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.

Earthquake Could Alter Education Landscape in California

Latest temblor to hit the Golden State is a lawsuit that could result in a major tectonic shift in education.

In September of 1975, due to New York City’s dire fiscal situation, I was laid off from my teaching position at P.S. 125 in Harlem. I lost my job not because I was a bad teacher, but because I was hired a few months after the teacher in the room next to mine…who was a lousy teacher. Using seniority, or last in/first out (LIFO), as a way to determine who keeps their job is wrong. It stank 37 years ago in New York and it’s no better in California in 2012.

Thirty-three other states leave these kinds of staffing decisions to local education agencies, but in California, LIFO is written into the state education code. However, this and more may be about to change. If successful, a lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles by Students Matter would shake up the way California conducts much of its educational business. John Fensterwald writes,

Students Matter is the creation of David Welch, co-founder of Infinera, a manufacturer of optical telecommunications systems in Sunnyvale. The new nonprofit filed its lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday on behalf of eight students who attend four school districts. A spokesperson for the organization told the Los Angeles Times that Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and a few other individuals are underwriting the lawsuit. They have hired two top-gun attorneys to lead the case: Ted Boutrous, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Ted Olsen, former solicitor general for President George W. Bush.

The lawsuit asserts that five “outdated statutes” prevent administrators from making employment decisions in students’ interest. The tenure statute forces districts to decide after teachers are on the job only 18 months whether to grant them permanent job status. Once granted tenure, they gain due-process rights that make it expensive and difficult to fire them even if they’re “grossly ineffective.” And then, when an economic downturn comes – witness the last four years – a Last In/First Out (LIFO) requirement leads to layoffs based strictly on seniority, not competency.

Organizations that have signed up for the suit as advisors are major players in the educational reform world. They include:

Democrats for Education Reform
Education Trust-West
New Schools Venture Fund
Parent Revolution
Students First
Students for Education Reform

Of course California shouldn’t need a lawsuit to end such an onerous system. But the sad fact is that it does for the simple reason that too many people in power have become way too comfy and have too much invested in the abysmal status quo. The teachers unions’ raison d’être will suffer if teachers started being treated as professionals and not interchangeable widgets. School boards will have to stop being doormats for their local teachers unions, take more initiative and come up with evaluation systems for teachers that have teeth. And school administrators will have to conduct teacher evaluations that ensure the best ones keep their jobs and the bottom performers are shown the door. Principals need to know that if they don’t accurately assess teachers, they could be out of a job. In short, there will be real accountability for all the players.

So far, very little has come out of the teachers’ and principals’ unions about the Students Matter lawsuit and the California School Board Association has also been mum. At this point, the only recorded comment on the lawsuit has come from the California Teachers Association president who in typical union fashion tried to redirect the conversation and duck any responsibility for the educational mess we find ourselves in. Dean Vogel said,

…the debate about teacher tenure and dismissal is being driven by the state’s economic crisis, which has drained education funding and resulted in waves of layoffs.

No Mr. Vogel, the debate has been brought to a head by the economic crisis, but is driven by people who actually care about how children are educated and miseducated in California.

In addition to LIFO, the suit attacks tenure which can be attained in California after just two years, essentially guaranteeing a 23 year-old teacher a job for life. Over ninety-eight percent of teachers in California get tenure, and once it’s granted, getting rid of a teacher is just about impossible. Fensterwald again,

The protection of ineffective teachers “creates arbitrary and unjustifiable inequality among students,” especially low-income children in low-performing schools, where less experienced teachers are hired and inept veteran teachers are shunted off, under a familiar “dance of the lemons” since they can’t be fired. Because education is a “fundamental interest” under the state Constitution, the five statutes that “dictate this unequal, arbitrary result violate the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution” and should be overturned.

According to Troy Senik in the Los Angeles Times,

… teachers in California — even terrible ones — are virtually never fired. A tiny 0.03% of California teachers are dismissed after three or more years on the job. In the last decade, the L.A. Unified School District, home to 33,000 teachers, has fired only four. Even when teachers are fired, it’s seldom because of their classroom performance: A 2009 expose by this newspaper found that only 20% of successful dismissals in the state had anything to do with teaching ability. Most involved teachers behaving either obscenely or criminally.

The lawsuit includes a chart which shows the ridiculous lengths that a school district must go through to get rid of an underperformer or a teacher involved in criminality once they have attained tenure.

Interestingly, another lawsuit, filed last year, has a court date in a few weeks. If successful, this litigation, which concerns itself with the state’s 40 year-old Stull Act, would be something of a companion to the Students Matter case. While the Los Angeles Unified School District is targeted in the Stull suit, if it flies, there would be statewide ramifications. As I wrote in January,

For nearly 40 years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has broken the law—and nobody seemed to notice. Now a group of parents and students are taking the district to court. On November 1, a half-dozen anonymous families working with EdVoice, a reform advocacy group in Sacramento, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the LAUSD, district superintendent John Deasy, and United Teachers Los Angeles. The lawsuit in essence accuses the district and the union of a gross dereliction of duty. According to the parents’ complaint, the district and the union have violated the children’s “fundamental right to basic educational equality and opportunity” by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act. Under the 1971 law, a school district must include student achievement as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Los Angeles Unified has never done so: the teachers union wouldn’t allow it.

Thus, if the Stull lawsuit is successful, each school district in the state will be required to come up with its own method of evaluating teachers, but they all must use evidence of student learning via a standardized test as a component. If the Students Matter case then succeeds, there will already be evaluation systems in place to supplant LIFO. Incidentally, none of this is exactly revolutionary. At this time, 23 states currently use student performance on standardized tests as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

While the Students Matter case would go a long way toward getting California up to speed, even more would need to be done to restore the Golden State’s once great public education system. But as RiShawn Biddle says, there can be no denying that this lawsuit “is another important step in developing new strategies for advancing systemic reform.” This suit will bring up issues that the entrenched special interests don’t want to discuss. But their tired old spin will give way to the shakes as the earth begins to realign itself and the educational landscape changes.

About the author: 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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.