CA Teachers Union Did Oppo Research on Parents Who Wanted Schools to Reopen During COVID

‘To have the teachers’ union dedicate personnel to politically target moms and dads protecting their children is startling and disgusting’

Reopen California Schools just exposed via emails received through California Public Records Act requests that the California Teachers Association labor union conducted opposition research on parent groups pushing for school reopening during the government ordered COVID school shutdowns in California.

Opposition research (“oppo” research) is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent or other adversary that can be used to discredit or weaken them.

“Then after a principal was accidentally CC’d, the ‘damage control’ was asking him to illegally delete the email,” Reopen California Schools reported. “The email was initiated by CTA researcher Ann Swinburn, to an activist parent arm of the local union. In the email Ann says, she is ‘currently doing some research into the various ‘reopen’ groups around the state.’”

Reopen California Schools continues:

“In Dec 2020, the local SDUHSD union, with help from CTA, sued the district to stay closed. Parents then successfully sued to open schools in March 2021. The CTA researcher was wanting to dig up intel on the parents funding the reopen lawsuits. (Hint: It was just parents.)”

“Later in the email, one person accidentally cc’d the wrong Adam, who was a principal in the district. Knowing the information was not only embarrassing, but could be subject to a Public Records Request, they asked the principal to illegally delete the email (he didn’t).”

Reopen California reports that CTA activist Ann Swinburn then made her account private. “And now her account is deleted. Guess making it private wasn’t good enough. Truly was not expecting this (nor paid attention to her Twitter before), but now, I really want to know what were in some of those tweets.”

“The CTA researcher’s tweets are protected now, but older ones are available via an internet archive. Like these from Apr 1 & Oct 15 2021. She seems convinced it was right-wing dark money instead a parents just wanting their kids in school & w/ normalcy.”

he Globe spoke Wednesday with a parent group mom who has been active pressing for school re-openings and getting back to what used to be normal in schools. She said every school district “has a few loudmouth smart moms” who start shill group Facebook pages with innocuous sounding names like “Parents Supporting teachers,” and pump out teachers unions talking points. She said they are usually recruited by the teachers unions.

“Several archived tweets shared by Reopen California Schools, show that Swinburn appeared to be convinced that parent groups fighting to reopen schools were covertly being backed by big money interests,” Fox News reported.

“Lance Christensen, who is a candidate for California superintendent of public instruction, called the email revelations ‘startling and disgusting.’”

“Conducting opposition research is a common practice in political campaigns. But to have the teachers’ union dedicate personnel to politically target moms and dads protecting their own children and expressing their first amendment rights is both startling and disgusting,” Christensen said in a statement to Fox News.

He added: “Entrenched special interests have used their war chests over the last two and a half years to intimidate and threaten anyone who dares to challenge their ineffective reign over public education. This must end.”

These parents exemplify the desperation for normalcy:

“We just wanted schools open, now we just want our kids to be able to read and do math at grade level, and this is what CTA spends $$ on,” the mom says.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

UTLA Claims LAUSD Unfairly Added Four Teaching Days and Three Development Days to School Year

The teachers union has filed an unfair practice charge against the Los Angeles Unified School District, alleging its decision to add four instructional days and three professional development days to the 2022-23 school year, while optional for both students and teachers, should have been negotiated.

United Teachers Los Angeles wrote in its filing with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that because additional days affect educators’ work volume and schedules, LAUSD violated the Educational Employment Relations Act by unilaterally altering the school calendar.

The school board added the optional days to the 2022-23 school year in April to help students who are still catching up after the coronavirus pandemic. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the extra days would be optional this coming year, but he hoped to negotiate with employee groups to make the extra days part of the regular school calendar in the future.

The district said on Tuesday, Aug. 9, that it has met with the union and continues to do so. “UTLA has recently filed an Unfair Practice Charge regarding purely optional days which afford teachers the opportunity to work with small groups of students who may need additional instruction,” the district said in a statement.

“Additional pay will be offered to teachers choosing to participate,” it stated. “The District looks forward to further discussions with UTLA on this and other topics as we work together for the school communities we serve.”

The filing by UTLA claims that “while a school district may unilaterally adopt a tentative calendar if it has bargained in good faith over the calendar before and after unilaterally adopting it and shows a willingness to agree to alterations in the tentative calendar after adopting it, LAUSD has not exhibited good faith at any stage of the process.”

