From the Vault: July 17, 2000

California: The Last Banana Republic. California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson is understandably proud of the union’s role in extracting an additional $1.8 billion this year for teacher salaries. EIA provides Johnson’s blow-by-blow description of the events leading up to the May 8 rally at the Capitol and the subsequent budget deal (published in the latest California Educator):

“While you were on your way to Sacramento, I was driving there the evening of May 7, and the governor and I talked three times on my cell phone. The first call was just general conversation. The second call, he had an offer of $1.2 billion above the Prop. 98 limit, but we would have to rethink our initiative and call off the rally. I told him we could not do that. On the third call, he upped the ante to $1.5 billion if we would again rethink our initiative and convert the rally into an anti-voucher event. Again I told him we couldn’t do that.”

Johnson went on to describe the rally events, then continued: “At the rally, Speaker Hertzberg asked if I would meet with him and the governor afterward. At 7 that evening, CTA Associate Executive Director for Governmental Relations John Hein and I joined Governor Davis, Sue Burr (education advisor), Speaker Hertzberg, Lynn Schenk (the governor’s chief of staff), Rick Simpson (Hertzberg’s policy director), and Tim Gage from the Department of Finance in the governor’s office. The governor offered $1.7 billion and again asked that we review our initiative proposal. We asked what guarantees we would get on this proposal; they gave us their word.

“The Board of Directors met that night, with only one day before the deadline to submit the initiative signatures. The officers and board members agreed we had to have a stronger guarantee; we were going to submit the signatures. Lynn Schenk called that evening and asked us to delay submission for 24 hours, and then she asked us: What did we want?

“We told her we would hold the signatures, but what we wanted was a written guarantee, not just a verbal promise. Later that evening, President Pro Tem of the Senate John Burton called and asked for a meeting with Speaker Hertzberg, John Hein and me in the morning.

“At that meeting, Hertzberg and Burton offered $1.84 billion above the Prop. 98 limit, along with a letter from the Department of Finance guaranteeing it would be added to the budget. Lynn Schenk came to the meeting to tell us that Governor Davis approved. He, Senator Burton and Speaker Hertzberg would hold a press conference that afternoon and announce the settlement.

“And that’s how we got that $1.84 billion…”

California School District Funnies. Unions shouldn’t take all the blame for the ongoing hilarity in the public schools. Here in California, some school district officials seem intent upon making themselves walking advertisements for vouchers. Cases in point:

* The Los Angeles Times notes today that in the last three years the state legislature has doubled annual spending on textbooks and library books. But in Los Angeles there are still thousands of students without textbooks. The Times investigation blames “poor management” and, believe it or not, “teachers’ preferences.” According to one principal interviewed by the Times, some teachers don’t like using books. I once tried to teach reading with a socket wrench and believe me, books are the right tool for the job.

* The San Francisco Examiner discovered that the San Francisco Unified School District spent $500,000 over the past 10 years for the services of Mary Kay Baldwin, a full-time sewing machine repair person, even though only three of the district’s 162 schools have sewing classes. Every month the district reimbursed Ms. Baldwin’s expenses for travel to schools that had no sewing machines to repair. “It certainly doesn’t look good,” said school board member Eddie Chin in a classic understatement.

* The Los Angeles Unified School District is in a crisis. Studies of its operations describe it as “dysfunctional.” A district break-up movement is in full swing. The new superintendent is the former governor of Colorado, with no roots in the area and no experience running a school district. A $200 million high school sits on a toxic waste site. The outgoing superintendent instituted a plan to reorganize LAUSD into 11 mini-districts, with the intent of reducing central office staff and cutting out bureaucratic red tape. So what’s LAUSD up to today to stop the bleeding? They want to hire — at a salary of between $77,200 and $95,600 annually — an ethics officer, along with a staff of five to support him. Why stop there? Why not hire a productivity officer with a salary of $1 million and a staff of 500?

+  Quote of the Week. “The strength of the NEA lies in its ability to identify enough issues that have common meaning to its members to activate them politically, which gives the NEA tremendous influence politically, ostensibly for the benefit of its members…. The NEA has evolved a very broad action agenda over the years, much of which can only loosely be rationalized as relating directly to core member concerns. To maintain or increase its political clout, the NEA will likely need to refocus on core concerns and carefully evaluate its tangential political positions.” — Anthony M. Townsend, writing in the July 2000 issue of the Journal of Labor Research.