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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

School Board President Mike Katz Responds

On Oct 22, 2009, at 9:23 PM, Thomas Morse wrote:

> So I have two questions. Is the Superintendent still surprised
> because teachers don’t feel valued? And, does the School Board know
> about this?

The School Board became aware of the ticketing at the high school
sometime after it started. It is my understanding that the ticketing
has stopped at this time in order to review a variety of issues.

Mike Katz-Lacabe
in my capacity as President of the San Leandro School Board

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parking scandal at San Leandro High School

After teaching long days at San Leandro High School, many of our school district’s valued teachers have been surprised to find school-district issued parking tickets on their car windows.

Apparently, the school district has cut a deal with a parking ticket vendor to administer a shakedown of people who park at the high school. The district has agreed to a cut of the revenue in exchange for this service. Tickets are $40, and if you don’t pay, the violations get turned over to the DMV. What’s even more surprising is that the parking tickets are being written by one of the assistant principals.

In other words, the school district is paying an administrator’s salary to an assistant principal whose job is to harass teachers by ticketing their cars. So, even after taking a salary cut, teachers are being fleeced further in this new parking ticket scam, and district resources are being wasted to make it happen.

So I have two questions. Is the Superintendent still surprised because teachers don’t feel valued? And, does the School Board know about this?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank You, Kathy Crummey

The title on the program for Hayward Education Association President Kathy Crummey’s memorial service celebrated “A Life Well Led.” What an understatement.

Kathy picked up a picket sign as a strike leader in her first year of teaching back in 1974, and remained an integral part of HEA for her entire career. Alongside her husband, Dayton Crummey, the pair served as the core of a vibrant local, and as a strong voice for CTA in Northern California.

During the celebration, I couldn’t help but reflect on the dozens of ways that leaders in the teachers’ unions across the state and country serve the community. People like Kathy all over the state are community treasures because of their commitment to quality public education, and their persistence in assuring that our schools and students get every resource available. And while Kathy was a very visible leader, the truth is that most of what a Union leader does in not out in the open.

Of course, we hear the voices of our Union leaders most clearly when they are at school board meetings reminding elected officials to make a commitment to the classroom. We see the local Union president at rallies, and if someone from the media needs an interview.

But we don’t often see the hard work of Unionizing. Unions are the most democratic organizations in the country, and being truly democratic requires an enormous amount of communication. You’ll see the Union leader at countless meetings with multiple groups of people about the same issue. She’ll also write memos about tedious, yet important details, and create newsletters to explain the deliberations. He always has to keep in mind that anyone with an issue feels like they are being heard and involved.

Union leaders are hand-holders, sitting with teachers at their times of greatest vulnerability. Mediators during meetings with angry parents or unreasonable principals. Arbitrators during sit-downs between colleagues who are less than collegial. Clarifyers when the terms of employment suddenly change.

Because it’s often politically popular to attack Unions, the Union leader has to stand up and be the voice of reason when most others are being unreasonable. A Union leader always knows that someone is indeed looking over her shoulder, so every “I” must be dotted and every “t” must be crossed. The income and the outgo better match up, also.

We in CTA and other teachers unions have a special responsibility to defend our nation’s greatest treasure, quality public education which reaches all of our children, especially the most vulnerable. With the passing of Kathy Crummey, we have lost a giant.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How could a public health option be worse than what we have now?

The right wing is right about health care. A government run program could never compete with the insurance companies. The insurance companies can deny coverage, preside over more “death panels,” and chase far more people into bankruptcy than the government could imagine. They already are.

In all of the right wing’s “sky is falling” predictions about health care, the main point is missing. What we have right now simply isn’t working. Premiums are going up at more than a double-digit inflation rate. Insured people are putting off care because insurance companies aren’t covering the extent of the needed care. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday that most people who are in debt from medical bills are insured. Their insurance just isn’t actually covering health care. The insurance companies will gladly take your money as long as you’re healthy. But the minute you get sick – deny, deny, deny. Sounds like a death panel to me.

I’m wondering, what exactly is the right wing scared of, more of the same?

I'm not going to present myself as an expert on this topic, but there are so many really obvious truths. First, In our system people can't even afford to pay the premiums. When I started teaching, a family premium was $500 each month. Now the rate has gone up to $1500. Every double-digit percentage January increase comes directly out of the pockets of enrolled teachers. Our salary structure hasn't kept up. So each January, teachers get an annual pay cut.

