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How AB 195 May Help Restore “Impartiality” to Local Ballot Language

Few v. UTLA

Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?

In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSD in response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent funded. Sixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employee’s salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD work just 182 days per year. The average private-sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, that’s much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer-paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year – plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much – isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place when, for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are 10,000 high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as fewer resources for high-needs children whose parents, some of them Latino, may have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union-controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionately negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?

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Early Christmas for LAUSD teacher: a refund of his UTLA union dues – and an end to future deductions

Few: “Teachers shouldn’t have to make a federal case out of this.”

This article first appeared on FlashReport.org.

Just in time for Christmas, the Los Angeles teachers union gave Thomas Few some good news: a refund of $433.31 dues he paid and the union’s promise to stop taking $80 per month from his paycheck.

Few said he is “elated by the victory,” but also determined to press forward with his lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers of Los Angeles.

“On June 27, the Supreme Court said government employees – including my fellow teachers in Los Angeles Unified – have the right to fund or to not fund union activities,” Few said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to make a federal case out of this.”

Beginning in June, Few told United Teachers of Los Angeles three times to stop taking cash from his paycheck. The third time, he says he placed a copy of his demand directly into the hands of a teachers union official visiting the San Fernando Valley school where Few teaches special-ed children.

But UTLA refused to stop taking his money. Then, on Nov. 13, the nonprofit California Policy Center and the Liberty Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit on Few’s behalf against UTLA and LAUSD. Two weeks later, UTLA did an about-face and sent Few the refund check.

The check came with a letter from UTLA executive director Jeff Good explaining that even though Good believes UTLA still has the right to take Few’s money, they are going to stop “rather than expend dues money on litigation.”

Gold claimed Few’s federal lawsuit suggested the teacher had a “misimpression that the union had not accepted your resignation.” In fact, Good told Few, the union had accepted his resignation.

But payments to the union were another matter, Good wrote: Few had “signed a separate agreement with the union, apart from your agreement to become a member, committing [Few] to pay an amount equivalent to dues to the union ‘irrespective of your membership status.’”

California Policy Center CEO Mark Bucher, one of the attorneys representing Few, called that a “desperate attempt by UTLA to skirt the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.”

In that June 27 decision, the Supreme Court held that forcing government employees to join political organizations like UTLA violates their First Amendment rights.

“Arguing that Mr. Few can leave the UTLA as long as he continues to pay UTLA at the same rate is like a Vegas magician sawing a woman in half,” Bucher said. “It’s sleight-of-hand. In this case, it’s also deceptive and illegal.”

Bucher said the union’s capitulation does not end the federal suit, now scheduled for a February hearing in the U.S. Court in downtown Los Angeles.

“Even though UTLA has stopped taking money out of Mr. Few’s check, he does not intend on dropping the suit,” Bucher said. “Few is asking the court to declare that UTLA does not have the right to take his money, or the money of countless other teachers who are in the same position.”

Until his February hearing, Few said he’s focused on the spirit of the season. That means “spreading the good news to all of California’s government employees: you too qualify today for an end to dues deductions from your union.”

Then striking a lighter note, Few added, “With Christmas around the corner and the usual family expenses,” he says, “my wife and I are stoked to have our money back.”

Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center. Contact him at Will@CaliforniaPolicyCenter.org.

EMBARGOED: Janus attorneys and Cal Policy Center represent Los Angeles teacher in lawsuit against LAUSD, UTLA

MEDIA ADVISORY from the

LIBERTY JUSTICE CENTER and
CALIFORNIA POLICY CENTER

MEDIA CONTACTS
Kristen Williamson
kwilliamson@libertyjusticecenter.org or 847-651-8611

Will Swaim
will@californiapolicycenter.org or 949-274-1911

EMBARGOED until Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. PST

Janus attorneys and California Policy Center represent Los Angeles teacher in lawsuit against LAUSD, UTLA

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 13, 2018) – Attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the California Policy Centerhave filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Los Angeles teacher against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). The lawsuit alleges that the LAUSD and UTLA violated the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association.

“After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, government employees have a choice and a voice when it comes to union membership,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney, Liberty Justice Center. “Public employers in California that continue to withhold union dues and fees from employees without clear, voluntary, and informed consent from those employees, are actively defying the Court’s ruling and are violating employees’ First Amendment rights.”

