Sunday, May 8, 2011

California's 37% Majority. (Apparently in need of a math coach)

It Comes Down to Four Votes

California law requires that two-thirds of both houses of the State Legislature must vote to approve new state revenues. Republican legislators, who represent 37% of California’s districts, have taken a vow of no-taxes. To pass a responsible budget which extends existing taxes, two Republicans in each house must vote along with the Democratic majority.

The following State Legislators are moderate Republicans who may change their position if they hear from enough of us. Please write as many postcards as you can. Thank You!

Assemblymember Bill Berryhill

3141 State Capitol,

California 95814-0026

Assemblymember Jeff Gorell

4208 State Capitol,

California 94249-0037

Assemblymember Diane Harkey

6027 State Capitol,

California 95814-0073

Assemblymember Mike Morrell

4102 State Capitol,

California 94249-0063

Assemblymember Jim Nielsen

6031 State Capitol,

California 94249-0002

Assemblymember Chris Norby

4116 State Capitol,

California 95814-0072

Assemblymember Cameron Smyth

4098 State Capitol,

California 95814-0038

Senator Tom Berryhill

3076 State Capitol,

California 95814

Senator Anthony Cannella

3048 State Capitol,

California 95814

Senator Robert Dutton

305 State Capitol,

California 95814

Senator Bill Emmerson

4082 State Capitol,

California 95814

Senator Tom Harmon

5094 State Capitol,

California 95814

Senator Robert Huff

5097 State Capitol,

California 95814

A Sample Postcard / Letter to State Legislators

“Dear _______________________,

As an educator, I am writing to urge you to support the governor’s budget proposal that would protect schools and other vital services. I am also asking you to vote for an extension of the existing temporary state taxes to provide desperately needed funding or at the very least, give voters a chance to decide.”

(Highlight one or two issues here. You may borrow from the list, or write about your own experience about the cuts our schools have faced.)

• K-12 schools and colleges have already been cut more than $20 Billion over the last three years -- $1,900 per K-12 student.

• Class sizes are soaring, programs are disappearing and entire school years are shrinking in many school districts.

• More than 30,000 educators and 10,000 other school employees have been laid off over the past 3 years.

• The governor’s plan to extend temporary taxes for five years will help prevent further cuts to school, public safety, health and other vital state programs.

• Without an extension of current revenues, public schools and colleges will lose at least $2.3 Billion more.

• The overwhelming majority of Californians have indicated they are willing to pay more in taxes to avoid deeper cuts to our schools.

“The sacrifices that our kids would have to face with an all cuts budget are simply too severe.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spinning our Wheels

Most Northerners can tell you some story about getting your car caught in a snow drift. Your first instinct is to hit the accelerator and power your way out. Only thing is, it doesn’t work. The car just spins its tires and digs its way deeper into the snow. That’s what it feels in the world of public education these days. The more we use the same broken reforms, the deeper our problems become.

I’ve only taught for 13 years, and I’ve already experienced one reform after another. From inquiry cycles to walk-throughs, from focus groups to focal students, studying data charts and viewing Pollyanna videos about how it might work if we had 20 kids in a classroom who each had their own laptop. Our school has gone from under-achieving to exemplary to under-achieving again to exemplary again and back to underachieving in my tenure. I used to like roller coasters, but now I get a little nauseous.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in the schools. It’s clear that our problems are significant. But it’s also clear that there are a lot of quality educational professionals who are dramatically underpaid, underresourced and under the gun who are going above and beyond the call. I am honored to work with a team of brilliant educators who are dedicated to public service. And it pisses me off when those dedicated professionals get blamed for the problems in our schools. Worse yet, I am deeply saddened when they start to blame themselves. We can’t keep asking our educators to do more with fewer resources. And yet, that’s the poisonous recipe that the media and the politicians are brewing up. The impossible results demanded by No Child Left Behind, the rip-it-all-apart mentality of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, and the increased class sizes and reduced calendar mandated by the Draconian state budgets which hurt our poorest, most diverse communities the most all combine for that destructive poison.

When it comes down to it, the two biggest problems that our schools face is a lack of money and a glut of blame-the-teacher politics. No amount of consultant speeches and beat-‘em-over-the-head-with-test-prep school reform will fix those problems.

