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Friday Reading List: CA Congressional Delegation Offers Stern Message to States

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Even though you're surely wrapped up in March Madness, make time for these good reads:

Members of California's congressional delegation sent a letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other top officials to correct some apparent thinking that's been going on. "It has been suggested that the state has some ability to intercept stabilization funds...It does not." So says the letter signed by the delegation, which includes House education committee Chairman George Miller. This letter showcases the tensions between Congress, states, and local districts over how stabilization money should be doled out to school districts, how quickly, and to whom.

Gabriella Gomez is the latest to join the education department's senior ranks. She's been tapped to direct the department's legislative affairs. Now the senior education policy adviser on the House education committee for U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), she's also a former AFT lobbyist.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is rejecting some stimulus money, including $160 million in Title I and special education dollars. That does not make the Anchorage schools superintendent very happy.

Elizabeth Green over at Gotham Schools has the latest on KIPP schools vs. the unions.

And the Washington Post does a bit of fact-checking and corrects Arne Duncan that no, D.C. Public Schools do not have "more money than God."

UPDATE: For a rundown of Arne Duncan's rah-rah speech to science teachers, check out Curriculum Matters.

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Out here in California some of us dressed in pink last Friday, March 14th. After the fact is better than nothing at all. Well sort of. In reality, from a PR stand point it was an extremely poor move. Remember we are fighting an overgrowing sentiment toward privatization of our schools - that is the base reason for conservative think tanks to argue for vouchers. Where we did get publicity, the average person saw it as whining at a time when the actual unemployment numbers skyrocket. There are a lot of misconceptions about us in mainstream America. However, "Pink Friday" far too little and far too late for a single day of solidarity. Let me tell you why I believe that.

What I have to say is to the CTA, our union leaders, well intentioned or otherwise and especially ALL the senior teachers who have chosen to sit back, thumbs up and watch the blood letting of our less senior tenured educators as long as no one touches their retirements and salary schedules. As for advocating, the mostly ineffectual CTA, and the NEA should have been intensely advocating for all of us long before now. They must come up with their own PR campaigns. So far it's been crap. Now on the more important issue, CTA should have been preparing the locals and communicating with us and the parents: most of us saw this coming two years ago.

What the hell is being done with the money from our dues?

Honestly, I don't have a clue what they are doing or have done to prepare. So, far nothing of significance. Perhaps a bit of expensive Washington style lobbying? Perhaps not even that. I have to concede there is little they can do for us now as the negotiatons are done for the year. CTA can use that as an excuse. And organizing a rally after the fact when the die has been cast is simply ridiculous. This should have started last year. Honestly, I am curious where Sanchez been? How is it they get away with appointing each other to the exec board anyway.

In the CTA's system, the locals are left almost completely autonomous and mostly defenseless. WHY? In our district a previous union officer told me more than 70% (probably closer to 80%) of our dues go straight to CTA. Who knows about the NEA. Both need to account for themselves!

I believe the CTA is the largest Union in the state with regard to membership and this is the best they can do? That handful of poorly timed TV ads and a monthly magazine (which is an insult to anyone who is both passionate AND realistic about educating and supporting children) is all I know for sure they do and I used to be a local union rep. I have been in one or another union almost all my working life. I have walked in three strike actions and was a picket captain twice with other unions. That magazine they send seems more like self promotion toward educators than a source of information and a call to arms for the uninformed public. You know, the people that vote based on 30 second attack ads - the parents that we ultimately work with and for. Even that evil bastard Carl Rove understood what the entire CTA and our membership hasn't come to grips with... What I am I saying? We need progressive and more aggressive representation. Our BIG gun seems to be "the magazine" that doesn't even go out to the public and pink shirts. I wonder how much it cost to print "the Rag?" Maybe $2 m.? Maybe $5 m? If anyone even knows how to contact CTA's management, ask them for me. Oh and tell them to keep my copy and save the money. Tell them just send me an email when or if they do something substantial for educators. We can't take care of kids if we can't take care of ourselves.

WE the union were in sad shape before we hit this wall. (Up to this point), if there are readers who can't put the pieces of this puzzle together and are forming an argument in CTA's defense, Save it for someone who doesn't know better. May be a pink slipped teacher. You really should be teaching at a private school anyway. I have no more patience. Perhaps an example closer to the bone...