WHAT: Press conference and media availability announcing litigation filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

WHO: Plaintiff, teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District
Brian Kelsey, senior attorney, Liberty Justice Center
Mark Bucher, CEO, California Policy Center
Mark Janus, plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME and senior fellow, Liberty Justice Center

WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. PST

WHERE: New Los Angeles US Courthouse – outside Broadway Street entrance
350 W. 1stStreet
Los Angeles, CA 90012

INTERVIEWS: Speakers will be available to answer media questions following a brief statement.

The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest litigation center that fights to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech, and other fundamental rights. First and foremost, the Liberty Justice Center seeks to ensure that the rights to earn a living and to start a business, which are essential to a free and prosperous society, are available not just to a politically privileged few, but to all. The Liberty Justice Center pursues its goals through strategic, precedent-setting litigation to revitalize constitutional restraints on government power and protections for individual rights. Learn more at LibertyJusticeCenter.org.

The California Policy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest organization that promotes prosperity for all Californians through limited government and individual liberty. Learn more at CaliforniaPolicyCenter.org.

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UTLA’s Eli Broad Rage

Teachers Unions Double Down on Charter Vilification

UTLA and CTA’s anti-charter school obsession has reached epidemic proportions. 

Just weeks after United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl threw his if-we-don’t get-our-way-we’re-going-to-create-a-state-crisis tantrum, the teachers union has hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, UTLA is spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches and the media. As articulated by UTLA vice-president Cecily Myart-Cruz, the message is, “We are a public school alliance who (sic) wants to reclaim our schools.”

The question becomes, “Reclaim them from whom?” The obvious answer is, “Those who are trying to promote charter schools,” as elucidated in Caputo-Pearl’s jeremiad in which he portrayed these public schools of choice as devils in our midst, citing a UTLA-commissioned bogus study in a feeble attempt to make his case.

The union’s timing is particularly bad, as the 2016 state standardized test results have just been released showing that charters have outperformed the traditional public schools yet again. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent of independent charter students met or exceeded the standard, versus 26 percent for traditional public school students.

And despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” whine, of all students tested, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared to 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely with traditional schools in areas of ethnicity, English language learners and disabled students.

While UTLA’s effort to decimate charters is troubling, it’s small potatoes compared to the California Teachers Association, which on August 31st unleashed “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign. It calls for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.”

In other words, charter schools, which get less funding than traditional public schools, are being helped along by philanthropists like Eli Broad, Bill Bloomfield, various Walton family members, et al. The only things missing from their brief bios on the union’s web page are little pointy ears and tails.

In a press release announcing the launch of CTA’s latest maneuver to maintain its monopoly over education in California, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “’billionaires’ coordinated agenda.”

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately-run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools – weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While #1 and #2 are outright lies, there is some truth to #3. CTA has become fat and happy as the biggest political spender (by far) in California for years now, and it is bugging the snot out of them that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. In doing so, the union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento and local school board races.

Second only to their obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping on accountability. CTA president Eric Heins maintains that “… It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools.”

Accountability?! The union is talking about accountability?!

Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws, and must engage in ethical business practices. Also, if a school doesn’t educate its students, it loses customers and the school’s charter is revoked. But if a public school is failing, very often more taxpayer dollars are wastefully flung in its direction, and because of union mandated tenure laws, no teachers lose their jobs.

What is apparent here is that CTA and other unions cannot deal with the fact that in most places (typically non-unionized) charters do better job of educating – especially poor and minority students – than the traditional public schools do. So they have to lie and create distractions to make their case and preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” kvetching about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda” and their bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who cannot abide any competition whatsoever.

And that’s just what children, their parents and taxpayers deserve – less union meddling in the education process and more competition and educational choice – please!

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.

The Taxpayer as Bagman

In California, the citizenry pays for the collection of dues for public employee unions.

As just about every teacher in California will tell you, union dues are deducted by the local school district from their monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions. In fact, payroll deduction is de rigeur for all public employee unions. But not all states suck up to organized labor like California.

Other states like North Carolina and Alabama have already passed legislation prohibiting paycheck deductions. Most notably, new right-to-work states Wisconsin and Michigan have followed suit. Most recently, Oklahoma just passed a law that makes the unions responsible for collecting their own dues. HB 1749 stipulates that it “shall be unlawful for any state agency to make payroll deductions on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that on or after November 1, 2015, collectively bargains on behalf of its membership pursuant to any provision of federal law.”