Secondly, those Canadiens sure aren't grumbling about their system. Third, why wouldn't any employer want to get into business without the added responsibility of finding and administering an insurance plan?

It seems to me that the only real beneficiaries of our current system are the health insurance companies. Their investors are making a lot of money, and they don't want to be put out of business. Neither did the folks in the auto industry or the ice industry, as far as that goes. But it's time.

Demand a public health care option now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hey CTA, Let's make this the year we fight back!

When it comes to the political fights, CTA has a well-oiled machine for getting a candidate elected or filling the radio with sound bites. But for the purposes of winning a state budget fight, our Union tends to leave its biggest tool in the box. During the last three big state budget battles, CTA hasn’t used its most powerful potential resource, a loud and righteously angry membership base that stretches to every corner of the state.

That's why we're losing. But we don't have to be. It's clear that any effort to shake the state legislature out of its standard operating procedure will require a year-long campaign that builds from the ground up. CTA may be the only organization that's big enough and organized enough to get the job done. We just have to change the way we do business.

Here’s the deal. We know already that the next budget battle could be as ugly as the last three. CTA has stepped aside and allowed devastating cuts to schools and vital services without much of a fight. Without real reform in the state government, further cuts are inevitable. Why can’t we insist that our “friends” in the legislature hold out for a budget with progressive revenues or elimination of the two-thirds mandates? Why can't the majority be as stubborn as the "no-taxes-on-our-rich-friends" crowd that has held the state hostage since the passage of Prop. 13?

Our locals know how to fight their own contract fights, and CTA staff up and down the state know how to guide its members in those local fights. What if we just take that know-how and energy, and apply it to the state budget fight? None of our locals are going to have a lot of success with their own contracts until we win real reform on the state level. So what are we waiting for?

Here’s what it might look like if CTA fought a year-long fight on the budget by organizing its most important tool -- its grassroots base:

September/October/December: Member education and public education, network building and local legislative relationships. Local chapters, with the guidance of CTA organizers, use site meetings to get buy-in from their members for a year-long effort, host house parties and public forums to educate the community on how the cuts have hurt schools in the immediate community. Highlight some progressive tax reforms that could be made in California. Prepare a handy education video. Invite local newspapers, bloggers, radio personalities, legislators and their staff to attend. Make the case to people in the local community. End each of the sessions by plugging community members into the fight. Letter-writing, phone calls, all the fixings. Get commitments from people to join the fight. These steps help locals build a capacity to fight and recruit leaders and allies.

November/December/January: Pressure building. Turn up the volume. Statewide media and targeted local media. Local fights around the state should intensify here. Insist on a sit-down with the local Assemblymember or Senator. Create a presence at town hall meetings hosted by state legislators. Picket at local offices of targeted legislators (any Republican who might budge or Democrat who might cave). Firm up message. Focus on “No more Cuts” and “Real Reform” messages (shorthand for raise taxes on corporations and get rid of two-thirds mandates). Highlight impact of cuts on students and services. Keep up pressure on targeted legislators until they make a public commitment to the campaign. Then trumpet that legislator as a “Friend of the Schools” and move campaign onto the next targeted legislator.

February/March/April/May: Lobby day actions focus on “No More Cuts” and “Real Reform.” Local rallies at legislative offices. Radio and newspaper ads continue in targeted communities, then culminate in regional and statewide actions. The impact of these actions is made more effective by the strength of all of the local actions. Make sure that each local keeps its members engaged even into summer vacation. Encourage legislators who have committed to "No More Cuts" and "Real Reform" message to hold out until something gives.

For the last three major budget fights, CTA’s members have been waiting for a real place to get involved. The people of California are desperately waiting for someone to step up and fight on behalf of the majority – in favor of a government that works. Let’s not miss another opportunity.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vote No on the Deja Vu Budget!

Just like in the Matrix, if you get a sense of déjà vu, you’re in real trouble.  Legislative leaders, along with the blessings of the governor and CTA, are trying to push together another “compromise” budget, which does nothing but guts our schools and state services.

Please contact your legislator before tomorrow and ask her/him to vote no.  Thankfully, the California Federation of Teachers has a link that will allow you to send the message to your legislators.

The new budget doesn’t appropriately fund critical state services and doesn’t fix the long-term structural problems in the state government.  In fact, it digs a deeper hole for the future.

Any discussion of the $7.5 billion we could gain each year if we change Prop. 13?  No.  Any discussion of oil severance taxes?  No.  But the oil companies do get to drill off shore. Any deal on the two-thirds requirements for the budget and new-taxes? No.  Vehicle License Fee?  You guessed it… no discussion. Where’s the compromise in this compromise?