UTLA questioned whether the “accelerated” instructional days – scheduled for four Wednesdays throughout the school year – is the most effective way to address pandemic recovery. Families who don’t want their children to attend optional instructional days can drop them off at day care that the district will provide during regular school hours.

LAUSD plans to use $122 million in COVID-19 governmental relief aidfor the extra instructional and professional development days. But the union argues that money could be better spent to reduce class sizes, hire additional counselors, psychiatric social workers and school psychologists, and invest in teacher development.

“Educators are the ones in the classroom day to day, not Superintendent Carvalho, yet they are being left out of conversations on how to most effectively invest in student learning,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement. “Instead, the district has chosen to make hasty decisions that will have more negative consequences for both educators and students.”

UTLA says it asked for information about the changes to the calendar and requested that the district bargain with them over the issue. It alleges that LAUSD delayed the negotiations and did not schedule bargaining sessions over the summer break.

The two sides aren’t scheduled to meet until Aug. 25. Meanwhile, the three optional professional development days are scheduled for this week.

“The District has not articulated any exigent circumstances that might justify its delay in negotiations or sudden imposition of days at the front end of the school year that shortened the window for negotiations,” UTLA wrote in its filing with PERB.

The union has requested that PERB order the district to remove the extra days from the school calendar, and to acknowledge in writing, to be circulated throughout the district, that L.A. Unified has a responsibility to bargain in good faith.

UTLA represents about 34,000 teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and other certificated employees. The additional work days potentially impacts about 30,000 of its members, according to the union.

Beyond the issue with the school year calendar, UTLA is in the midst of negotiations over a new contract.

On Monday, the superintendent said during his Opening of Schools address and at a news conference later that the district must fairly compensate its employees and help them keep up with the area’s cost of living.

“We are determined, now that the summer’s coming to an end, to go to the bargaining table in a fair, just and expedited way,” Carvalho said during the press conference.

In 2019, protracted contract negotiations between the district and teachers union resulted in a strike that lasted six school days.

Though he did not mention the strike, Carvalhowho joined the district six months ago, acknowledged that past negotiations have lasted up to two years and said it’s the district’s intent to settle contracts much more quickly moving forward.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Daily News

Janus vs AFSCME Ruling Imminent – What Will Change?


Supreme CourtIn February 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that challenges the ability of public sector unions to compel public employees to pay agency fees. While public sector employees currently have the ability to opt-out of paying that portion of union dues that are used for political activities, they still have to pay agency fees. This is based on the presumption that all members of a bargaining unit benefit from union negotiations with management, therefore all of them should pay those costs.

The Janus case argues that in the public sector, even these negotiations are inherently political and therefore it would be a violation of the right to free speech to compel any employee to help pay for them. The Supreme Court appears likely to agree. In an unrelated case also affecting unions, this week the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of employers, affirming that “employers have the right to insist that labor disputes get resolved individually, rather than allowing workers to join together in class-action lawsuits.” The majority opinion was written by newly appointed Justice Gorsuch, reinforcing hopes that he will rule for the plaintiffs in the Janus case.

But will making agency fees optional result in dramatic change?

The potential is there for dramatic change, because as of 2017, 7.2 million government workers belong to a union. Their total membership nearly equals the total membership of private sector unions, 7.6 million, despite federal, state and local government workers only comprising about 17% of the U.S. workforce. In California, state and local government unions are estimated to collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year.

Clearly, a ruling for the plaintiffs in the Janus case will cause a reduction in public sector union dues revenue. If public employees are no longer compelled to pay agency fees, some of them will stop paying them. But how many will stop paying?

study released this month by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (IEPI) – which based on the composition of its board of directors appears to be sympathetic to unions – estimates that 726,000 public sector union members will no longer pay dues, a drop of around 10%. IEPI’s study also estimates that in California, public sector union membership will decline by 189,000, dropping from an estimated 1,235,000 members in 2017 down to 1,046,000 members. But will California’s public sector union membership really drop by 18%, taking nearly $200 million out of their annual collections?

Other data does support the 18% figure, even indicating it could be higher. A 2018 national survey released by the center-left organization Educators for Excellence posed several questions to teachers on the topic of union membership. For example, when asked “If you were not automatically enrolled into your union membership, how likely would you be in the coming year to actively opt in?” there were only 60% who were “very likely” to opt-in, and only another 22% who were “somewhat likely.”