Last week, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a partial measure. This bill, should it become law, would prohibit public sector unions from using employee paycheck deductions to fund certain political activities. In fact, a similar tack has been tried several times in California. In 2005, Prop 75 would have allowed automatic deductions for the political portion of public employees’ union dues only if the worker gave their permission to do so. And in 2012 Prop 32, among other things, would have banned “automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics.” Both measures failed.

While union bosses love the taxpayer-as-bagman set-up (why wouldn’t they!), not all workers do. Years ago when I was teaching, I asked then UTLA president A.J. Duffy at a union meeting why teachers weren’t responsible for paying their own dues. He responded, “They might forget.” I didn’t respond, but knew that some of my colleagues were thinking what I was thinking. Forget? No. Not choose to pay? Yes. A 2014 poll in Pennsylvania also showed that the rank-and-file and the bosses are not of the same mind. The survey of union households across the state found that “80 percent of union households said taxpayer resources should not be used to collect campaign contributions.” Union leaders, as usual, refuse to deal directly with the issue, but instead set up straw men to attack: “It’s really about keeping control in the hands of corporations,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation with about 900,000 members. Huh? He then went on to explain, “[Legislators] only want to hear from the corporations and billionaires.”

Let’s look at this another way. Say you buy a gun. After the purchase, the government starts deducting money from your paycheck whether you want it to or not and turning the cash over to the National Rifle Association. The NRA claims it is justified in doing so because it says it will advocate for you and provide legal assistance should you need it. The NRA doesn’t pay for the service, and moreover, doesn’t pay a penny in income tax. Reasonable? Hardly.

One glimmer of hope for the Golden State is the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. It’s possible that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, one of the by-products could be a legislature more responsive to its constituents instead of CTA, which is by far the most powerful special interest in the state.

But by whatever means, we need to release the taxpayers from their forced bagman status. To paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, it’s time for the unions to collect their own damn dues.

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.

Loss of LIFO

If Eli Broad’s charter school plan goes forward, there will be a major shake-up in the ranks of LAUSD teachers.

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

20151014-UW-Sand
Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

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.

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.

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

“Our demands, they’re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing?”
 – Alex Caputo Pearl, President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes – tough to do when you’re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller’s public pay website you will get the impression they aren’t making much. The summary page for LAUSD shows “average wages” of $40,506 per year and employer paid “average retirement and health” benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These “averages” include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the “Raw Export” tab of the state controller’s website yields more comprehensive information.

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-SCO

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year – based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded “base pay” is 10% or more less than the stated “minimum pay for position” for that record – a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and 180 days per year (ref. UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-Actual

Properly estimating how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires at least two important additional calculations, (1), normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California’s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don’t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works 12 weeks less per year than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher’s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

“Eight years of nothing.” Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the CalSTRS website, here’s what the state contributes:

“The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program. Under the new funding plan, the state’s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013–14 to 6.328 percent beginning July 1, 2016. The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.”

Sticking with current contributions – 3.041% plus 2.5%, based on “member earnings” referring to “direct pay,” that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make – using real world equivalents – $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller’s office:  LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx (10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is, during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45% of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to lower the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is officially recognized at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to “left wing” political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen by managers who rampage about the entire planet demanding annual yields north of 7.0% per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit – antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance your compensation and defend your pensions as they are – you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you’ve had “eight years of nothing.”

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

Union opt-out campaigns log incremental gains, but two court cases could change the rules

Whenever anyone suggests that public sector unions are forcing their members to make political contributions, the unions retort that the contributions are strictly voluntary. Technically speaking, this is true, but the tedious process of opting out of making political contributions is a powerful deterrent.

The California Teachers Association, for example, allow their members to become “agency fee payers,” which means they no longer belong to the CTA, do not have to make political contributions, and merely need to pay their “fair share” of the collecting bargaining expenses from which they still presumably benefit. But even if a CTA member has served written notice and been given agency fee payer status, they still will have 100% of the regular union dues withheld from their paycheck as full members; about $1,200 per year. They then have to request, in writing, between Sept. 1st and Nov. 15th every year, that the CTA issue them a check for the portion of their dues that was used for political spending.

This amounts to a rigged system that ensures that very few CTA members bother to opt-out, and even fewer manage to consistently recover their political contributions. Once a CTA member achieves agency fee payer status, they have to actively request a refund of their political contributions every year. But they are permanently excluded from the ability to participate in CTA leadership elections, and they are permanently excluded from being able to have the liability insurance coverage provided to full CTA members. While good alternative coverage can be found from reputable providers at a competitive price, this is yet another deterrent to choosing to become an agency fee payer. And, not insignificantly, those teachers who opt to become agency fee payers face harassment by those among their colleagues who enthusiastically support the CTA’s politics.