The irony is that the republicans might torpedo the deal because it cuts too much… from prisons!


Steve Miller, a high school science teacher in Oakland for 25 years and long-time building rep. for OEA, highlighted the corporate tax breaks written into the budget deal:

“So what was accomplished? If you are a corporation, you are rubbing your hands with glee.

“1) Secret negotiations in February now permit these special breaks: Corporations can choose to be taxed on ANY ONE of these categories: property, sales or payroll. Not all three – they get to pick one. Remember Prop 13 has left corporate property valued at close to the 1978 level.

“Then corporations that have maxed out their tax credits can share them with a family of corporations. This means you set up a phony corporation to fail and give them some of your tax credits, so you can get some more. Lastly, corporations can claim tax refunds early on taxes they have already paid.

“The banner headlines are not going to present these little details, but you can read them in the Oakland Tribune, July 11, 2009.

“2)  Negotiations last Fall put in place a series of upfront and backdoor loans to corporations in exchange for some early revenue.

“A)  The first gimmick suspends corporate ability to carry forward net operating losses to offset future profits for two years. Sounds good, doesn’t it? What a deal this was! Corporations could take today’s losses and use them to reduce future expected profits. Good that it was eliminated.

“Except now corporations can carry back losses against past profits and claim tax refunds from prior years. According to Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee (Oakland Tribune, October 6, 2008), this deal will produce about a billion dollars a year during the suspension, but means the state will be paying back a half a billion a year forever – “another extremely high=interest loan from business to the state”.

“B)  Gimmick #2 allows a second corporate tax break: Businesses received in the past certain income tax credits to encourage certain kinds of investment. These will be suspended for a couple of years, producing about $600 million a year in revenue for the state. Then It allows corporations to transfer those unused tax credits to affiliated companies in the future. This will produce revenue losses in the future that will be many times the mere 3%+ of the budget deficit this fixes.

“State Treasurer, Bill Lockyear, had this to say about that, “This giveaway makes the budget a massive corporate boondoggle that does nothing to fix our structural debt, and, in fact, will make it substantially worse.”

“Schemes like these mean that corporations will pay less and less. It is already pretty bad. In 2001, profitable corporations, over half the state’s profitable corporations paid only the $800 fee to register their corporations’ existence in the state. Those were the good old days!

“California already subsidizes corporations in a wide variety of ways. There is no budget crisis at all even if these giveaways were simply cut in the same proportion with social services. Once again, the budget does not impose a severance tax on extracting petroleum (though it does open the door to the highly unpopular off-shore drilling near Vandenberg Air Force base near Santa Barbara). The state’s water is provided to agribusiness at something like 1/400 the cost that consumers pay. Insurance companies that control the state’s health care pay zero income tax. The state’s constantly growing system of jails subsidizes all sorts of business, while giving the state the highest rate of incarceration in the world.”

So, once again, we have to watch as local school boards are forced to shred our schools, knowing that county governments, senior care and health care services are getting cut even more dramatically. 

In addition to all the corporate give-aways, we also know that there is money out there...  ACLU's current research has shown that there's $12 billion savings available from over-incarceration, $7.5 Billion available each year if we fix the Prop. 13 corporate loophole, potential income from oil severance, vehicle license fee, and billions of other potential revenue if corporations are simply asked to pay a fair share.

I'm caught up with the realization that, again, CTA barely put up a fuss.  And, the democrats were partners in the deal.  How do we get our Union to fight back?  How do we get our "progressive" state legislators to act on behalf of the majority of people in the state?


Friday, July 17, 2009

CTA: Turn up the LOCAL Heat on the State Budget

It’s been great to see CTA stepping into the fight on California’s budget.  With 9,000 teachers marching to the Governor’s office in San Diego, or joining our sister Unions in the series of rallies on Wednesday at the Governor’s five regional offices, there is finally something to cheer about.  CTA’s website is also becoming a little more user-friendly for writing a letter to the governor and state legislators about the state budget.

Of course, news from Sacramento is still deeply disturbing.  If the only question is whether or not to suspend Prop. 98, we’re still going to lose.  Status quo keeps us behind.  For the future of California schools, we have to lend our voices to efforts to close the Prop. 13 loophole, end the two-thirds budget approval mandates, and build a progressive tax system.  Ultimately, we won’t win the state budget fight unless we bring it home into our local communities.  Legislators need to feel the heat from the people who will work to re-elect or un-elect them.  

