Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Show Your Legislator the Money

I thought It would be helpful, when you write your state legislator, to remind her  that there is money out there which can be used to solve the state budget "crisis".  Depending on what day you ask, the shortfall is between $14 Billion and $16 Billion.

CTA's Alcosta Service Center put together a handy guide to the budget crisis which included these potential sources of restored revenue:
• Reinstitute an 11% tax on people with incomes of more than $500,000 (a policy during the Republican Governorships of Wilson and Reagan) - would amount to a $3 Billion increase to the state coffers.
• Restore the Vehicle License Fee - $5 Billion.  (Beware those tax gifts that governments like to give out.  They're like those free vacations.  They cost you later!)
• Reverse Proposition 13.  I'm not suggesting going after the granny who lives on a fixed income, just go after businesses who have owned their land since before the 1970s and who will never die. - $4 Billion.
• CalPIRG's Education Fund reports that 46 Corporations in California with an income of more than $1 Billion pay less than $801 per year in taxes.  Closing those loopholes and special privileges for rich people could add billions every year!

Return these sources of income to the state, and "poof," the crisis goes away.

Show those potential sources of income to each voter in California and ask them if they would rather restore these sources of revenue or suffer un-imaginable loss to the lives of Medi-Cal recipients, and the well-being of schools and local governments. 

Honestly, I can't see where the crisis is.  A "crisis" is an unfixable problem.  The only crisis in Sacramento is a crisis of character.  The legislators have to get up the courage to ask the rich people to return the money that they have stolen from the state coffers over the years in special tax-cuts.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why is the San Leandro School District Attacking Its Teachers?

(An open letter to the San Leandro School Board of Trustees)

As a 10 year teaching veteran of the San Leandro Schools, I am horrified by the district's recent attacks on its teachers and on our Union.

The biggest insult is the continuing saga of our pay scale.  The district has been dragging its heels at the bargaining table, despite knowing that teachers in San Leandro are among the lowest-compensated teachers in Alameda County.  The district has made no effort to improve the status of our pay-scale.  While neighboring district (Castro Valley most recently) have passed on  COLA increases to their workers, our District has refused to make a commitment to its teachers.

Several other districts in the County have lower revenue, but still manage to pay their teachers more than San Leandro.  As a Board, please examine how those districts succeed, and then instruct our Superintendent to make it happen.

Unfortunately, the disrespect shown to teachers by the District does not stop at the salary scale.  These recent events show the District's motives:
* Reduction of permitted release time for SLTA officers, and reneging on the agreement of how the release time should be compensated.  The district recently informed SLTA that it would significantly reduce the President's release time, and eliminate the release time for the Vice President altogether.  This is clearly a Union-busting maneuver.  The district has nothing to gain by this decision other than silencing the voices of teachers.  As a Board, did yoiu approve of this anti-teacher tactic?
* The Budget-Cut process, in which teachers (at staff meetings) were forced to state which vital student programs we could live without.  (District Office administrators' positions, perks, expense accounts and salaries were not listed in the menu of potential cuts.)  The Union's bargaining team represents teachers.  Talk with us at the table.  (That's the law.)
* Discouraging Union Input.  The SLTA President was given notice of his "invitation" to address the Board about budget cuts on the afternoon of the meeting that was scheduled later that night.  It's clear that his voice really wasn't wanted at your meeting.

While a cynical person might be able to dismiss some of the bargaining and budget-cut shenanigans as "business-as-usual" for a District that has never shown an interest in fairly compensating its teachers, the next insult from the district is unfathomable.
* Denial of Bereavement Leave.  A teacher whose spouse died was denied bereavement leave.  After the leave was denied, the grievance was rejected.  And now the district is going to fight this case all the way to arbitration.  Is the District really going to spend the $40,000 it takes to send a case to arbitration just to avoid spending a few hundred dollars?  Do you, as a member of the School Board, really approve the District's effort to deny leave for a grieving spouse no matter what the cost?  This is a dedicated, well-loved teacher in our District!

In the past, I had heard it said that even though teachers in San Leandro have always been under-compensated, that this was a good district to teach in because people are treated with respect.  Clearly, the spirit of respect has changed.  As Board Members, ultimately, the way the district treats its employees is your responsibility.  The Superintendents answer to you.

Thomas B. Morse

Wrecking Ball or Dynamite?

Seven years ago, George Bush's Department of Education drew up the demolition plans for our schools with "No Child Left Behind."  The crane with the wrecking ball in now in place, but now there is a race between Bush's "slow-death-by-testing" and Governor Schwarzenegger's dynamite, the proposed 11% across-the-board budget cut to our schools.

This month, teachers at my school sat through a briefing where got a doomsday glimpse of how Schwarenegger's budget mandates would tear our school apart, should the state legislature allow him.  In general, 80% of the cost of a school is paying for the people who work there.  An 11% cut would be almost entirely realized by eliminating the jobs of the people who work directly with our kids, especially teachers and support providers.

I teach in one of the most diverse communities in the nation.  The demographics span the American experience.  The income disparity runs from quite wealthy to very poor.  Along racial lines, we have roughly equal numbers of Latino, African-American, Asian and White students.  There are nearly 20 different primary languages spoken by students who attend our school.

Our principal was instructed to present the budget news to us as a menu of potential cuts.  We were asked, what programs could we live without?  For instance, we could cut library services.  (Libraries are so old-fashioned, anyways) or counseling services (middle school kids will just have to learn maturity on their own).  We could cut educational aides.  These are the people who give one-on-one support to English Language Learners (25% of our school population)  and kids with learning disabilities (5% of our population).

We could choose to live without campus security.  After all, by middle school, a thousand kids eating lunch with each other really should know how to be nice to each other.  Never mind that our campus security folks also serve as tutors, backup counselors, big-brother or big-sister, and sometimes provide the first smile of the day.

I suppose if we wanted to, we could increase class sizes a little more (35 teenagers in one classroom isn't already enough), or reduce prep periods for teachers.  The test-performance mandates which threaten to have our school taken over haven't been amended, but nobody's telling us that we get a free pass on that.

All I know is this.  The politicians love blaming the failure of our schools on teachers.  They love writing "accountability" measures into the law.  But where is the accountability for the politicians who would force our schools to even consider such institutional devastation?

Wrecking Ball or Dynamite?  Make way for the strip mall.

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