A few months ago the California Public Policy Center, in partnership with the California Teachers Empowerment Network, launched the California Teacher Freedom project. If you are a member of the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers, or the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and you want to opt-out of paying political dues, go to www.CaliforniaTeacherFreedom.com and you will get very specific instructions.

But why should the process be this difficult in the first place? How many people are going to go to this much trouble?

This is a rigged system. Even if an “opt-out” information campaign were spectacularly successful, the CTA’s political machine would still be intact. And those who opted out would not be participating, collectively, in some equally potent, countervailing political machine that might oppose CTA politics. The vast majority of CTA members would still be feeding the machine, year after year, a machine that fights virtually all significant bipartisan education reforms. And even those who had opted-out would still be paying a net dues equal to about 70% of full dues, money that is deployed in soft political spending and “educational” campaigns. The CTA collects and spends well over $300 million per year.

Because the process is tedious and invites retaliation, while leaving the CTA’s nearly omnipotent political machine completely intact, helping individual teachers opt-out of paying their political dues is about as “incremental” as incremental can get. But while incremental reformers search for ideas that may attract a viable political coalition, there are cases unfolding in the courts that merit close attention. Two of the most promising are in California.

In Friedrichs vs the CTA, as reported earlier this year in an excellent analysis by Peter Scheer entitled “New 1st amendment case poses existential threat to public employee unions,” a favorable ruling could not only convert all political dues from “opt-out” to “opt-in” (i.e., the union would have to annually elicit voluntary contributions from members), but it may also call into question whether or not any dues could be forcibly withheld. Sheer writes:

“The theory of the lawsuit filed, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is that an opt out procedure is constitutionally defective because it compels employees to make a loan to the union for its political activities, and because even the unions’ supposedly nonpolitical activities–such as opposition to charter schools or support for higher taxes to pay for pension benefits–are fraught with political and ideological choices that are objectionable to some employees.”

The other case, Vergara vs. California, could fundamentally change public education in California. According to the fact sheet posted on the website of an organization supporting the lawsuit, Students Matter, a favorable ruling would fundamentally change policies with respect to teacher tenure, dismissals, seniority, and evaluations, all areas where union work-rules have prevented effective management of public schools.

There are a lot of fine teachers in California’s public schools who are disillusioned with the unions they are forced to financially support. They should review the information and instructions compiled by the California Teacher Freedom project and consider becoming agency fee payers (political objectors) or even religious objectors. But they should also take heart from these court cases. Fundamental changes could be coming.

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Ed Ring is the Executive Director of the California Public Policy Center.

Lemon Raid

Los Angeles school chief puts children’s needs over those of 600 sadists, pedophiles and assorted creeps. The teachers union is outraged.

In any other field, getting rid of misbehaving or poorly performing employees is a natural and ongoing occurrence. Business leaders who don’t set standards and hold workers accountable will see their clientele shrink. But in the world of teacher union-dominated public education, putting customers first – in this case, children and their parents – is a headline-making event.

Superintendent John Deasy, who has incurred the wrath of the United Teachers of Los Angeles of late, did nothing to endear himself to the union by cracking down on miscreant teachers earlier this month. In fact, with Deasy leading the charge, the Los Angeles school board fired 100, got 200 to resign, and designated 300 more to be “housed” or removed from the classroom pending further investigation. According to Barbara Jones, writing in the LA Daily News,

The personnel files stretched the length of the 15-foot conference table in Superintendent John Deasy’s office, a chronicle of the corporal punishment, verbal and physical abuse and sexual misconduct reported in the classrooms of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cuts and bruises. Curses and racial slurs. Caresses and pornography.

In the past, the misdeeds detailed in the teachers’ files would likely have earned the offender a disciplinary memo, maybe a week’s suspension, perhaps a transfer to another school.

Today, they’re grounds for firing.

UTLA, shocked that the historically passive school district actually made a move that benefitted children, was predictably furious. Its leaders characterized Deasy’s actions as a “witch hunt,” claiming that he is “using misconduct allegations to get rid of troublesome teachers and those on the upper rungs of the experience and pay scale.”

Really?