This is the time of year when our local CTA activists are planning their Union activities.  We all know the strategies that work when we fight our districts for our contracts.  We use these strategies because they work, so we should use the same strategies for fighting our legislators that we use when we’re fighting for fair contracts.  Here are a few grassroots strategies that CTA locals can use to have an impact in the budget fight:

1. Letter writing/ Phone campaigns (Very Easy): Use leadership meetings and site meetings to write letters to legislative leaders and local media.  Start with a sample letter and addresses.  Then encourage each of your leaders to repeat that activity at their school sites.

2. Picket/protest/lobbying meeting at your legislators’ offices (A little more planning): Host a picket/protest at your legislator’s home office.  Democratic legislators should be encouraged to harden their stance on the need for more revenue.  GOP legislators should be cajoled into giving up their “no-new-taxes” pledge.  Invite the local newspaper, radio station, TV station or blogger.

3. “State Budget Crisis” forum (More planning… but really effective): Invite teachers, parents, media, community leaders and legislative staff.  Find a few teachers for the “panel” to talk about how budget cuts have already hurt “our” school and “our” community.  Make the case that more budget cuts will hurt more.  End the meeting by recruiting audience members to get involved with ongoing campaigns coordinated by CTA, the California Labor Federation, Close the Prop. 13 Loophole, and your local Union efforts.

4. House Parties:  Find members to invite neighborhood folks into their homes.  Share local stories about how the cuts have hurt our students so far.  Show CTA commercials and UTLA radio spots.  Raise money that can be used to air these ads in cities with targeted legislators.

Ultimately, the fight has to be fought at home.  The only way that legislators will move is when they feel the heat from their local community members.  But our locally fought efforts will be more productive if they are coordinated by a strong state organization. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Governor is still in character!

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that Governor Schwarzenegger believed the people were standing behind him while he worked to destroy California; and he would continue to dismantle schools and social programs.  It looks as though his days as a steroid-popper have created some deeply delusional side effects.

The Governor claims now that “fixing” California is why he was elected.  He conveniently forgets that most of California’s debt comes from his revoking of the vehicle license fee, the debt from his bond measures, and California’s ever-increasing prison costs due to mandatory sentencing.  He’s also forgotten that the only real reason that he was elected is because he is a rich movie star.  We didn’t know that “Terminator” would be more than science fiction. 

Unfortunately, the Governor has stayed in character far too long.   He can’t discern fact from fiction.  The November elections saw gains for democrats in both houses of the state legislature.  Sixty percent of the legislative districts in California voted against Republicans because the “let’s burn down the state so our rich friends don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes” message wasn’t working for them.

And he’s listening to the wrong people.  The anti-taxers always complain that the tax rates are too high, but they fail to mention that the loopholes for California’s biggest corporations are even bigger.  More than 40 California corporations with income of more than a billion dollars pay less than $1,000 in taxes each year.  That’s less than you and I pay.

His aides talk about “the nuclear option” of suspending Proposition 98’s minimum guarantee of subsistence education.  Those 9,000 teachers who showed up at the Governor’s San Diego office last week weren’t there to express their support.  CTA’s raucus action in defense of Prop. 98 voiced the outrage felt by millions of Californians who are at risk of losing schools, community centers, libraries, senior care and community health centers.

The real legal roadblocks to a functional state government are Prop. 13 and the two-thirds budget approval mandates etched into the state’s constitution. The majority of Californians don’t want to see their communities dismantled.  Can we please, for once, try to fix the real problem. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Take Action Now: Close the Proposition 13 Loophole!

Finally.  Someone is taking on Proposition 13.  Led by San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting, a new organization called “Close the Loophole” packed the house with more than 100 activists for its first organizing meeting in San Francisco last night.

The Close the Loophole campaign seeks to change Prop. 13 so that corporate land owners are forced to pay their fair share in taxes for the first time in 31 years.  The idea is to split the property tax roll so that grandma next door isn’t taxed out of her house.  But land owned by old monster corporations who never sell and never die will be reassessed so that they are forced to pay taxes at a level which is fair in 2009 dollars. 

It has almost become monotonous to talk about the impact of California’s budget crisis, but the devastation of our social programs has already begun.  The Split Roll change would raise at least an additional $7.5 Billion every year for California public services, which is a step in the right direction.