The survey also asked non-union members – those members who have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues, but still pay agency fees – “If you could, how likely would you be to opt-out of paying agency fees to a union” there were 36% who were “very likely” to opt-out, and another 25% who were “somewhat likely.” How do these responses translate into lost revenue?

According to UnionStats.com, only about 6% of California’s public sector employees who are part of collective bargaining units have opted to become non-members, i.e., only paying the agency fees. Crunching these variables is problematic. Are the e4e national survey results representative of California? Are the responses by teachers in the e4e survey representative of public employees in other sectors? Nonetheless, the e4e survey results do suggest the revenue loss to public sector unions could be greater than the amount predicted by the IEPI study.

For example, if you assume that all of California’s public sector members who were “very likely” to opt out of union membership did so, and half of those who were “somewhat likely” to opt out did so, and if you made a similar set of assumptions based on the survey responses of the non-union members who were employed within collective bargaining units, you would see a public sector union membership in California decline by 320,000, a decline of 26%, from an estimated 1,235,000 members to 915,000 members.

The biggest unknown is the details of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. While all indications so far are that the ruling will be in favor of Janus, what remedies will result? A huge variable will be which party will have to take the initiative. That is, will employees have to approach the unions and request to opt-out of membership, or will the unions have to approach the employees and request them to opt-in to membership? Another huge variable will be how often the opportunity to change membership status be offered. No matter whether union membership is based on employees getting to opt-in or having to opt-out, when will they do that? Once per year, within narrowly specified dates, or perpetually at any time? It is likely the ruling will leave many of these details up to the individual states to decide.

Which brings us back to California, with a state legislature that is a wholly owned subsidiary of public sector unions. As noted in detail (with links to the relevant legislation) in the CLEO policy brief “How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling,” California’s state legislature has been working overtime to circumvent the anticipated Janus decision. In summary:

“So how are the unions preparing for the Janus ruling? By (1) making sure the union operatives get to new employees as soon as they begin working, (2) by preventing agency employers from saying anything to deter new employees from joining the unions, and (3) by preventing anyone else from getting the official agency emails for new employees in order to inform them of their rights to not join a union.”

Public sector employees face a difficult choice. They can accept union representation, knowing that in most cases this results in their receiving over-market pay and benefits, or they can reject union representation, knowing that the agenda of public sector unions is almost always in opposition to the public interest. That’s not easy.

What must be easy, however, is for public employees to have access to whatever information is needed to withdraw from public sector union membership. This way, those who wish to stay true to the ideals of public service can put the interests of the public in front of their personal interests, by knowing how to jump through through whatever bureaucratic hoops the unions and the state legislature may put in their way.

This case constitutes a new challenge for those who oppose public sector unions. Making sure that to whatever extent the Janus ruling liberates public sector employees from the grip of public sector unions, those public employees will know how to realize their freedom, quitting those unions, putting the citizens they serve in front of themselves.

The Janus decision is expected by June 30th, if not sooner.

Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its president through 2016. 

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REFERENCES

UnionStats.com – Ref. “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment by State and Sector, 1983-2017”

California’s Government Unions Collect $1.0 Billion Per Year – CPC Analysis, May 2015

Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions– CPC Study, June 2012

How Local Officials Can Prepare for the Janus Ruling – CLEO Policy Brief, October 2018

Teachers’ Unions Spent Over $27 Million on State Races


In a recent op-ed, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt calls out special interests for pouring money into California elections in support of charter schools. He writes:

The charter association spent better than $24 million in relatively few races this year. Oakland, where previously $20,000 was a lot of money for a school board race, was awash in a half-million dollars in contributions, mostly from the charter association and another billionaire-funded committee.

Missing from Pechthalt’s piece is the fact that the CFT and other teacher’s unions are also big-spending special interests. Indeed, they spend considerably more on political donations than charter advocates.

Based on our review on campaign contribution and independent expenditure data reported by the Secretary of State, we find that teacher’s unions spent over $27 million on state-wide races during the current election cycle. The largest contributions are shown in the chart at the end of this article. Actual teacher union political spending is much higher because the Secretary of State’s data do not include contributions to school board candidates and other local campaigns. For example, according to data available from the Oakland City Clerk, the Oakland Education Association PAC made over $80,000 in donations and independent expenditures in the most recent election.