Here are some specifics about a few of the “teachers” who are now out of the classroom:

  • A Westside elementary teacher in his early 60s ‘trained’ his students to give him a full-body massage for 20 minutes every day while he ‘rested.’
  • A teacher at a San Fernando Valley elementary school who disciplined youngsters by locking them in a bathroom or barricading them in a corner using tables and chairs.
  • An Eastside elementary teacher used clothespins to pinch the ears of youngsters who weren’t paying attention to the lesson. The same teacher also discouraged thumb-sucking by putting nasty-tasting disinfectant on kids’ fingers and forced students to scrub their desks using cleanser and their bare hands.
  • A rash of sex-related complaints were made in the weeks after the Miramonte scandal broke, including allegations of tickling and fondling, and inappropriate and vulgar comments made in class. One high school student said a female teacher inexplicably took her along when she went shopping for sex toys in Hollywood. … Nearly a dozen male teachers were fired for pornography found on their district-issued laptops.

A horrified and angst-filled UTLA lawyer, Richard Schwab, sputtered, “… many veteran teachers opt to resign rather than pursue an administrative hearing because they fear losing their lifetime health benefits if the ruling goes against them.”

Schwab may be right. But this raises a bigger question. If a teacher is guilty of committing crimes against children, why does he or she deserve a penny in “lifetime health benefits?” Or a generous pension for that matter? But that is a discussion for another day.

In any event, despite the seemingly good news, this story is far from settled. For those teachers who haven’t taken their health and pension benefits and run, there are still appeals and hearings and then more appeals and hearings. Again, Barbara Jones:

Under current law, teachers who are fired by the school board have 30 days to appeal their dismissal to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. It assigns each case to a panel composed of an administrative law judge and two educators – one chosen by the teacher, the other by the district – which reviews evidence and hears witness testimony before deciding whether or not the teacher should be fired. That process may take years, however, and cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees.

In fact, thanks to our teacher union friends, here is what is laughably called “due process” for teachers in California:

How ineffective teachers are dismissed in California

1. School district must document specific examples of ineffective performance, based on standards set by the district and the local teachers union.

2. If a teacher has been cited for unsatisfactory performance worthy of dismissal, a school district must give the teacher written notice and provide her 90 calendar days to correct.

3. After 90 days, school district files written dismissal charges. If the school board votes to approve dismissal, it adopts official charges and a resolution of intent to dismiss teacher. Notice cannot be given between May 15 and September 15.

4. Once teacher receives notice that she will be dismissed in 30 days, she can request a hearing to be held within 30 days.

5. School board must reconvene to decide whether to proceed. If it proceeds, it must serve the employee with an accusation as set forth in the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

6. If teacher makes a second demand for a hearing, it is scheduled with the state Office of Administrative Hearings and held within 60 days. The hearing is similar to a civil trial with each side having rights to discovery. 

7. The hearing is held before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence consisting of an administrative judge and persons appointed by the school board and the teacher or her union representative.

8. After the hearing, the commission issues a written decision by majority vote either voting for dismissal or reinstatement.

9. If either the teacher or the school district appeals the decision, it will be heard by the state superior court.

10. Further appeals are heard by the state Court of Appeal.

Sources: California Legislative Analyst’s Office; California Office of Administrative Hearings.

As pointed out by Jones, the stickiest part of the above process is #7 because the unions control the action. The judge is invariably “union-friendly.” The offender gets to pick a teacher to be on the three-person panel. (Ya think he or she might choose a sympathetic one?) The third member of the panel is a teacher supplied by the district, more often than not – you guessed it – another union member. The odds are so stacked that as Matthias Gafni reports,

California has more than 1,000 school districts and 300,000 teachers, yet only 667 dismissal cases were filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings between January 2003 and March 2012, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s chief labor and employment counsel, Alex Molina. Only 130 of those actually got to the hearing stage, and 82 resulted in dismissals — fewer than 10 a year.

Last year, State Senator Alex Padilla tried to put a dent in the system by introducing SB 1530, a bill that would eliminate the two teachers from the panel, make the judge’s ruling advisory and leave the final decision up to the local school district. But the California Teachers Association managed to “convince” their “friends” on the Assembly education committee to kill the proposed legislation. Currently, there is a much milder bill, AB 375, making its way around the legislature. It would shorten the interminable dismissal process, but leave the three-person Commission on Professional Competence intact. CTA backs this bill, which is all you need to know about its effectiveness.

How LAUSD’s bold move eventually plays out is anybody’s guess. But whatever the outcome, John Deasy deserves a heap of praise. By trying to rid a noble profession of hundreds of “lemons,” he has done a great service to children and their families, which means of course he will be even more targeted by UTLA. And how that will play out is also anybody’s guess.

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.