The only way to get out of the snow drift is to stop spinning the wheels. Invest in a shovel and move the snow out of the way. Then you can get the car rolling. Start putting our resources into the kids who need it most and get the wedge-issue politics out of education, and we’ll get the schools moving again. But we better hurry, because there’s a pretty bad blizzard coming.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Four weeks Since March 4...

Remember how back on March 4, we all threw down and had a “Day of Action” to protest the impending budget cuts? Well, there’s still no state budget for 2010-2011 yet, and that’s good news. But I’m worried about what the state legislators might be thinking, because it seems as though we protesters have gone away. So, what’s next, CTA?

Yeah, there was March 4, and that felt great. But it’s been four weeks since our grand day of action, and I’m wondering what the next big coordinated effort is going to be. After all, 25,000 more teachers have received their annual RIF letters. Most of us have given up salary, days, benefits, working conditions or all of the above, and the educational tailspin continues. It just seems like we need the next set of marching orders from CTA before another round of cuts get set in stone.

There are several efforts around the state that we can attach our energies to. CFT is still unrolling its “March for California’s Future” through the Central Valley. Between now and April 21, the marchers are holding rallies in critical communities that are jurisdictions of important republican legislators. The marchers are visiting the very communities where voters can pressure their home-town Senators and Assemblymembers into not letting our schools and public services get re-butchered.

California AFSCME continues to push for it’s alternate to the state budget, which identifies up to $40 Billion in new revenue that can be used to re-build our state. Where did the money come from? Mostly fixing loopholes that allow corporations to skate by without paying their fair share.

Or, CTA members could join the efforts of Californians for Democracy, the initiative effort which is seeking to eliminate the state’s dysfunctional two-thirds mandates.

All I’m saying is that any of these coordinated actions is better than doing nothing. And four weeks is long enough for our legislators to forget that anything ever happened.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 4 rocked! Now what?

Teachers, administrators, parents and students lining up on both sides of the school. Our school, the school down the street, every school in the district. Every community in the Bay Area. Every region of the state. Simultaneously defiant and celebratory. With a little leadership, great things can happen. That’s the lesson of March 4.

And CTA joined the fray. In their most significant organizing effort during the last four devastating budget cycles, CTA finally cranked out the resources and guidance to get every California community hopping around the theme of “No More Cuts.” CTA also scored well in the “plays nice with others” category, joining hands with the California Federation of Teachers and unions representing employees from UC, CSU, community colleges, the greater labor movement, and the rest of the education coalition. Gotta say, I was proud to be CTA.

March 4 may go down as one of CTA’s best days in the last 5 years. Not since the 2005 special election has the state's largest teachers union put it all together so well. With every staff person spending energy getting local leaders to pick up the ball, effective use of the Stand Up for Schools website, great coordination with sister organizations, and mostly, just using its geographical size and scope, CTA played an essential role in the success of the day.

Of course, it’s not enough. Not yet. The shouting was fun. It was great to see the headlines. But the budget crisis did not go away. The solutions (more revenue, majority rule, no more corporate tax give-aways) have not been enacted. And some horrible compromise, which will end up solving nothing, is just a few months away. The Republican minority will again have the opportunity to reject the majority call for new funding. CTA will be asked to “bless” the compromise because more is being cut from health and human services than schools. Our recent track record says that we will reluctantly agree.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is hard to see past the logjam that the Republicans have built in the state legislature around budgeting and taxing. But people are getting tired of legislative logjams led by a super-minority. And the iron is hot. CTA has a presence in the communities that elected those republicans, too. Those schools are hurting, too. Parents in those communities are also upset.

Step one: make it clear to our friends in the legislature that we won’t settle for another bloodletting, that their votes should be dependent on having some real structural change in the way budgets are decided. Step two: get in the faces of every republican in Sacramento until a few of them break. Fight dirty if we have to. Put up billboards across from their local offices crediting them with every layed-off teacher and closed school library. Make sure to name every closed school or shut-down essential school service after them. Get local teachers in the act with more public rallies, more forums about school budget cuts. Step three: repeat. In other words, CTA, please don't drop the ball!

Of all of the statewide organizations, CTA stands alone in having the capacity to run this type of campaign. And the alternative is far worse. The alternative is to is suck it up and watch our neighborhood public schools get dismantled piece by piece. And about a year from now, we can start planning another March 4.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Have San Leandro schools solved their money problems?