With respect to the state-level spending, most of it was devoted to supporting Propositions 55 and 58. Proposition 55 extends higher marginal tax rates on top income earners for another twelve years, funneling most of the added revenue to education. The union’s argument that this is good for students, but the correlation between spending and student achievement is dubious. According to 2014 Census data, Washington DC public schools received funding of $29,866 per pupil – by far the highest in the nation. Yet DC students performed worse than those in 46 of the 50 states, according to the most recent Education Week achievement scorecard. By contrast, Utah, which which spends only $7,714 per student ranked 14th on the scorecard. California spent $11,223 per student and ranked 30th. So while we know that more public education spending is good for teachers and other employees, the benefits for students are less clear,

Proposition 58 undermined a previous voter-approved restriction on bilingual education. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the initiative would not have a significant fiscal impact, because it does not directly change local funding formulas. However, restarting bilingual education will require new curricula, re-training current teaching staff and hiring new eduators who are fluent in multiple languages.  All of this will have to be funded somehow, and bilingual education could thus be used as a justification for future funding increases.

Aside from propositions, union spending also focused on certain key legislative races. Most notably, teacher’s unions spent over $800,000 to influence the outcome of the 14th District Assembly race between Democrats Mae Torlakson and Tim Grayson in Concord (Contra Costa County). Torlakson is the wife of the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who has been characterized as being anti-charter and pro union. In this race, the unions were unsuccessful:  Grayson came out on top.

While it is true that Grayson and other school choice oriented candidates received support from pro-charter groups and affluent individuals, the conversation should not stop there. The California Federation of Teachers, the California Teacher’s Association and other unions are also wealthy special interests, and, unlike many of those vilified billionaires, the unions campaign contributions are funded by our taxes.

Click here to see the top 100 candidates and issues that teachers unions spent heavily on this election cycle. Data Compiled by UnionWatch.org

Charters Under Attack – California’s Teachers Unions Go On The Offensive


ULTA protestFor years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools — but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue — billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools — a union front group — planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

Teachers Union Assault on Charter Schools


school education studentsWith the increasing popularity of charter schools in California, special-interest opposition to them has grown, primarily among those most threatened by their success: the state’s powerful teachers unions.

With more than 1,200 charter schools in California and with an estimated 580,000 students attending charter schools in the 2015-16 school year, the state boasts more charter schools and charter school students than any other in the country. According to the California Charter Schools Association, approximately 158,000 students are on wait lists hoping to attend such schools.

Clearly, they are popular and there is public demand for them. Perhaps it’s the flexibility and accountability of the schools. Maybe it’s to avoid the poor performance of the typical public school, which protects some underperforming teachers with tenure and other rules. Whatever it is that attracts so many parents to charter schools, something about them is upsetting to the state’s teachers unions.

On August 31, the California Teachers Association announced it was launching the “Kids Not Profits” campaign. The stated goal of their efforts is to garner “more accountability and transparency of California charter schools.” But that’s not all. The campaign further aims to expose “the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools.” And that is where the misdirection, deception and political chicanery begin.

For those without expertise in the charter school movement, keep one thing in mind: Charter schools are public schools. They just approach teaching and kids’ learning differently than the neighborhood public schools that are overburdened by political limitations and bureaucracy, much of which has been perpetuated and sustained by union leaders.

The idea that billionaires are trying to enrich themselves by taking away money from local schools is not only false but an inflammatory scare tactic meant to denigrate the good work philanthropists are doing in charter schools to help repair the broken, status quo public school system that other special interests, like the unions, prefer.

The Kids Not Profits website tries to demonize these efforts by pointing out that charter school advocates spent over $11 million in the June 6 primary to influence state legislative races and school board elections, because they “want private corporations to be able to profit from public education.” Their claims are patently false and not grounded in fact.

Take, for example, one of the state’s — and nation’s — chief advocates for charter schools, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In January, Hastings announced a $100 million fund to help improve access to quality education. He is giving money to schools — not trying to “profit” or take money from public education.

On the other hand, what CTA neglects to mention in its campaign is that it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns over the past couple of decades, including $4.2 million from January through the end of June this year via its Issues PAC, plus more than $1 million through the Association for Better Citizenship to influence local races. Then there’s the nearly $1 million spent by the California Federation of Teachers to support candidates and ballot initiatives. And that doesn’t take into account the millions they will spend on other political fights in November.

