California school officials use Trump to mask their own failures

In announcing the end of the DACA program two weeks ago, President Trump seemed to fulfill a campaign promise to kill a program he once declared unconstitutional. But later, the president seemed to call for a permanent legislative solution that would grant resident status to people brought illegally to the country as minors. Tweeting that same day, the president said, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

The nuance – the back-and-forth – was lost on many Obama-haters who celebrated the president. But it was also lost on Trump-haters, including public education officials and union leaders in California. They’ve used President Trump’s non-decision as an opportunity to rally their faithful by terrorizing undocumented families in the state.

California schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson denounced the president’s message as a “mean-spirited, political attack on students who are working hard to succeed.” Randall Booker, superintendent of Piedmont Unified in the Bay Area, said the president had launched a “direct attack on California families and their children.” In a letter to the California congressional delegation, University of California President Janet Napolitano called the president’s non-decision “callous and misguided” and said it “unnecessarily punishes hundreds of thousands of bright young people.”

Within a week of the announcement, closer to home, the board of the Santa Ana Unified School District voted to condemn the president’s move – or rather “non-move,” if you like. The resolution claimed “great uncertainty exists amongst students about what specific immigration policies will be pursued by the federal government, and immigrants and other populations within the SAUSD community are fearful of policies that may result in deportation or forced registration based on immigration status, religion or beliefs.”

I was the sole vote against the resolution, in part because we already passed a resolution in December 2016 asking Congress to act on immigration reform. But I was especially opposed to the resolution because the “uncertainty” it highlights has been caused by the very people behind this and similar resolutions. They are certainly the cause – and, if you believe them, the cure – of communal anxiety.

But I also voted against the resolution because I see it for what it really is: a tactic to transform Washington politics into local anxiety. Panic is useful for teacher’s union leaders and school officials who hope to distract us from the real issue: their failure to educate out students.

Their failure is documented in state tests that show a majority of our school children cannot read or perform math at grade level. Despite that undeniable evidence, SAUSD graduates these students from high school even though they’re unprepared for college or career. That’s a fraud.

Instead of correcting this social injustice, my fellow board members voted last week to condemn the president. That same night, teachers union leaders took their three minutes at the public-comments dais to condemn me for documenting the catastrophic, decades-long slide in student performance.

There is a crisis haunting our community. But it’s not a crisis the president caused. It’s not a crisis emanating from distant Washington, DC. Indeed, in the last several days, the president has begun talking with congressional Democrats about a deal that would permanently resolve the problem of people covered by the DACA program.

No, the crisis that should concern everyone has its origin right here in Santa Ana, California. It has been created by teacher’s union leaders, their allies and school officials who fail to educate generations of our children – and who attempt to distract us by sowing terror.

Under the law, all children, including immigrant children, have the right to a quality public education. Any other conversation is at best a sideshow meant to keep our community down.

This commentary appeared first in the Orange County Register. Cecilia Iglesias is a Santa Ana Unified school board trustee, president of the Parent Union, and director of community relations and education at the California Policy Center in Tustin. Researcher Stuart Clay contributed to this commentary.



When Teachers Unions Attack

Coca Cola, Teach For America, Walmart and banks are the latest targets of Big Labor.

Attempting to get over the millions of dollars they spent backing losers in the November election, America’s teachers unions are on a mission to find new bogeymen. First victim: Coca Cola. Yup, the American Federation of Teachers has adopted a resolution which claims that “three general secretaries of the union representing Coca-Cola workers in Guatemala City and five workers were killed, and four more workers were kidnapped.” (To read the rest of the pathetic guilt-by-association allegations, go here.) But the real reason the union is pillorying our national soft drink is because “Coca-Cola circumvents its own code of conduct by hiring workers through subcontracting rather than hiring permanent employees.”

There it is. AFT’s real gripe is that Coke is hiring non-union workers. (Rumors that the union went after Coke because it thought that the company was owned by those two evil brothers from Kansas are unfounded.)

