles303170.28303170.2834.820142014
Richard A BeemerUndersheriffSan Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA)County of San Bernardino302917.17302917.1738.8220102015
Dewitt ClintonLos Angeles County PensionCOUNTY COUNSEL301882.8280815.8421066.96036.9219982015
James F StahlCalPERSLOS ANGELES COUNTY SANITATION DISTRICT NO. 2301801.96301801.9637.720072015
Robert MannLos Angeles County PensionSHERIFF301174.3227697524199.32033.4219992015

How Unionized Government Enables the Iron Law of Oligarchy

Political Parties,” published by the German political theorist Roberto Michels in 1911, is a relatively obscure book. But in this book, Michels offers a concept that has increasing relevance today, the “Iron Law of Oligarchy.” This law is summed up reasonably well in its Wikipedia entry:

“According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a ‘leadership class’, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons, political strategists, organizers, etc. for the organization. Far from being ‘servants of the masses’, Michels argues this ‘leadership class,’ rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably grow to dominate the organization’s power structures. By controlling who has access to information, those in power can centralize their power successfully, often with little accountability, due to the apathy, indifference and non-participation most rank-and-file members have in relation to their organization’s decision-making processes. Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made ‘democratically’ by members. Michels stated that the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule was impossible, that representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.”

When Michels came up with this, the technological tools that enabled the powerful to control information were newspapers and radio. The bureaucracies that constituted the “leadership class” were also limited by the technologies available 100 years ago.

Today, two corporations, Google and Facebook, control over half the news and information being viewed by Americans. Our government bureaucracies have the ability to monitor every credit transaction, every email, all online activity. By tracking our phones and the GPS systems in our cars, they know where we go. With facial recognition software and ubiquitous cameras, they can find us even without our phones or our cars. Soon, if not already, they will be able to follow us with drones and micro-drones. Before long, they’ll even be able to disable us or arrest us using robotic devices.

If Michels is right, that the increasing capacities of bureaucratic organizations makes rule by elites inevitable, than the challenges that poses to 21st century democracies dwarf those of 100 years ago. And in this context, the union takeover of our government bureaucracies becomes all the more ominous. Because it underscores the one of the most unrecognized and under-reported scandals of our time: Government unions are not protecting us from oligarchy. They are enforcing it.

It is risky to assert that the communications and information revolution guarantees the advance of freedom and liberty. It’s even risky to assert that these advances guarantee the advance of democracy. Because the sophistication of these new technologies are matched not only by their ability to monitor every American, but by their ability to manipulate. The oligarchs have the wealth, the bureaucrats have the power. Which means that for the most part, their propagandists write the words, and their programmers write the algorithms.

As a consequence, many of the questions we should be asking are largely off the table. Should we slow down immigration and allow our culture time to assimilate recent arrivals? Should we slap tariffs on products that are dumped into our market? Should we assert family values and the virtues of Western Civilization? Should we break up big banks, enforce the “Volcker Rule,” and eliminate the carried interest loophole? Should we stop engaging in endless wars of “nation building” and focus instead on strategic and technological superiority, which would cost less and deliver long term security? Should we develop all forms of clean energy, and redirect our environmental priorities to preserving global fisheries and wildlife? Should we force schools to be accountable and compete for students by offering choices?

No. No. No. No. No. No. And No. Why? Because these policies are not profitable to oligarchs, whose investments are global and whose monopolies benefit from an over-regulated market where emerging small innovators can’t compete. These policies are also anathema to the bureaucracy, because they would elevate the quality of life for the average American – which would mean less unionized government. The more social fragmentation, the more government. The more dependency and poverty, the more government. The more war, the more government.The more rules and restrictions, the more government. The more ignorance, the more government.

The iron law of oligarchy is alive and well in 21st century America, with a twist or two. The corrupt elitist coalition that has undermined American liberties – and is just getting started – is comprised of oligarchs and government unions. One may argue that America has always been an oligarchy. But the rise of high technology and unionized government may spell the difference between a benevolent oligarchy, if there is such a thing, and an authoritarian one.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

CTA’s New Gambit to Cheat Taxpayers Annually

A bill, near passage, would require you and me to pay for union indoctrination sessions in California. 

California is a fabulous place. Fantastic weather, fertile fields, glorious mountains and a thousand mile coastline have long beckoned many to the Golden State.

And then there is the state legislature.