It’s also important to understand how much “profit” the unions take out of California schools. In 2009 alone, the CTA’s “income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt,” according to an analysis of public records by Troy Senik, writing for City Journal. The income the union collects year after year comes directly from taxpayer-funded teachers’ paychecks. Imagine if that money could stay with good teachers or was spent directly in the classroom for students.

There’s nothing wrong with donating to political campaigns. What matters is whether the outcomes they seek are reasonable. Unfortunately, the outcomes desired by the teachers unions just happen to be a status quo where their interests are catered to, regardless of their effects on students. And that’s why they are threatened by charter schools — because they lose revenue for their political agendas

In the past month, local unions like United Teachers Los Angeles, which is best remembered for threatening to strike in 2014 if its members didn’t receive a 17.6 percent raise, have also gone on the offensive against the education reform community.

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced in August that the union was launching an ad campaign carrying “messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda.”

“This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative,” Caputo-Pearl told members at the union’s 2016 conference, which featured repeated attacks on charter schools and those who fund some of them.

The dishonest narrative the unions want to present is that they are the ones standing up against sinister billionaires who just want to make money. The problem is, it is just not true.

Never mind that teachers unions in California get more than their fair share of the multibillion-dollar education budget in the state, and have considerable leverage in how education funds are allocated and what policies govern public schools. They have had control of public education for a long time, so it is they, the union leaders, who should be held responsible for the deterioration of California public schools — a public school system where more than half the students lack proficiency in math and English. It’s indefensible.

Attempting to shift the blame for shortcomings in our education system on reformers and charter school advocates is purely diversionary. It isn’t charter school proponents who are undermining education. Nor is the current state of affairs the fault of the average teacher who works hard every day to educate the children of our state.

Behind the façade of “kids not profits” — and whatever public narrative unions are trying to spin — the unions’ goals are fundamentally about one thing, and that is political power. This is what thwarts progress in our education system. Instead of embracing innovation and progress to help students, the union bosses have chosen to stifle any form of competition and reform. Their latest campaign is just another sad and frustrating attempt to deceive the public and maintain political power.

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Southern California News Group and Sal Rodriguez is a staff columnist.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group.

L.A Teachers Head Ready to Incite a ‘State Crisis’ If Union Demands Not Met

UTLA Alex Caputo PearlAlex Caputo-Pearl is the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that has a long and storied history of discarding presidents elected as firebrands but who reign as defenders of the status quo. Caputo-Pearl seems determined to end that cycle and bring teacher union militancy to the entire state of California.

In a July 29 speech to at the UTLA Leadership Conference, Caputo-Pearl outlined the union’s plans as it readies for the expiration of its contract next year and a gubernatorial election in 2018.

“The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience of 800 activists. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

While it’s not clear what form a “state crisis” would take, Caputo-Pearl described a series of actions the union will undertake in coming months, beginning with a paid media campaign in September denouncing “billionaires … driving the public school agenda” and a “massive” political mobilization to ensure the November passage of Proposition 55, which would extend a 2012 measure that raised taxes on high-earning residents to fund schools.

UTLA will then set its sights on the next Los Angeles Unified School District board elections.

“We must face off against the billionaires again in the School Board elections of 2017, and WE MUST WIN,” Caputo-Pearl said, explaining that the next board would vote on a new contract. The union needed to help elect a board that would resist a “vigorous campaign to cut our benefits” by district leaders, he suggested.

But Caputo-Pearl isn’t content to shape LAUSD’s agenda. He hopes to organize the entire state.

“All of the unions representing LAUSD workers and the teachers unions in San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland, and San Francisco share our June 2017 contract expiration date,” he said. “We have an historic opportunity to lead a coordinated bargaining effort across the state.

“Coordinated action could dramatically increase pressure on the legislature and fundamentally shape the debate in the 2018 Governor’s race.”

Caputo-Pearl stopped short of calling for a multi-city teacher strike, but pointing to a common contract expiration date that enabled “coordinated action” put it on the table.

The UTLA president had another white whale to harpoon: Proposition 13, the state’s iconic 1978 initiative that capped property tax rates. Caputo-Pearl said he wanted to revive the union-backed “Make It Fair” campaign that sought to hike taxes on commercial property.

UTLA is in position to pursue an aggressive agenda because of itssuccessful internal campaign to raise dues by 33 percent earlier this year and new joint affiliation with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Now the union will launch an internal campaign to solicit more money from members in the form of PAC contributions, Caputo-Pearl said. Currently only about 20 percent of UTLA members donate to its PAC.