Being a teacher and now a counselor, same union and salary schedule, I am fortunate to work in the district whose counselors pioneered the framework adopted by our school counselors national organization, ASCA, as the national standards for all public school counseling programs. I helped with it's initial structure and the presentation to our school board. It was huge and many states have sent reps to see us in action. It has brought us publicity, accolades that along with and peer support along with what our own member advocates bring back to us should mean more hope every year. We work harder and happier than ever, we do incredible things for kids, parents and teachers, no discipline, more time for intervention, all with less money. The unknown/unseen countless parent meetings , often on our own time, the follow up phone calls at 7pm from home, the home visits, working with twice the number of abused neglected kids, we also do meaningful counseling groups and class rooms guidance lessons. As someone who has a passion for helping kids I know I am lucky. It empowers me to have the recognition. And we actually protect teachers too. We calm down or gloss over mistakes so teachers are not bothered by as many angry criticisms. We also work try to help those few teachers, we all know them, who should never been allowed to enter a class room. Even so, outside the profession and even at our own union office, few know who we are. During negotiations, our union leaders treat us like as cannon fodder everytime. We are the unwanted step child and get the poorest representation. Lets talk about another reality by way of example.

Because we are such a minority numbers wise, we can't sway a union vote for or against a given candidate. So we are easy to ignore. But in the district I work, without trepidation or consultation, our union local president offered us up back in November: the entire group of counselors, the nurses and to a lesser extent, the psychs; lock and stock as a separate and lesser entity handed to management for whatever cuts they saw fit. And in keeping in line with an agenda more the president's than even the teaching members (via my informal inquiries) our local stands by and watches as more tenured teachers get rifted, with more pink slips for the young, motivated, and optimistic newer teachers. out too be closer to five) or less will Hmmm. Anyone with four years (actually turned out some with five caught the axe. All to keep that persons agenda? There was no specific vote, no visits from the local. The executive board has made it clear they will not let salaries be touched regardless. I heard it said once it and it was reiterated by another local officer and when the question of lost jobs was raised, the president replied with some half-hearted statement about a ploy on the DO's part to not give up the money. The Money? That we had to battle for their "secret stash" of money above the mandated two percent prudent reserve. Yep we did have more than that - this year. Did anyway. Anyone with time in this district knows the smell of these tired old lies. Ok, still lets play the "benefit of the doubt" game...

Funny even with all that conviction, there has been no effort (lets remember talking about it does not represent effort) to bring in a forensic accounting team. Why NOT? That would cost both sides a lot of money and without proof to the contrary she can say anything she wants to distract from other more realistic efforts and concessions by the district office. She has recently had to admit, that the DO had offered a feasible solution, if saving young teachers and counselors careers are important, a percentage pay cut across the board - superintendent to custodial possibly board members too - and in this manner would guarantee almost no cuts for members. That number was released after the board signing - An even three percent. Our local exec.s told the team a flat no. Well, the budget has been signed and we've been led to slaughter by the people we voted in and payed a salary to represent all of us. By the way, anyone seen the CTA?

When the fall out started and the president started covering her tracks. She proclaimed in our newsletter that it would have cost us 17.4 percent in salary loss. Some of us had done the math based on her perceived figures and knew her math was way off. Still we waited. She is either really bad at math and/or she was lying to gain more time before the lid blew off and the history of those meeting were opened to the membership. We never really had a clue what was going on in those negotiations. And there were some leaks. It's evident now. Now, she claims that maintaining the salary schedule is what majority wants though no vote has been taken on any proposal. Especially losing close to 300 tenured jobs. I have heard it was the CTA's mandate as well. We will never know.

While this local president makes many of the city mixers, she is seldom available to members with questions.

Though, our president has yet to produce the numbers to back her play, she's quick with the vague generalities in lew of evidence or even rationality. Now my point. Educators here have been filleted. With the CTA's righteeous blessing. The preident almost got away without meeting with a single counselor, nurse,psychologist, or teacher. She had to be forced into a meeting to address some questions and the resentment showed. That is not ethical in my opinion. Keep in mind, some locals are actually supporting all their certificated staff.