Many important Unions were there, including CNA, AFSCME and SEIU.  There were also a lot of community organizations.  And while there were a number of teachers in the crowd, California Teachers Association was notably missing. 

While teachers and students across the state are sweating out yet another devastating budget, CTA is still waiting to jump into the fight.  The good news is that there are a lot of allies who recognize the need to change California’s unfair tax policies, and they’re already doing the groundwork.  All CTA and its local leaders have to do is get on board.

Like all historic movements, it looks like this one has to start at the grass roots.  So, local Union activists, go to, and sign up.  Get the word out to the members in your local.  Facebookers can get recruit their friends by becoming a fan at  Then, encourage your CTA staffers, board members and state council representatives to take up this fight on a statewide level!

Many of you remember how powerful CTA was when working with the Alliance for a Better California to stop the Governor’s attacks on public services.  If so, you can imagine the incredible impact that we could have with a coordinated statewide effort to plug our members into this campaign.  It’s the right fight, and with 27,000 RIFs looming, it’s time to jump in.  

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dear Progressive California Legislator

California desperately needs a few courageous progressive legislators to take the “no more cuts” pledge.  If the Republicans can hold the whole state hostage and threaten to scrap our social fabric with their “no new taxes” pledge, then it’s time for a few equally stubborn progressives to refuse to play their game.

The last budget compromise was a disaster.  The cuts were devastating, and the proposed solutions were so deeply laced with poison pills (like the spending cap) that they didn’t have a chance.  Without a fair tax policy, one that features progressive taxes and cancels the loopholes that allow corporations to be virtually untaxed, the only California dream will be a recurring and deepening nightmare.

So, dear legislator, please…  take the “No More Cuts” pledge.  What have you got to lose, anyway?  When you ran for office, you promised your constituents that you would protect their well-being.  You talked about education, health care and the environment. You talked about building bridges between our diverse communities.  If you support the budget that’s being promoted by Democratic Leadership, all of those things will be torn apart.   

That’s not why you ran for office.  It’s not why we voted for you, and it’s not the legacy you want to leave when you’ve been termed out.  So, dig your heels in and stand up for California.  Your constituents (neighborhood folks, teachers, nurses, bus drivers, parents and their children) are paying attention.  Don’t agree to any budget that doesn’t significantly raise revenue.  Or at the very least, don’t agree to any compromise which doesn’t alter California’s undemocratic two-thirds mandates or the inequities of Proposition 13.

The money is there, even though the media, the Governor, the Republicans and the compromisers want you to believe that it’s not. California AFSCME found creative ways to raise $44 billion in more revenue.  Sure it won’t be easy to get it.  Yes, you need to somehow come up with two-thirds of the votes to pass a budget.  But THEY also need two-thirds of the vote to pass an almost-all-cuts package.  Without your vote and the votes of like-minded colleagues, it will be equally difficult to pass a cuts-only package.  That’s right, the rest of your legislative colleagues have to listen to YOU.  So hold out for a real solution.  And be loud about it.

I know what’s on the line.  The government will likely go through a partial shutdown when things don’t get neatly resolved by the end of June.  It can honestly be said that lives are on the line.  As a teacher, I know my paycheck is on the line.  And, you might lose a few legislative perks when the party leadership is trying to sell out the state on another doomed compromise package.

But if the leadership doesn’t come to grip with the need for more revenue, fairly extracted from the Californians who can afford it the most, then what are you, dear progressive legislator, in store for?  More years with more cuts.  California losing its once proud public education system.  Walls, both real and metaphorical, separating rich from poor.  More kids without the skills to join the workforce or pursue college dreams.  More people dying because health care services were cut.  A very ungreen environment.  Every year, again and again.  Until some group of progressive legislators finally stands up and says, “NO MORE CUTS!”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fight the Big Fight, CTA

You and I pay our taxes dutifully whether we have a good year or bad year, but California corporations only pay meaningful taxes (more than the minimal franchise tax) if they show a profit. And it only takes a few accounting tricks to erase a profit. Angry? Me, too. Now, let’s organize.

With estimates of this year’s budget deficit soaring to $24 Billion, state legislators are already shredding every bit of human decency and good government that is left in the state budget. California needs a fair tax policy and a new budget process. CTA is the organization that must lead the fight.

We can almost repeat like a mantra the things that are wrong with California’s political process: two-thirds budget requirement --  two-thirds local property tax approval requirement, Prop. 13, and no taxes on internet sales --  all wound up in an impossible constitution. The truth is that CTA can’t defend public education unless we fight for fair taxes and a fair budget process in California.

