Friday, August 21, 2009


Last month I highlighted a speech by NEA chief counsel Bob Chanin to the union’s national convention in San Diego—an invective-laced stem-winder that could be summarized as follows: What’s good for the union is good for public education.

There was no evidence presented that corroborated this self-serving assertion, but the idea obviously had a receptive audience—including officials of the Vista Teachers Association who seem to have the local school board on a short leash.

That muscle was on display last spring when a cost-saving vote to do away with Class-Size Reduction was immediately followed by a flurry of union-inspired actions that resulted in an apparently illegal meeting of three union-responsive board members (Herrera, Chunka, and Jaka) in the wee hours of the morning—and a two-step reversal of the CSR vote that included a “decent interval” to remedy any violation of the Brown Act.

Another example of union muscle is the money and effort that goes into the district’s school board elections—clout whose real dollar-value is obscured by an organizational machine that’s deft at minimizing its electoral footprints.

Also telling is the salary paid by the district to the President of Vista’s Teachers Association—not for teaching but for doing union business. Indeed, based on records available to the public, the VTA President has received some $200,000 over the last six years for which the district hasn’t been reimbursed.

As Mrs. Jill Parvin noted in an August 6 presentation before the board, this union subsidy is occurring “at a time when the district has to lay off teachers and is having to ask parents to raise money for basic classroom supplies and activities.”

Indeed, it seems that this $30,000-plus per annum gift to the VTA President is not just improper but also illegal—at least based on a plausible interpretation of California government code 8314 and penal code 424. But don’t look for a board whose majority had campaigns overwhelmingly managed by the VTA to promptly and meticulously scrutinize this legal issue.

Rather, board members whose elections were more than greased by the VTA have every reason to adopt a lenient interpretation of relevant codes and to agree that, in the final analysis, what’s good for the union is good for pupils in the Vista Unified School District.

In 1985, the long-time President of the American Federation of Teachers, Al Shanker, made this statement: “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.” It was a rare moment of candor on the topic—not the kind of comment that would pass the lips of a hardboiled institutional flack like Bob Chanin.

For those who compare achievement data with union salaries and growing Sacramento-bound union dues (over $950 a year for full-time teachers), it’s hard to deny that unions are doing much better than the pupils whose interests they purport to serve--by serving themselves.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Solutions to California’s budget woes frequently echo the type of wishful thinking displayed by President Obama last month when he responded to a question about what Americans would have to give up for government-managed health care.

The President observed that Americans would have to “give up paying for things that don’t make them healthier”—then provided a simplistic example that assumed his audience was largely composed of Sesame Street viewers.

“If there's a blue pill and a red pill and the blue pill is half the price of the red pill and works just as well, why not pay half price for the thing that's going to make you well?”

Adults listening to this response might have asked why, if matters are really that simple, a thousand pages of unscrutinized laws need to be rushed through Congress--laws that radically rearrange America’s health system but sidestep significant changes when it comes to tort reform and malpractice insurance.

(The answer to the latter query is that Democrats are in the hip pocket of trial lawyers who give generously to party candidates.)

Adults might also have pondered the dismal fiscal scenarios facing various state-sponsored health-care programs or asked about the June 16 CBO estimate that a Senate version of Obama-care would cost 1.6 trillion dollars over ten years.

Like the President, many Californians seem to have a tenuous grasp on fiscal reality and regularly vote for more government spending to be paid for by “special interests,” by no one in particular, or by funds dedicated to that non-existent budgetary line: Waste, Fraud, Abuse.

Last November’s vote for a ten- to twenty-billion dollar high-speed rail program (in the midst of a massive budget crisis) is the best example of wishful thinking. The legislature’s unwillingness to expand oil leases off the state’s coast ranks second on the unreality list.

Other California dreamers would like to shrink the deficit by putting a liquor-size tax on the legal production of medical marijuana—a change that would reportedly raise over a billion dollars. It would also, of course, contradict the notion that “medical marijuana” is primarily about medicine—since legal grass would be put in the same category as a “hard recreational beverage.”

The next logical step would be a push for the legalization and taxation of weed—naturally for the sake of the state’s economy. Indeed, according to a July 19 Associated Press article in the North County Times, marijuana (legal and illegal) is the multi-billion dollar crop that’s keeping many Northern California counties (and thousands of giddy Californians) afloat.

Wishful adolescent thinking touts cheap blue pills, pricey red pills, ubiquitous green jobs, debt-free bonds, silver “doobie” bullets, and Big-Spin lotteries that pay for schools. Adults ask what things really cost, where substantial savings can be achieved, and what production–based revenues can be generated.

But just as Obama won’t offend trial lawyers, so California’s legislature won’t require significant concessions from the government employee unions that rule Sacramento.