Archive for the ‘California Teachers Association’ Category

CTA Up Against Another Suit 

Sunday, March 6th, 2016
teachers in low-income public school

teachers in low-income public school

The California Teachers Association (CTA) and every other public employee union in the U.S. is waiting for the decision before the Supreme Court on the case over agency fees (see January 2016 post). Now that Antonin Scalia is no longer with us, and since Congress is unlikely to give in to pressure to approve a justice in an election year, a decision is more likely to go in favor of the unions.

Now CTA faces another suit. On Thursday, February 25, 2016, three judges from the California Appeals Court heard a suit brought by student plaintiffs. Their lawyers state that tenure laws give ironclad job protection, making it difficult to dismiss teachers deemed unqualified. The suit claims that these rules deprive students of good teachers and quality education. The union feels that such regulations help recruit and retain teachers.

The issue of tenure has been debated for years and in California a 2014 landmark decision Vergara v. California struck down five state statutes dealing with tenure awards and rules governing teacher dismissal. In the Superior Court of Los Angeles, judges agreed that the statutes violated student rights to equal education, allowing poor-performing teachers to remain in classrooms indefinitely. Poor and minority students are most affected because openings are found more often in low-income neighborhoods and school administrators are obligated to fill those jobs with whomever applies.

On the one hand, teacher unions put the blame for poorly qualified teachers remaining in the classroom on school district administrators. Many give tenure too easily. They do not follow up relentlessly on the procedures to dismiss poorly-performing teachers which administrators claim can be expensive and time-consuming. Nevertheless, in Long Beach the system does work with dismissal handled efficiently. In San Jose tenure and dismissal negotiated changes are on hold awaiting the appeals decision.

On the other hand, the group Students Matter from which the nine plaintiffs were chosen to bring the suit is financed by conservative business giant, David Welch, a long-time supporter of suits against unions. In addition, Partnership for Education Justice, started in New York to bring similar cases, supporting suits against tenure rules, is funded by conservatives Eli Broad and the Walton family. Their interest is long-standing to change public schools.

It’s true that a USC/Los Angeles Times poll establishes that a majority of California voters want change in tenure and dismissal regulations. Any teacher who has worked in a low-performing public school understands the desire to change tenure and dismissal regulations. They all wish to make more expedient decisions on the dismissal of well-documented cases of poor classroom performance and unwillingness to improve, even after assistance to the teacher from unions and other teachers in the school.

Especially, teachers in low-income schools want to make the system of hiring teachers for open positions stronger. Seniority, however, plays a role in the revolving door at these schools. Low-performing schools have more openings at the start of each year. New teachers leave for family reasons or because they are forced out by ‘last in – first fired’ (LIFO) to make room for longer-employed teachers (not necessarily well-qualified) when another school loses students.

A plan for filling those classes with experienced, well-qualified teachers must be found; seniority because of LIFO must change. “The case has already served the function of drawing increased attention to the tenure system we have,” says Stephen D. Sugarman, UC Berkeley School of Law. It’s not clear that the courts will uphold Vergara, he says, but it could trigger legislative responses.

A school of both new and experienced makes a good teaching community. A decision for the unions or the students, either way, means do something to stop this stress on equal education.

 

 

SCOTUS to Take a Stab at Unions

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

In late December 2015 Congress did a good thing. Legislation expanded and made permanent tax deductions for eligible unreimbursed classroom spending up to $250, including professional development courses. Bipartisan work made it happen!

 

But, teachers, smile not! and watch out! The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on January 11, 2016, took on the complaint by 10 California teachers (5 male, 5 female) to get relief from agency fees (also called ‘fair share’) deducted from paychecks by the California Teachers Association (CTA), known as Friedrichs vs. CTA.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal reported on last night’s PBS NewsHour that there was “a clear ideological divide” among the justices over whether such fee rules violate the First Amendment.  It will affect public sector unions all over the country: teachers, hospitals, fire departments, police, county and state employees to name the most obvious.

What are agency/fair share fees? Required by twenty-three states, they are the monies deducted from the paycheck that support union costs for all collective bargaining, benefits, grievances, disciplinary actions, disputes with the administration and lobbying, but don’t support candidates or other “ideological activities” which are considered to violate the First Amendment.

Unions spend about 70% on collective bargaining and 30% on political actions. Additional money for political actions may be given to union PACs, but employees must opt-in for deduction of those funds from a paycheck. Employees who don’t want to support any kind of political action may ask for refund of the money dedicated to such actions and only pay toward collective bargaining. However, if the person wishes to withdraw from the union, but still work in the school district, he/she must still pay the agency fee, minus, if requested, the political action sum.

In the case of Friedrichs vs. CTA, the SCOTUS decision will void a precedent, the Abood vs. Detroit (1977) decision, which upheld “fair share” fees to support collective bargaining. Twenty-four amici briefs have been delivered to oppose the complaint, one of which is a brief from 70 Republican state senators and assembly members. Twenty amici briefs have been delivered to support the claimants.