Of course, the anti-tax crowd is big and powerful. Beyond the Republicans in the legislature and the Howard Jarvis people who brought us Prop. 13, California corporations have been benefiting from our broken budget process and maligned tax policies for years, and won’t give up their legalized thievery willingly.  San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting wrote that the property tax contributions from corporations have declined steadily and dramatically since Prop. 13 was passed.   Meanwhile, the California Budget Project shows that both corporate income tax collections and the state sales tax collections have been steadily declining.

CTA might be the only statewide organization that has a strong enough core of local activists and staff in every community to take on these anti-taxers. With the strength of this grassroots base added to its powerful media and lobbying machine, CTA can move a political agenda like no other organization in the State -- if the fight strikes a chord with members.

The good news is that we have the moral high ground here. How can a state with so much accumulated wealth fail to provide quality education, health care, housing and transportation to all of its people? But we have to act fast to solidify our base of supportive legislators, then go on the attack and expose every indecent loophole and dysfunctional mandate in California’s budget process. One thing that is clear, there are a lot of outraged CTA members who are willing to fight this fight in their local communities. That is the most important asset we have.

Our state does not have to be broken. The fundamental fight on California’s tax policy is more important to teachers in California than any policy-wonk assessment-and-curriculum discussions being heard by any legislative committee.

For the sake or our schools, as well as our transportation systems, hospitals, senior care networks and the well being of our environment, the people of California need CTA to lead a fair tax and good government fight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Open Letter to the San Leandro School Board

Don't be THAT School Board

As you may know, the San Leandro Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources are maneuvering to reduce the traditional staff calendar by one day.  The impact of such an action would effectively lower teachers' pay by more than one-half percent, finally making San Leandro teachers the LOWEST PAID IN ALAMEDA COUNTY.

They pulled the old "bait and switch" on the SLTA's bargaining team, coming to a deal with us at the table; then pulling the deal out from under our noses.  The Assistant Superintendent explained that you, the Board, had instructed him to pull the 186-day calendar, and negotiate a calendar that had one less staff development day.  When we asked him about the Board's decision, he admitted that you, the Board, had actually not taken such an action.  These tactics are arbitrary and capricious.  The administration is trying to shove a pay cut right down the throats of teachers.

No other neighboring school districts have enforced a furlough day for teachers.  And with School Services telling districts to restore services, they're not likely to.  The Assistant Superintendent has already told us at the table that he expects to withdraw most, if not all of the R.I.F. letters.  In addition, there is enough money coming in to restore cuts to the counseling programs and restore Class Size Reduction to 20-1 in K-3.  With the $1.6 million that the Superintendent found, the $2.25 million available in Tier 3 sweeps, and the $800,000 coming in from the federal bailout package that can be used to protect programs and jobs, you will still have a budgeting cushion in this difficult year.

Ultimately, however, the Administration cannot take this action without your approval as a Board.  Do you really want to be the board that cuts staff development and knocks  San Leandro teacher salaries to the lowest in Alameda County?

As the Board, the decision is yours.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Prop. 1A -- Frog Soup, Anyone?

You know the story of the frog who is thrown into a pot of water.  If the water is too hot at the beginning, the frog jumps right out.  But if the water is comfortable enough at the beginning, but then the temperature is slowly increased, the frog will stay in the water until it is boiled alive.  That's exactly what Californians will be doing if we vote for Proposition 1A -- slowly, but permanently destroying public education and public services in California.

Proposition 1A, and all of the little attachments, is bad for our schools and bad for the people of California.  Whatever short-term benefit we get from the state's budget-rescue package pales in comparison to the long-term disasters that await education and other important programs which are supported by the state.

I'm having a hard time getting the "spending cap" to make sense in my mind when I also realize that there's no "human-dignity floor," or a level of human-needs services that we also agree never to go below.  We've already cut many of our state programs so severely that the next step is to eliminate many vital programs altogether.  The state budget is already rigged so that it's impossible to get new revenues and new programs in place, so every cut is permanent.

The other dynamic is that the fastest growing part of the budget is prison funding, carrying with it a host of mandated funding increases.  With mandatory sentencing laws and 3-strikes laws on the books, along with federal court mandates to dramatically improve its abysmal prison health care program, the prison-funding part of the budget can only increase.  Which means that with a spending cap, the rest of the budget can only go down.