This law-making body is very far from fabulous. Its main activities in our one-party state are taxing, spending and regulating our business community, workers and economy to death. Additionally, many of its members are in the pocket of the California Teachers Association, which is by far the biggest political spender in the state, unleashing $290 million on candidates and causes between 2000 and 2013.

The latest legislative sop to the unions is AB 2835, a CTA-co-sponsored bill that, if it passes, will force local governments, including school districts, to provide 30-minute in-person orientations, paid for by the taxpayer, to each and every new public employee during work hours within the first two months of their being hired. But as pointed out by several government officials in a piece that ran in the East Bay Times recently, cities, counties and special districts already do that, spending “the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.”

However, AB 2835 goes way beyond that, requiring local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation it provides – for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost no restrictions, to new employees. “It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.”

This requirement would place an enormous administrative burden on government, and it won’t come cheap. The California State Department of Finance has estimated that the mandate would cost taxpayers “more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”

AB 2835 would especially pose logistical problems for schools because the 30 minute orientation sessions would be held during the work day. Colleges, which have numerous collective bargaining units, would be especially affected.  As the Association of California Community College Administrators points out, allowing each collective bargaining unit 30 minutes to make a presentation, “will result in a significant length of time, which will require colleges to hire additional staff to cover classes and other critical campus safety services during the orientations.”

Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by a gaggle of labor organizations. In addition to CTA, the California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and SEIU are behind it. The opposition includes the California School Boards Association, the League of California Cities and the Association of California School Administrators.

Just as onerous as the cost and disruptiveness will be the quality of the orientation session. This is going to be a hard sales pitch, plain and simple. Or, in less polite terms, indoctrination. I guarantee that the results of a study released in April by the Heritage Foundation – which found that between 1957 and 2011, mandatory collective bargaining costs a family of four between $2,300 and $3,000 a year – will not be a topic of discussion.

Also missing from the pitch will be a recent study by Cornell researcher Michael Lovenheim. He found that “laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.”

Will the orientation stress that collective bargaining creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers? Or that it decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making? Or that it protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change? Or that it restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees? Nah.

AB 2835 was birthed when CTA leaders were frightened that the Friedrichs decision was going to go against them and decided they needed to deliver a sales pitch to teachers who would no longer be forced to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. But with Antonin Scalia’s death and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to rehear the case, this bill is irrelevant; CTA and the smaller California Federation of Teachers still have a captive audience. Just about every public school teacher in the state will continue to be forced to pay a union if they want a job in a public school. But if CTA and other unions still insist on trying to convince prospective members of their value, they should do it after hours and not ding the taxpayer in the process.

The bill sailed through the California State Assembly and now rests in the State Senate where it must be voted on by August 31sttomorrow, for it to become law. So, if you live in the Beholden State, please contact your state senator immediately and keep your fingers crossed. And should the bill become law, prepare for even more money to be transferred from your wallet to the unions’ already healthy coffers.

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.

A Kinder and Gentler Teachers Union?

The unions are trying to take the “we’re in it for the kids” shtick to a new level by declaring that they now collectively bargain for “the common good.”

Last week, The American Prospect posted “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good,’” which claims that unions across the country are “expanding their focus to the broader community.” All this is code for, “We don’t want to come off as selfish, so while we are still going to push for our typical me-first (and only) union agenda, we are going to try to deceive the public into believing that we really care about kids and taxpayers.”

According to the piece, public employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and came up with a 3-point plan: use the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; work with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognize militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The lofty but ultimately meaningless verbiage led the writer of the piece to conclude that “The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.”

Politicize bargaining?! That’s all collective bargaining in education is and ever was – pure, unadulterated, no additives, not-made-from-concentrate – politics. The union sits at a table with school board members and hashes out contracts that, more often than not, are detrimental to students, good teachers and taxpayers. Collective bargaining agreements inhibit creativity and treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. Additionally, the taxpayer gets to foot the bill for goodies like Cadillac healthcare plans that the union – and frequently their bought-and-paid-for school board – collude on and ratify.

There is a ton of evidence that the cuddly, kind and caring teacher union concept is a fraud. Here are just a few recent examples:

In last week’s post, I wrote about a situation in Yonkers, NY where a union president and vice-president are both caught on video trying to help a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a child while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks. (It was actually staged by investigative journalist James O’Keefe.) As all concerned parties investigate the union leaders’ responses, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers has asked the taxpayer subsidized school district to continue paying Paul Diamond, the union vice-president, his salary while he performs his union duties for the 2016-17 school year. Not unique to Yonkers, this phenomenon, known as “release time,” goes on all over the country and is an absolute outrage. It’s a practice that allows a public employee to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, all the while giving the union a free worker. The employee’s activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. Diamond will not spend one minute teaching. No evidence of “citizen power” here.