I'm glad to see that the school district is financially sound. I haven't looked at a spread sheet recently, but the actions of school administration sure make it look like there's no money problem in the district.

Why else would the principal at Garfield Elementary have rejected a gift made by teachers to support the school crossing guard program? That's right, she returned the donation. San Leandro Teachers' Association, the Union representing San Leandro's 500 teachers, made a contribution to each of the elementary schools in the district to support the financially endangered school crossing guard programs. Most of the schools graciously accepted the gift, but apparently the Garfield Principal determined that the school has no need for the money.

At least I'd like to think that the contribution was rejected because of an improving district budget, because it's past time for teachers' salaries (among the lowest in Alameda County) to catch up with our neighbors. Although, I admit, the district has been sending out mixed messages. After all, teacher salaries were reduced last year by cutting a staff development day from the school calendar. And then, the district offered Muir teachers the opportunity to work that day for only 25% to 35% of their normal salary. (District to teachers: We want you to do the work, we just don't want to pay you for it.)

I guess it leaves me wondering, if the contribution weren't rejected because of the district's improving financial situation, then why would the contribution to Garfield be rejected? Could it be that the district now views teachers as social pariahs? You know, so despicable that they are unworthy of making charitable contributions? Akin to tobacco companies and alcohol companies? That doesn't seem like a strong basis for good staff relations and positive school climate.

I just can't believe that would be the truth. That would be a bit insulting. I'd much rather believe that a big offer for a pay raise to catch San Leandro teachers up with their neighbors is just around the corner.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We are all bystanders

Like everyone else, I have been shocked by the story of the Richmond High School girl who was gang raped for two hours on campus during the homecoming dance. The more I read, the more angry I feel.

I can’t, nor do I want to, imagine the mindset of the attackers. As troubling are the reports of up to 20 bystanders who witnessed the attack, but did nothing to stop it. While those twenty people may very well be tormented with the knowledge that they should have acted to stop this terrorization, the story doesn’t end with them.

Ultimately, we (our communities, our leaders, and we citizens) could have stopped this attack. Stories about a decaying community and crumbling schools in Richmond, and countless communities in California, often the poorest and most diverse communities, have been in the newspaper for 15 years. But the politics of marginalization and denial have allowed us to simply watch while these communities fall apart. And desperate people do desperate things.

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Kevin Fagan describes the Richmond attackers as a collection of drop-outs, former students and “mediocre students at best,” who were in the middle of an on-campus drinking binge. He wrote about the cultural environment that made their rage possible, including “the poverty-driven frustrations of inner-city Richmond,” the 9th most dangerous city in America where 18 percent of families live below poverty level.

This attack could have been prevented. The conditions that allowed for this attack were recognizable, and could have been corrected. If schools in “marginalized neighborhoods” were given appropriate resources, this attack may have not happened. During this era of slash-and-burn state budgets, there should at least be a re-direction of resources to support these most marginalized communities.

In a very real way, this attack was fueled by an under-funded budget. Our school communities at most risk should get more resources during challenging economic times, even if that means at the expense of better-off communities. But, instead, the budget gets cut. If they had more counselors, lower class sizes, more interventions, more security, or perhaps if they had just built a god-damned fence around the place and installed lights, this girl might not have been attacked.

According to all of the stories, the teachers at Richmond High are doing an extraordinary job helping students to pick up the pieces. Yet while I write this, West Contra Costa teachers are in the middle of an ugly contract fight. They already make $9,000 a year below the state average, and the district is asking for more cutbacks. Fagan’s article reported that one of the attackers had once thrown a flaming paper ball at a teacher in the classroom. Why would anyone want to teach in Richmond?

Are we really willing to stand by and watch districts like Richmond, Oakland, Compton and (name your community) blow up?

At some point during the next few months, we’ll start hearing about massive shortfalls in the state budget. Progressives will call for more revenue. Republicans will go hide in a cave, blocked by a sign that reads, “wake us up when the knives are sharp.” Democratic leaders will shrug their shoulders, and give in to another year of massive cuts, even though there are billions of dollars of potential tax revenue available. More communities will be destroyed. More lives will be shattered. More Richmonds.

And we’ll all be bystanders. Watching the attack but not doing anything to stop it. Again.