And, we're locking in the spending cap at a shockingly inadequate funding level.  Our schools are already the most poorly funded schools in the country.  Sure, the temporary pay-off in Prop. 1B will keep us at 48th or 49th out of 50 states for a few years, but that's as good as it will ever get!   Mental health programs have already been decimated, and Prop 1E will take more.  Prop. 1D is going to tap into children's services.  We're robbing our own kids, and this is the best we can do?

I'm also deeply dismayed that my own union, CTA, is endorsing this package.  Remember the good ole' days when CTA used to fight against Schwarzenegger's hare-brained ideas.  Thankfully, the California Federation of Teachers is opposing Prop. 1A, and so is the California Nurses Association, SEIU and an expanding group of other wiser labor unions.  

California needs a better deal.  Let's scrap California's budget process altogether, with its un-democratic two-thirds majority requirement for new funding, get rid of Prop. 13, and  write a new state constitution.

Please vote no on 1A.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Racial Impact of RIFs

Lost in the outcries over the state budget and the painful cuts to our schools is the racial impact of those cuts.  If the youngest teachers in California are given pink slips, who will the students see in their classrooms?


Teachers of color are more likely to lose their jobs than white teachers.  San Leandro is not unlike most districts in California. More than 70 percent of the students are people of color, but more than two-thirds of the teachers are white.  Yet, at a CTA-hosted meeting of San Leandro teachers receiving RIF (reduction in force) notices, 23 teachers showed up, more than half (12) were people of color and 21 were women.


Of course, the RIF lists are determined by a combination of factors, especially seniority and appropriate credentials for the teaching assignment.  But older teachers are more likely to be white, and teachers of color tend to be younger, with less tenure.  So after the cuts are finalized, our kids of color (the majority throughout California) are more likely to see teachers in the classroom who don’t look like them.


The bad news is magnified when you consider that the schools likely to see the greatest turnover are the schools with the least-tenured teachers.  Those schools tend to be more urban, more diverse, and more impoverished. The bigger the district, the bigger the impact. 


So in schools where talented young teachers of color have stepped into leadership roles, many of those students will now see older, whiter teachers fill those classrooms, teachers who haven’t established relationships with the students or their parents.


The truth is that students will be seeing less of whichever teacher they have, with the dramatic increases in class size that are coming from the budget cuts.  No surprise, that impact will also be greater in schools with more kids of color.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The New Debate on Merit Pay

It seems like everybody is crying out for this teacher merit-pay idea, if only it weren't for the big, bad teacher Unions who are in the way.  Apparently, the Unions' only real interest is in protecting a bunch of miserable older teachers who can't teach, and only show up because they're after the free money.

Well, I'm not buying it, mostly because I don't know any teachers who are like that.  The truth is that most miserable teachers who hate kids and hate teaching get out of the profession.  It's not exactly a low-stress job.  I think the life span on a bad teacher tops out at about one year.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Too Little, Too Late?

CTA President David Sanchez called me last night.  He wanted to make sure I got his invitation to one of the "Pink Friday" events being coordinated throughout California, a series of vigils to mourn the loss of public education in the Golden State.

I didn't get to speak with him because I hadn't arrived home yet, so he just left a message on the answering machine.  All right, I know it wasn't actually the real David Sanchez, but I appreciated the robo-call reminder.  It was the second big reminder.  CTA had sent me a pretty pink sticker advertising the event a few days earlier.  They must have spent a lot of time and money putting this series of events together.

I guess CTA has the money to spend now because they saved up so much during the actual budget fight, when the Union basically didn't show up while legislators were taking the wrecking ball to our schools.  Okay, I'm being a little harsh and bitter.  There were those nice holiday cards I dutifully sent off to assembly people and senators when our CTA staffer came to one of our local meetings.  CTA paid for the cards and the postage.  Then there were those radio ads.  And I noticed the TWO pages of the "California Educator" magazine dedicated to saving Prop. 98.  That must have taken hours for a CTA organizer to write and edit.

But the truth is that I heard more about the fight to save our schools from the school administrators association.  They at least coordinated a series of legislator visits during the last months of the budget fight.  I mean, where were the teachers?  Where was the largest, strongest political organization in California when the impact on its own members would be so devastating?

CTA should have been targeting the districts of those Republican assholes who were leading the "no-new-taxes" fight.  They should have been running ads in all the local newspapers about what the cuts would mean to public education -- with the intent being that we would never let the cuts happen.  They could have created an ad campaign so that voters in every Republican's Senatorial district would see what 50 kids in a classroom might look like with no books and supplies.  They could have led a series of "work-to-rule" days throughout the state to demonstrate what it looks like when our schools lose all that funding.