Next, a school district in Illinois just awarded its teachers a 10-year contract that includes a 40 percent salary increase over its term, preserves a pre-retirement, 6 percent yearly pay spike to boost teachers’ pensions, an increase in sick-days from 15 to 24 per year, and a freeze on health insurance and prescription drug costs for district employees for the 10-year period. “Shared goals?” In what universe?

On the state level, we have a situation in California that doesn’t involve collective bargaining but certainly calls into question whose “common good” is being served. Contra Costa Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 would change both seniority and tenure as we know it. The bill includes a provision that offers ineffective teachers extra professional support. If a teacher receives a second low-performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process. It would also increase the time for a teacher to attain tenure (or more accurately “permanent status”) from two to three or four years, depending on their performance. Additionally, seniority would no longer be the single most important factor in handing out pink slips. This is hardly radical stuff and would certainly make for a more effective teaching profession in the Golden State.

But the most powerful special interest group in the state, the California Teachers Association, is fighting the bill. Blithely casting the needs of kids aside, the union first claimed the bill “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” (Yes, just like every other profession in the world.) In a subsequent post on its website, the union went bonkers, claiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.” And that was just the beginning. To read the rest of this bizarre rant, go here. But in any event, we know whose posterior CTA is trying to protect, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “reducing inequality.”

And then there is the pension situation. In California, the state teachers’ retirement system is currently experiencing a $70 billion shortfall. Is CTA willing to accept some responsibility and work to make adjustments for the common good? The union’s response to the nightmare that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the already beleaguered taxpayer is to try to kill any reforms, maintain the miserable status quo and blame Wall Street and “corporate greed.” “Strengthening democracy?” Hardly.

Finally, last week in National Review, former Florida governor Jeb Bush laid out a plan to save America’s education system. His excellent piece included such basic ideas as letting parents choose from a marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools, with education funding following the child. He wants to weed out failing schools and reward good and great teachers for hard work and results. But each of these ideas is fought on a daily basis by the teachers unions, since they would lose much of their power and income if Bush’s ideas were to be implemented on a grand scale.

“Bargaining for the common good” is just a touchy-feely catchphrase which shouldn’t fool anyone. The teachers unions are not acting in anyone else’s best interest. And there is little good about them, common or otherwise.

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.

No Teachers Union in Clovis

San Joaquin Valley’s Fresno County can boast about more than its raisins.

Clovis, a city of about 100,000 located right next to Fresno in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley, has a particular distinction: the city’s schools have never been unionized. Of course, the California Teachers Association dons pretend that Clovis doesn’t even exist because the district works quite well for teachers and kids without an organized labor presence. No, teachers aren’t fired “for advocating for their students,” aren’t bound and tortured by sadistic principals and aren’t slaving away for minimum wage.

As reported in a recent piece by Joe Mathews, Clovis is the 16th largest school district in California, with 42,000 students, 49 schools, and 5,000 employees. The student body is ethnically mixed, and about half of its children are on free or reduced lunch.

Back in the 1970s, when the teacher unionization epidemic hit California, Clovis superintendent Floyd Buchanan and the city’s teachers decided that they could handle the k-12 education process themselves, thus avoiding divisive union dictats and strict work rules that have infected almost all other school districts in the Golden State. While state law mandates much of what happens in school districts, including union imperatives like tenure and seniority rules, everything else is left to the local district – teacher salaries and benefits, curriculum, school calendar, student safety issues, etc.

Teachers certainly have a voice and a role in governance, though. Instead of a union, they have a Faculty Senate, in which each school has a representative. The mission of the Faculty Senate is to be “an effective advocate for teachers at all levels of policy making, procedures, and expenditures, in partnership with our administrators, fellow employees, and community as a quality educational team.”

Teacher salaries are competitive in Clovis. While starting teachers make a few thousand a year more in neighboring unionized Fresno, the differences dissipate as teachers rack up more time on the job. Also, Clovis teachers pay no union dues while Fresno teachers are saddled with forced payments of $983 a year to the Fresno Teachers Association. (For under $200 a year, Clovis teachers can and do join the Association of American Educators to ensure they have liability insurance and other perks of belonging to a professional association.) Also, as Faculty Senate president Duane Goudy told me in an email, “Our health benefits plan (we are self-insured) costs less and is one of the best in the state.”