There will of course be organized opposition to Caputo-Pearl’s vision for the future, and some of it may come from his own parent unions. While UTLA is by far the largest local of both the state NEA and AFT branches — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, respectively — these unions have their own officers and elected bodies that represent members throughout the state. Even if they agree with most of Caputo-Pearl’s agenda, they may be wary of his ambition. Their leaders might remember that former UTLA president Wayne Johnson rode a 1989 teacher strike all the way to the presidency of CTA.

Caputo’s broad themes were underscored by a guest speaker: Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and idol of advocates for more muscular union activism. She argued that teachers need to organize across district, state, and even union boundaries, telling conference attendees, “we cannot do this work alone, and we cannot do this work in isolation from one another.”

If UTLA’s agenda becomes the agenda of all California teacher unions and is ultimately successful, the union militancy train will leave the West Coast and travel through many other states. Union leaders comfortably situated in the status quo will have to jump aboard or get run over.

This piece was originally published by the74million.org

Teachers Union Hits Taxpayers with ‘Money Club’ Again


government-voteThe California Teachers Association has just dropped $10 million into its campaign to extend the “temporary” income tax hike voters approved when they passed Proposition 30 in 2012. Proposition 55, which will appear on this November’s ballot, would extend the highest income tax rates in all 50 states for another dozen years.

Four years ago, the muscular union, called by many in Sacramento the “Fourth Branch of Government,” spent over $11 million to convince voters to increase sales and income taxes. The campaign, paid for by government employee unions and led by Gov. Jerry Brown, repeatedly promised voters the higher taxes would last only a few years and then go away.

These ultra-high tax rates are scheduled to end in 2018 and union leaders are panicking. If the tax increase ends, there may be less money to fund increases in member pay and benefits.

Spending big money on politics is not unusual for the deep pocketed CTA which receives its funding from mandatory dues. Those dues, withheld from members’ paychecks whether they like it or not, can total more than $1000 a year for a single teacher. Recall that CTA laid out $58 million in opposing several worthy reform measures in a 2005 special election including one reform that would have capped state spending. Union leaders like a guaranteed cash flow so it should come as no surprise if they put out an additional $10 million, or more, to support the Proposition 55 income tax extension. For backers of Proposition 55, spending millions in return for billions of tax dollars is considered a bargain.

The campaign will, no doubt, target low information voters with messages about how, “it’s for the children.” It is standard operational procedure for tax promoters to use children as human shields when advancing a tax increase tied to education. Not to be mentioned is that the union’s interest is solely in increasing pay and benefits, including generous pensions, for members who are already paid more than $20,000 above the national average. And don’t forget that a national education union leader once famously said “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”

Some will argue that ultra-high taxes should be maintained because public employees deserve to be well paid. They are. According the Department of Labor, California is the state with the best paid state and local government employees.

Our state is running a multi-billion-dollar surplus, yet Proposition 55 backers want to continue the ultra-high taxes that are already pushing businesses, and the jobs they provide, to relocate out of state. And it’s not just businesses. The list of high wealth individuals including professional athletes and entertainers who have bailed out of California is a mile long.

But the deleterious impact of high taxes is wholly lost on the union bosses. Their attention is, no doubt, on the latest news from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The second-largest U.S. public pension fund earned a paltry 1.4 percent return on investments in the fiscal year just ended, missing its target of 7.5 percent for the second straight year.  This raises questions about the fund’s management and whether or not it will be able to meet its obligation to 896,000 current and retired teachers.

Of course, taxpayers remain the guarantor of all public employee pensions so, in all fairness, the Proposition 55 income tax extension could come to be called the “pension tax.” And the teachers union is prepared to use its massive “money club” on voters to make sure Proposition 55 passes and the taxpayers’ dollars are there.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Union Greed


UnionChicago, long known as the Second City, may still be second in some things, but it seems to be #1 in teacher union greed. As it’s time for a new contract with the Chicago public school system (CPS), the inevitable blather has begun to befoul the air. Here are a few things Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will not use as talking points:

  • Teachers in CPS are the second highest paid in the country, making barely less than New York City’s teachers.
  • On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 30 percent of 4th graders and 25 percent of 8th graders tested as “proficient” in mathematics, and only 27 and 24 percent, respectively, were found to be proficient in reading.
  • Teachers only contribute 2 percent of their salary to their own retirement; CPS kicks in the the other 7 percent, the so-called pension pick-up.
  • Chicagoans are the most taxed people in Illinois and their already crisis-level pension shortfall is in freefall.