As Lily Garcia, president of the National Educators Association states, a bad decision “harms not just public workers but also the communities who depend on the services they provide.”

 

Teachers all know the limits on private life and service in a school before unions and collective bargaining existed. Nevertheless, members can name problems in every union over “last hired, first fired”, seniority, length of probationary status, work hours, and salaries – which negotiation must resolve.

However, the teachers who have agreed to be complainants in Friedrichs vs. CTA wish to quit paying fair share/agency fees, although they receive the benefits of collective bargaining in the California districts where they work. They say the fees support actions they don’t like, and payment of such fees violate their First Amendment freedoms.

In fact, the suit was cobbled together by The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) that feels “union stances in collective bargaining are bad for public school classroom teachers and bad for the children they teach.” (from CIR mission goal) CIR is funded by the Koch Brothers and other conservative groups. They have developed actions against Affirmative Action and a suit for the Boy Scouts against admission of LGBT members.

 

What may happen other than SCOTUS deciding for the complainants? That employees don’t have to be a union member and don’t have to pay the fees? Most employees would say it is unfair to be a free loader in any public sector employment.

One, SCOTUS could decide to change how fees are collected. Negotiated action by a union and the state or district could agree, for example, that the 30% not be deducted if the member opts out when first employed. They don’t have to reapply each year. Only under certain circumstances can the member later opt back in.

Two, CTA could negotiate with the state over “the duty for fair representation,” to give union members exclusive right to collective bargaining decisions. Non-union workers do not have any rights.

Three, SCOTUS could remand the case to the lower courts.

Finally, if a public sector employee doesn’t want to be in the union, it would be wiser to find a job in the non-union private sector. Or, if a worker says he/she can make good single-handedly in the middle class economy, go for it, and don’t expect a union member’s dues to give support when trouble appears.

 

 

 

 

School in 2013

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

We found out what it’s like to be on pins and needles in anticipation of the outcome of each adult’s personal assets. The 112th Congress finally forced itself to raise hands; so now we know who pays and how much.

Soon the country can anticipate the Battle of Spending Cuts. Most important to teachers, what about the United State government’s ability to fund programs for positive student achievement? Will all education funds be cut?

One can thank California voters for decisions in the last election to pass Proposition 30 by a good margin which means that the state will be able to balance its budget and fund public schools and other safety net issues. In addition, Proposition 32 was defeated by a large margin so it can be said that people in California don’t want outside Super PAC money to influence the state and, at the same time, squelching union contributions to support programs that are in its interests.

In spite of constant country-wide criticism from supposed experts who blame unions for all state problems, it can be said in California that there is still a place for group advocacy.

For teachers it’s surprising to find out that in 1865, fifteen years after California became a state and formed its legislature, John Swett, the first organizer of the California Educators Society (original name of California Teachers Association), asked for “fair share” taxation to support public schools. Later the association advocated for the first state-wide school tax. In 1866 legislation to establish free public schools became law. Class-size reduction was legislated in 1895.

Amazing! It’s almost 2013 and the same issues that promote student achievement come around again. While you teach, expect to think about and even volunteer for committees on the myriad issues involving teacher evaluation, quality of learning, and due process.

Teachers, no matter where you are, keep a smile on your face, but be determined in 2013 to remember the past and pursue the future success for all your students.

An addendum to the post on Guns in Schools: It has been noted in the media that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)  has long been without a director, only acting directors and deputies have been in charge of ATF policies. For a strong background check system, a director must be  confirmed by the Senate which has been dragging its feet on approval of all appointments needed by the current administration. Safety in schools depends on swift action.

Guns in Schools?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

After school children were gunned down in Connecticut last Friday, the American public may be finally toughening its perception of what it means to take care of schools.

Whether you watch TV, surf the internet blogs, tweet, peruse Facebook, or actually read the newspapers, every position has been displayed. And the notorious NRA leadership is mute, at least until this coming Friday. Who’d ever think that would happen?

A few voices are raised to say that all teachers and administrators should carry guns at school. For sure, pointing another pistol would definitely make a semiautomatic-equipped lunatic, determined on vengeance, put down his weapon. Or reduce unintended bodies spurting blood onto the school office floor. However, even the latest Michigan legislation to allow concealed weapons in schools, churches, and other public institutions, affirmed just before the mass killing in Connecticut, was vetoed by the current governor.

In case you can no longer bear to see those little six-year-old faces and read about sorrow in the media, here are three issues, often discussed, which address the safety of schools and the children and staff whose job is to teach reading, writing, math, history, science, and civilized behavior. Not to teach about “lock down,” the place to hide when a deranged maniac is loose in the school, nor the unique time that “silence is golden.”

