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.

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