The economic situation is so bad in Chicago that Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has been making noises about CPS declaring bankruptcy. If successful, the state would take over the district, void the contact with CTU and possibly reduce pension payments. Needless to say the union and its enablers in the Illinois statehouse are not happy at the prospect and claim it is not legal under existing statutes.

In the meantime, to placate CTU, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a contract so generous that Rauner called it “unaffordable.” It was one-sided enough, however, that CTU boss Karen Lewis liked it. It offered:

  • A guarantee of no economic layoffs through the end of the contract in 2019; the only way to reduce the workforce would be through retirements and attrition.
  • Cost-of-living pay increases.
  • “Step and lane” pay increases based on experience and seniority.
  • No more new charter schools beyond the 130 presently operating; the only new ones allowed would be replacements for any that closed.

Amazingly, the union’s bargaining team rejected the deal, infuriating CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. In response, he fired off a terse letter to Karen Lewis emphasizing three unilateral moves CPS would now make:

  • The district will discontinue the pension pick-up, saving CPS $130 billion annually.
  • A reduction-in-force plan will go into effect that will necessitate layoffs and save another $50 million.
  • Repurposed federal funds will result in a “reduction in general funding to the schools while having no significant overall impact on school budgets.”

Well, as Larry Elder would say, “Then the fit hit the shan.” The union called the letter an “attack” and an “act of war.” The unionistas were especially exercised about the withdrawal of the pension pick-up, but their stance is indefensible. In the Windy City, teachers are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years CPS (i.e. the taxpayers) has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. So teachers have been getting away with legal theft, paying only 2 percent of their own retirement contribution, which has helped to position Illinois as the state with the worst credit rating in the U.S.

Moreover, please keep in mind that Chicago has the second highest paid teachers in the country, with a median salary of $71,017, not counting comprehensive healthcare benefits for the teacher, their spouse or domestic partner and children. Also, the average teacher salary is 51 percent higher than Chicago’s median household income, which is estimated at $46,877. And teachers work just 178 instructional days (plus a few non-instructional ones), whereas other full-time workers toil for 240-250 days a year.

But some teachers were outraged at Claypool’s letter and about a thousand of them tore through the Loop aiming their venomous arrows at Bank of America. Sixteen were arrested for sitting in and chanting inside the bank. As Karen Lewis said, “(We’re) here, because we have to make a choice in the city: banks or schools.” (Don’t we need both?) The teachers also disrupted rush hour traffic, inconveniencing thousands of commuters. Ms. Lewis didn’t explain what the demonstrators had against people driving home at rush hour, many of whom pay a lot more than their “fair share” to the teachers’ pension fund.

At the end of the day, probably the best thing would be for CPS to declare bankruptcy, as Rauner proposed. It’s a novel approach, but one that, at first glance, would seem to have little chance of implementation. However, the Republican governor claims that Democrats outside of Chicago are in favor of it because hitting the reset button would void union contracts, thus saving taxpayers all over the state mountains of unnecessary debt. Declaring bankruptcy could also set a precedent. (Take note Los Angeles: LAUSD is due to go belly-up in 2019.)

Final note to union leaders, protesting teachers and fellow travelers: You are obviously looking out for yourselves. Fine. But please stop using “corporate greed” as a rallying cry. When you scream that “corporations must pay their fair share,” please be assured that they already do and then some. Federal tax rates on corporate income vary from 15 percent to 39 percent. Teachers unions – and in fact all unions – don’t pay a penny in income tax. They not only don’t pay their fair share; they pay no share at all. Now that’s what I call greed, with maybe a little gluttony added for taste.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

A Half-Charter School District for L.A.?


Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Eli Broad made his fortune in construction and real estate. But he’s building a legacy as a philanthropist and an education reformer. In September, the Broad, a $140 million museum of contemporary art, opened in downtown Los Angeles at the corner of a revitalizing Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That same month, the Los Angeles Times published a leaked memo detailing Broad’s proposal to revitalize L.A.’s sclerotic public school system. Working under the auspices of his family foundation, Broad would gather some of the biggest names in private philanthropy — Gates, Walton, Ahmanson, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett, as well as David Geffen, Kirk Kerkorian and Elon Musk — to open 260 new charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over an eight-year period, with an enrollment goal of at least 130,000 students. The memo discusses how to raise $490 million to pay for the effort, which includes recruiting teachers, acquiring real estate, providing outreach to parents and navigating political battles. If the octogenarian Broad succeeds, half of L.A. Unified’s schools would be charters by the mid-2020s.