And students in Clovis are prospering. As reported by the Fresno Bee in 2014, a study by Oakland-based nonprofit Education Trust-West looked at academic performance in more than 140 school districts and showed that California generally fares poorly, with most districts receiving either a C or D grade. “Of the nine districts surveyed in the central San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, Central, Madera and Visalia Unified’s, seven received a C or a D.” But Clovis earned a solid A, having ranked in the top 10 for four straight years. Additionally, students of color graduate at high rates and have been steadily improving on statewide tests. All this and they do it for less. As reported by Goudy, “Our district receives considerably less money per student than Fresno and 18 other districts in our county.”

The real lesson of Clovis is that good education depends not on bloated budgets, bureaucratic paper-pushers and union work rules, but rather on committed teachers and administrators who are dedicated to their students first and foremost.

Can the Clovis model be replicated? Of course. It would take a group of independent-minded teachers with moxie and tenacity to decertify their union, and thus say good-by to the one-size-fits-all regimen of the CTA and their local affiliates. No easy task, to be sure, but certainly doable.

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.

Los Angeles Teachers Union Sinks to Unmitigated Depths

The union war on charter schools has become even uglier, courtesy of UTLA.

On May 4th, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) – a radical union front group – planned a major protest to be held outside schools where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools. In a statement, AROS proclaimed “…we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.” Of course, the truth is that charters are not “corporate.” And, in fact, it’s charters that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to scrounge for facilities, but AROS apparently doesn’t bother with those minor details. So it looked like a lot of school kids would be confronted with an early morning filled with angry protesters marching, chanting, being obnoxious, you know, the usual union stuff.

But parents were ticked, and with the help of the California Charter School Association, responded by posting a letter – enlarged, prominently placed, in English and Spanish, signed by 527 parents – in the lobby of the building where UTLA offices are housed. The brief but powerful missive included the following:

We are asking you to stop. This Wednesday, May 4, you plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.

Yes, threatening, disruptive and full of lies. But, again, it was a union rally, after all. However, when all was said and done (at least judging by media reports), there was not much activity the morning of the fourth.

But UTLA wasn’t done yet. In an attempt to press beyond the usual vapid vilification of charters, on May 10th, the union released the results of a study they commissioned. Or to be precise, a “study,” which among other things, asserted that LA schools “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.”

Of course, the National Education Association gleefully jumped on the report, charging that, “LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students.” (Memo to NEA: charters are public schools.)

But responses to the report from those in the know were anything but fawning. To begin with, the school district that was allegedly losing millions responded with a “Huh?!” and proceeded to explain that the district actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Guttierez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.”

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, representing principals and off-site middle managers, released “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” a document which cast doubt on the UTLA findings. But there was no equivocation from the California Charter School Association. In a 10 page response, CCSA excoriated the UTLA report point-by-point, denouncing its many inaccuracies and irresponsible conclusions, and went on to counter it’s distortions with actual facts and data.

Very interestingly, after being chastened by those parties intimately aware of the reality of district-charter finances, UTLA has been mum. No rejoinders. No “Oh yeahs?” No banner on its homepage. Nothing. The only link to the study is buried on its “News Releases” webpage. My call and email to Anna Bakalis, the union’s media person on May 19th, have not been returned. I am hardly shocked.

To UTLA – If you are really interested in solving LAUSD’s budgetary problems, here are a few ideas:

To save billions, insist that the district gets its healthcare and pension costs under control. But you have no interest in doing that because you are of the opinion that taxpayers should be forking over even more of their hard-earned money to continue paying for these extravagant plans.

How about working to get new laws passed that would more easily rid our schools of predatory teachers? LAUSD has spent $300 million since 2012 on legal fees and sexual abuse payouts to families that have sued the district. To be sure, LAUSD admins deserve much of the blame for the problem, but you and other teachers unions greatly contribute to it because you have made it so very hard to get rid of any teacher, no matter how evil.

And while you are at it, work with the district to stop hiring administrators. As the school population continues to rapidly decline due to the proliferation of charters and general outward migration, the district’s administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

But no, you rather just try to destroy charter schools, which parents are flocking to, because they want to escape from the very school system you essentially control. You just wasted $82,000 in teachers’ dues money on a bogus study which proves you are really not interested in bettering public education. It really has nothing to do with kids, but rather, it’s all about you and your unmitigated, self-serving agenda. But then again, what else is new?

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.