I have been a union member all my working life. Previously, As an educator have seen two caring and competent presidents at the helm of our local. We used to have one of the most influenced locals in the inland empire are of southern California. Not just during the flush times. I saw some secretive treatment then but nothing like this. In the past, we were always informed by our union what of importance was going on. If the president didn't like a proposal but it was significant, she brought it to us then visited the reps and sites to explain her position to share with all members. Today, I trust our union management less than the district's personnel and by talking with educators from around the area I see a trend. Our local didn't bring any thing back during the negotiations to vote on. For, information in a timely manner we had to depend on the DO itself to email us the "mutually approved" statements. Still no communication with the local, no preemptive action, no preemtive votes. Still no CTA. Some of our locals are being forced almost out of existence. They carry no clout and walk in to negotiations from a position of weakness. Lets just say it like it is: Teachers are notorious for crossing their own picket lines. Most small district locals are in even worse shape because their board members are less likely to be educated and are less informed on the various classroom problems. What has the CTA done to help them? What have they done to help anyone of us? Where have the 70+ percent of our dues gone??????????

The CTA is hugh. Still, the common perception among members and conservative legislators is that the CTA is big in numbers but weak where the rubber meets the road. Educators are weakly represented therefore fair game at anytime. Not so with the Teamsters. I am pretty sure they are considerably smaller in California compared to the CTA. But you say teamsters and no one asks the size of the local. The name alone carries more weight than all our TV ads, magazines and after the fact rally's combined. OK, I have said more than I should have. I have peeled back some of the veil and it will come back to haunt me soon. But our rank and file had no clue the local was going down that road. I tried to raise a fuss earlier but like everyone else I thought the union would ultimately come through no one thought we could be sold out by our own negotiating team.

Bottom line is it never would have gotten to this level if we had stronger more pro-active and involved union representation - like the teamsters. One that included all of us and all the locals.

The police, firefighters, and yes the TEAMSTERS will not be facing the percentages of lost members that we will. Why? Are they more important to society? We are certainly as important - just weakly represented and we will be fair game next year as well. We had better continue marching. Don't expect CTA to do more than they already have. Oh, On Friday instead of pink I wore a tee shirt with a bulls eye on the back.

Parents will care about teachers' issues when they see what will happen we have to walk. Fear for their kids at school - knowing in advance of the real probability that their school run with a few substitute teachers the rest being housed in the gym for hours (I am talking a real threat of a strike action) Many kids will just take off and run the streets. Even the least supportive parents understand our value in keeping their kids off the mean streets. If only parents knew. They would voice their demands. Nothing speaks louder for us than real votes.

I believe my union local has hidden the true nature of their negotiations. Now its done and with no input. As for myself. I would not have to think twice if asked to give up three percent of my salary to save those lost jobs. However, many people with the safety net of seniority would not.
As for me it is a simple moral decision. Still, criticize as you like. But PLEASE DON'T BE SO IGNORANT as to reply that if we had taken a step freeze or cut we will never get that money back. The state will withhold that money regardless if it is through fewer school days or classrooms with 42/1 student ratios. We already have 40/1 in a nearby district. Not to mention the hit on our test scores. We are behind and loosing ground. Politicians don't know or care about classroom sizes. But they will still hold educators responsible. Again were easy targets. Parents don't know the difference. CONSIDER THIS! Enough unaddressed blame and... its Voucher Time baby. How much an hour will we be getting at the local private school of which there will be one on every corner. And those people that have money, won't give a rip if 7-Eleven opens a chain of elementary schools. Stock holder dividends will make curriculum decisions for those "other" kids' education. The children of the well off, for a voucher and a few hundred extra bucks their kids will go to schools built and run by Microsoft and Phizer with up to date computers, tutors, and 20/1 classroom ratios. Perhaps we will do away with the separation of church and state. So the various religious organizations can use the vouchers as well.

I have expounded on my concerns and then some...
Who knows what will come from this out here but it makes me truly sad. This is the turning point. The self serving nature of my locals negotiations are a microcosm of the way most Californians think. 'Me first'. But if the CTA can't act strongly and decisively as an advocate for educators, who will be left to advocate for kids and parents. Politicians with more insight than our union leaders. NCLB, vouchers, prop 13 (remember Warren Buffet warned Arnold about Prop 13) and growing tax payer opposition to the uniquely American idea of a free, fair and equal education for all children - regardless of financial status - the great equalizer it was thought, is eroding away with financing for kids and ultimately the American middle class. If I offended anyone I am sorry. If your employed you should be thankful at least until this time next year.


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