Across the country, state and national legislators are putting forth measures to improve registration, especially background check procedures for those that want to purchase a gun. First of the most difficult and resisted federal legislation will be to close the private sale “loophole” through which many guns are purchased without a background check requirement. Even this retired teacher’s grandfather who had an antique gun collection would have been required to obtain a background check before selling off his guns. Registration had difficulty when Lyndon Baines Johnson introduced such legislation in 1968 after the five murders of famous people in that single decade. The loophole remains today.

Gun control laws for automatic weapons are in place in several states, including Connecticut where the murders took place, but only for culprits with an illegal semi-automatic. The obvious measure is to return the federal gun control law first introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, voted into law in 1993, but left to sunset in 2004, and never re-authorized. Fear of the NRA lobby is often mentioned as the glitch. The measure identifies the guns permitted in the United States and the guns not permitted to be manufactured, sold, transported, imported, or possessed. The current revision also specifies ammunition, kinds and amounts, permitted. Did you know that the pension fund group for the California Teachers Association (the largest teachers union in the country) has told Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, that it will no longer invest its $750 million in any company that does business with gun makers? And as of Tuesday when firearms companies went down, down, down on the market, Cerberus decided to sell off Freedom Group, the gun manufacturing holding company that has been part of Cerberus’ private equity company?

Last, legislators backing guns-for-everyone address the mental health issue of many attackers who use semi-automatics to do the job. As if addressing that problem alone will eliminate killing with guns. Even this retired teacher has given up taking guns away from hunters and gun range enthusiasts. In case the concern with mental health issues be forgot, treating people with mental problems costs money. This has been true since Ronald Reagan changed the laws for mental illness, leaving millions of people homeless once the facilities for mental health were closed. The reason was money. Such funds have been reduced for thirty years. Law makers heard mumbling about mental illness are the ones who voted against the Affordable Care Act, the legislation that supports mental health. Back and forth, the issue of who is ill and who isn’t is vast and complex. Such a cure for the gun problem doesn’t even come close to addressing the main issue of who is registered to have a gun.

From a retired teacher’s point of view, when universal registration and control of guns and ammunition is legislated, the other safety issues for schools can be addressed. Be prepared: it will take money. Stinginess won’t be satisfactory. Letting controversy die down won’t take away the sight of the next human bodies splayed on the school floor, blood dripping from gaping bullet holes.

Dilemmas for California Schools

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Recent media news shared states’ compromises on tenure and dismissal of “poor” teachers, certainly a concern for low-performing schools.

small island high school

small island high school

These issues were reported as part of the talks on teacher evaluation outcomes. This week California newspapers are taking sides on the legislature’s Assembly Bill 5. This bill finally revises the Stull bill, longtime and out-of-date legislation that designated procedures for California teacher evaluation.

Like most evaluation legislation, this bill has pro and con appeal and a compromise position has not appeared. The bill was designed to take advantage of the United States Department of Education’s application for a “waiver” to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates for 100% student grade level proficiency on state-designated exams in reading and math by 2014.

Long time complaints about the inability to reach the NCLB goals have come up against the need to improve teacher, administrator, and school evaluation, including tenure and dismissal for poor performance.  The use of yearly state exam data for evaluation fingers a sore point.

Aside from local teacher evaluation controversy, the current U.S. government administration constantly attacks the year-old Congressional resistance to passage of proposals for state aid to provide jobs for laid-off teachers (and police and fire fighters) in order to stay on track to improve student academic success.

In addition, tuition tax credits and continued financing of Pell grants for college students is in danger of spending cuts. Government aid for college completion to prepare graduates to enter the job market with fewer horrendous debt burdens should be valued as an economic boost. Nevertheless, spending cuts to education are possible in the new year depending on the November election results.

In November in California, Prop 30, the tax initiative to benefit school budgets, dominates the news. In the meantime, however, legislators, teachers’ unions, and the public must confront the AB 5 bill.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) supports the bill’s “meaningful feedback to teachers to help them improve their craft.” San Francisco Chronicle, “Open Forum On Teacher Evaluation” by Eric Heins, August 24, 2012. The article stresses the wording in the bill to provide collaborative reform from teachers, administrators, and community. The evaluation process spelled out in the bill clears up the uncertainty and inconsistency in the earlier legislation and requires evaluation more than once a year.

The bill’s critics (New Teacher Project, Center for Future of Teaching and Learning, EdSource among many) reject the bill because it removes the requirement to use state student assessments as one measure of teacher performance.

While the state education superintendent, Tom Torlakson, insists the bill will be a successful application for a waiver, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education disagrees.

Just as the Obama administration continues to justify job proposals to help schools in spite of obstruction, the California state legislature must find a compromise (as 38 states have done) between the powerful CTA and multiple dedicated education groups to establish a satisfactory teacher-administration evaluation process.