As The Daily Caller’s Eric Owens points out,” The anti-Coke gambit is the latest in a bizarro month even by the standards of America’s teachers unions.”

While AFT is busy defaming Coke, the National Education Association has been focusing on student debt, and recently kicked off a “Degrees Not Debt Week of Action.” Of course, what the union doesn’t mention is that in order to get potential teachers and other college grads off the hook, the beleaguered taxpayers would have to assume the debt. The union also neglects to acknowledge that organized labor has played an important role in the escalating costs of getting a college degree. Referring to the University of California, Jon Coupal points out that the driving force behind tuition hikes is the growing unfunded liability of pension funds and “other items of questionable compensation for unionized faculty.” Coupal quotes Wall Street Journals Allysia Finley,

UCs this year needed to spend an additional $73 million on pensions, $30 million on faculty bonuses, $24 million on health benefits and $16 million on collectively bargained pay increases. The regents project that they will require $250 million more next year to finance increased compensation and benefit costs.

Ms. Napolitano [President of the University of California] says that the UCs have cut their budgets to the bone, yet her own office includes nearly 2,000 employees—a quarter of whom make six-figure salaries. An associate vice president of federal government relations earns $273,375 a year, plus $55,857 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.  Thirty professors at UC Santa Cruz rake in more than $200,000 in pay, and most faculty can retire at 60 and receive a pension equal to 75% of their final salary. More than 2,100 retirees in the university retirement system collected six-figure pensions in 2011.

At the same time the teachers unions are trying to shaft the taxpayer, they pretend to really, really care about the little guy. In a press release, AFT accuses Wall Street of “costing schools, municipalities billions.” The union’s hellfire-and-brimstone document informs us that banks took advantage of poor lil’ ol’ educators by charging interest on money they never should have had to borrow in the first place. (Okay, I added that last part.) Never one to mince words, Chicago Teacher Union president (and member in good standing of the International Socialist Organization) Jesse Sharkey proclaimed, “The banks owe us a rebate of hundreds of millions of dollars, which we should invest in 50 sustainable community schools with robust wraparound services, restorative justice programs, low class sizes and sufficient staffing levels.”

Despite Mr. Sharkey’s attempts to wage class warfare, there is absolutely no evidence that the banks are guilty of anything but doing legal business. But why let the truth get in the way of a good Marxist narrative?

And then there is the AFT’s embrace of “United Students Against Sweatshops.” (Yes, Virginia, there really is such a loopy organization, and its biggest funder is AFT. USAS deserves a post of its own which I will get to in the near future.)  With chapters all over the country, the apparent raison d’être of the USAS Harvard franchise is to drive Teach For America into the sea. Why? Because TFA, which places idealistic young teachers in tough-to-staff schools, takes funding from the Walton Foundation, which of course is the philanthropic arm of Walmart, which, according to USAS, is trying to privatize public education, which it shouldn’t do because it will cost the teachers unions countless members, which will destroy their bottom line… or something like that.

The common thread running through the latest teachers union gambits is a strong animosity toward the American way of doing business, especially when it interferes with their hegemony. They are anti-capitalist – never mind that capitalism has been the driving force in cutting world poverty in half over the last 20 years – and pro-socialism, which strives for equality, even though people who live under such a system are equally miserable. But the unions, which took a real thumping on Election Day, may be overplaying their hand. It seems that the citizenry has figured out that the teachers unions provide no good solutions. Indeed, they’re an integral part of many of the educational and fiscal problems we face today.

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.

Union Friendly National Security Bureaucrat Picked to Head University of California

With its 10 campuses, nearly 200,000 staff, and $20 billion annual budget, the University of California system is emblematic of the state government that pays a portion of its bills – enormous, unruly, overly expensive, steeped in politics, dominated by unions and other special-interest groups, and plagued with controversy.