I guess CTA was too busy to do all of that because they were planning the "Pink Friday" vigil.  I love a good funeral.

My only hope is that it's not too late to get started on our fight to ward off the next round of budget cuts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Deep-Fried Schools

Last night, the good people at the  San Leandro school board meeting pledged allegiance to fried chicken strips.  Most of us didn't even notice.  It was the most rational thing that happened.

Mike Katz, the school board president, called the meeting to order and people stood for the pledge.  Only, the meeting place had changed at the last moment.  The location ended up being the high school cafeteria.  So we dutifully rose for the pledge, turned to face the spot where everyone assumed a flag would be if there were a flag, and said the pledge of allegiance.  To a cafeteria advertisement for "Sunset Strips."  From the picture, they were delicious, crispy, golden brown, deep-fried chicken strips.

Deep-Fried, like the future of California.  I guess when music programs, physical education, librarians, counselors, days of school, and even lawyers and consultants (the most important people in the school community) are on the list, no absurdity seems all that unusual.

These meetings have taken place all over California.  In many places, the potential cuts will be far deeper.  Even the schools in the wealthier communities will have to dig into their reserves.  The Senate Republicans have just fired their leader, Dave Cogdill, because he is seen as most likely to "give in" on a tax increase.  That's right, they want deeper cuts.  This budget won't smash enough dreams and kill enough people for them yet.

They must have pledged allegiance to deep-fried chicken strips a long time ago.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The 8th Amendment doesn't cover this!

Let me see if I have this straight.  $8.5 trillion dollars.  How can they possibly dream up that much money?  That's 16 Iraqi Wars.  That will double the national debt.  That's $28,333 per American, or $113,000 for a family of four.  I had to do the math by hand because my on-screen calculator won't let me have enough zeroes. 


All of the bailout packages, loan guarantees and stimulus packages are adding up to $8.5 Trillion so far. And the worst part -- where's it going?  The banks happily took their first $300 billion, and didn't do anything with it.  It was supposed to get passed into the economy to ease everybody's way as a solution to the credit crunch.  But our modern day robber-barons, the same banking executives that drew up all of those junk loans, took the money and gave bonuses to their executives.


And so much for the auto bailout helping workers.  Even though the auto kings got some of their cash, they’re still laying off workers and closing dealerships.  How exactly does that help working people?


Let’s send the bankers, the insurance executives, the auto czars and our Congresspeople to greed-aholics anonymous.  Step one, admit you have a problem.  Our economy doesn't work. Our economy has become history’s greatest ponzi scheme.  Bigger than Madoff, bigger than AMWAY.   It starts with bad debt, and adds on more debt.  And the victim of a ponzi scheme is always the person who buys in last.  That’s where those junk loans came in.  You could almost hear the echoes of the bankers from not-too-distant radio ads, “oh, please, buy in!  Keep it all afloat!  5-year APR at 1.5%, and we’ll schedule your foreclosure for 2008.”


It hasn't been working for years.  The people who’ve been making the billions don’t actually produce anything.  They’ve been presenting pictures of the good life with smoke and mirrors while we’ve been sending manufacturing jobs out of the country.  We’ve been using the federal credit card to finance the whole scheme, and asking the military to kick in and keep global markets open for exploitation.  Two-thirds of American corporations don't pay taxes.  We’re going to bail them out?


I don't mind the idea of taking action to "fix" the economy, and I imagine that it would have to be substantial.  But they're bailing out the wrong half of the economy.  I pretty much don't give a rat's ass about the bankers or the auto executives.  But I do care that people are losing their homes, that schools are eliminating services to kids, and that people can't afford to see a doctor when they're sick.  What if we had a plan that started with the concept of protecting peoples’ needs.  No matter what, let’s make a commitment to securing housing, health care, schooling and food for everyone.  How much would that cost?  It won’t take $8.5 Trillion, that’s for sure.


And then, any part of our economy that’s not working might just wither away (isn’t that what Marx said?).  If it was never working in the first place, why waste money trying to fix it?  When the next business collapses, sure there will be an impact, but if we focus on the needs of the people who are affected, housing, food, health care and education, then at least those people will have the ability to get through it. 


The parts of the economy that are solid get the boost of not having to carry the dead weight around, and new economies can develop which are based on the fact that we are emphasizing peoples’ needs.