Naturally, L.A.’s education establishment detests the idea. The LAUSD board’s president, Steve Zimmer, denounced Broad’s plan as “a strategy to bring down LAUSD.” In November, board member Scott Schmerelson pushed a resolution announcing the board’s opposition to the Broad Foundation’s plan by name. Later, Schmerelson changed the language to say the board opposed any “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.” As an L.A. Times editorial pointed out, by that standard, “the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.” (In response, Broad’s new educational nonprofit expanded its proposal to support traditional public schools, including pilots, magnets, and other high-performing schools that serve low-income children.)

Former LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortines was more charitable. At a forum with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez earlier this month, Cortines didn’t ascribe ill motives to Broad, but rather suggested the billionaire was ill advised. “I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do,” he said. But United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl was predictably unsparing in his vitriol. “Billionaires should not be running public education,” he said. The union boss also claimed that charter schools are unregulated and “deregulation doesn’t work.” Not to be outdone, retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education.”

Broad’s plan is ambitious, to be sure. In addition to fighting the school board and union, Broad and his foundation allies would need considerable community support to succeed. Charters already make up a sizable portion of schools in the district: nearly a quarter of LAUSD students — about 150,866 students — are enrolled in 282 charter schools from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Another 40,000 students languish on waiting lists. The demand is there; it’s the supply that’s lacking, though procuring facilities for 260 new schools would take some doing.

California’s 1992 charter school law gives local districts the power to approve or deny charter applications, though applications cannot be denied without good reason, such as questionable management or shady finances. However, the district doesn’t have the last word. Charter applicants have the option to appeal first to the county board of education, and then to the state board of education, if necessary.

A closer look at many of the antagonists’ complaints reveals less anger about billionaires’ meddling in education than envy that Broad’s largess doesn’t extend to traditional public schools. But the schools already receive plenty of money. Official per-pupil spending in Los Angeles is $13,490, which is greater than the national average and doesn’t include expenses such as the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds and so forth. When those expenditures get added in, per-pupil spending comes to about $30,000 per year. If the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication, the money is not being well-spent. Only a third of the city’s students performed at grade level in English, while about a quarter performed at grade level or better in math. The district’s charter school students far outpaced their peers in traditional schools.

Don’t believe the anti-reform hype about lax regulation and looming public school destruction, either. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars and subject to regulation — just not to the same extent as traditional public schools, which are strangled by bulky union contracts that put seniority ahead of competence. Broad’s plan anticipates that 5,000 union members could be put out of work and replaced with staff hired through Teach For America, TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project), and other groups that work with young instructors. The proposal makes no mention of recruiting teachers from within L.A. Unified.

Clearly, hundreds of new charter schools would find it difficult to fill their ranks with newbies. And therein lies an important but unstated aspect of the Broad plan. Those rehired from the current crop of experienced teachers would be the good and even great ones working now because they are qualified, not because they are protected by the state’s seniority statute. Needless to say, Caputo-Pearl has a different take. “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union,” he said, “which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.” That’s absurd, of course. Where is it written that that only unionized teachers speak up about “curriculum and school conditions”?

Some of the naysayers claim that a half-charter district would leave too many children behind, but other cities’ experience suggests otherwise. Washington, D.C., and Detroit have moved in recent years to a 50 percent charter model. New Orleans may offer the best evidence of how charter schools can serve a low-income and underprivileged population. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005, a much more vibrant charter system emerged in the aftermath. Today, 92 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in a charter school. Ten years ago, 62 percent of schools in Orleans Parish were failing. Today, just 7 percent of schools are failing. During the same period, the portion of city schools with students performing at or above grade level rose from 35 percent to 62 percent. As it happens, Paul Pastorek, the former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who helped oversee the turnaround, has been appointed to lead Broad’s effort in L.A.

Philanthropy has the power to transform institutions for the better. More charters in Los Angeles would certainly disrupt the dismal status quo—likely to the advantage of good teachers, their students, and taxpayers. Opponents see Broad’s proposal as a way of “bringing down LAUSD,” but building up alternatives to a dysfunctional system may be exactly what L.A.’s children need.