California voters in 2010 turned the reins of the California government over to Jerry Brown, who has – despite his whimsical rhetoric – governed as the ultimate status-quo politician who has protected the state bureaucracy from reform.

Likewise, the UC regents have decided to choose a status-quo candidate as its newest president, as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gets the nomination. UC Regent Sherry Lansing said in a statement that some might find Napolitano to be an “unconventional choice,” but that’s nonsense. Napolitano is as conventional of a choice as one might have to run a large bureaucracy even if she has no serious academic experience.

Based on her tenure in the federal government, she will be an advocate for higher spending, for expanded unionization, and for more of everything that has turned the current university system into such a bureaucratic, scandal-plagued mess.

Just when the system needed a reformer who might implement competitive reforms and focus on cost-cutting, the system turns to a Washington insider more apt to keep federal funds flowing and student aid primed than to stretch the large budget already there.

The University of California has been embroiled in so many grotesque scandals in recent years. In one pay scandal, administrators enriched themselves and even their friends and lovers even as they were hiking tuition rates for students.

According to a 2010 article in the Bay Citizen, when outgoing President Mark Yudof took the helm amid a financial crisis, he “moved with his wife into a 10,000-square-foot, four-story house with 16 rooms, 8 bathrooms and panoramic views.” It cost UC more than $13,000 a month. While Yudof is credited for reducing the system’s massive pension problems, he was widely criticized for significantly increasing the living standards of UC leaders and for imposing large tuition hikes on students while he spent his time lobbying at the Capitol for more money.

One of the threads of the UC scandals is the sense of privilege and elitism expressed by those who run it combined with their desire to access more taxpayer cash and evade accountability. The Yudof situation came after a 2007 scandal, in which “UC President Robert Dynes and the governing Board of Regents have handed out more than $1 million in extra pay and perks to about 70 top executives,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The university system has even struggled with ethical problems involving doctors accused of performing unauthorized brain research on dying patients and UC fertility doctors who used stolen eggs and embryos. Nightmarish things happen at big institutions, but the University of California system seems to endure more of these things than other large universities.

Instead of seeking a forward-looking, market-oriented reformer, UC officials pretend that nothing is amiss and pick an old-school voice. The Sacramento Bee noted that Napolitano’s selection “marks shift from academia to politics.” That’s almost right. UC has always been deeply involved in politics, but now it dispenses with the veneer of academic priorities.

As Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Hesperia put it, “After failing to secure the border, ignoring the Fast and Furious scandal that killed one of the agents serving under her command, and leading the invasive and ineffective Transportation Security Administration, it’s honestly hard to imagine what Janet Napolitano thinks she can do for California’s UC system.”

He’s missing the point. Napolitano will do nothing for UC, which is why she was chosen. She will handle UC’s problems in the same way she handled the scandals that came under her department in the federal government. She will dodge, weave, stonewall and attack critics and yammer for more money.

That’s why the UC establishment is so thrilled to have her. And it’s why Napolitano and the UC leadership – not to mention the state’s Democratic leaders – have not said anything of substance about the university’s problems as they announced this selection. According to all the speeches, this is about Napolitano being an incredible leader whose love of education will help her lead an even more incredible institution.

It’s also Orwellian to have someone with Big Sis’s authoritarian background running an educational institution that is supposed to value open debate and free speech.U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, touched on Napolitano’s “poor record on civil liberties and government transparency” and expressed fears about her “authoritarian management style.”

His points about civil liberties are well taken given the UC system’s own problems on that front after a UC-Davis police officer nonchalantly pepper-sprayed park-squatting students and Occupy protesters in 2011. The officer no longer works for the university, but UC was less than forceful in the way it handled this matter.

If the system were looking for someone to maintain the status quo, it would have been better to at least have selected an accomplished educator. Napolitano is the worst of all worlds, which is bad news for taxpayers, students and the state of California.

Steven Greenhut is the California columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.