Last Tuesday attorneys for the Vista Unified School District filed a complaint in State Superior Court against the Vista Teachers Association, the California Teachers Association, and the National Education Association.
That’s big news for a board composed mostly of folks who sit where they do thanks to VTA support. (Jim Gibson is the glaring exception.) Perhaps it was the threat of personal liability that prompted this uncharacteristic action. Or perhaps it was the district’s dire financial straits.
Here’s the specific point at issue: Since 1995 the district has paid VTA Presidents about $500,000 more than VTA has reimbursed the district. This cozy arrangement whereby the district compensated union presidents based on their personal seniority while the district was reimbursed based on a lower pay scale (C-4) was actually written into four contract agreements over a period of fifteen years.
Unfortunately for both parties this union-friendly transfer of public monies to a private organization appears to be illegal. Tuesday’s filing repeatedly emphasizes that California Education Code (section 44987) requires that school districts “shall be reimbursed by the employee organization of which the employee is an elected officer for all compensation paid the employee on account of that leave.” Indeed, reimbursement of “all compensation” is required of the organization within ten days of receiving certification of payment of the organization’s officer by the school district.
The plaintiff in this case (VUSD) is making the argument that “all compensation” means “all compensation” and that the uncompensated five-hundred grand accruing to VTA since 1995 represents an illegal transfer of public funds to a private group.
VTA, on the other hand, would now like to “negotiate” the matter. Last November the union’s non-response to a district request for reimbursement indicated that they thought the issue should be ignored—a position that reflected the initial stance of most board members
Indeed, at one point an argument was made among the board that since a private employer need not recoup overpayments to an employee, the same approach should be taken here. Forgotten in this analogy was that government overpayments are regularly recovered, that the alleged overpayments went to a private organization, and that the relevant contracts were probably illegal. But what matters a few hundred thousand public dollars among political friends?
From the perspective of VUSD $500,000 could be used to restore programs like Middle School sports that were cut in this year’s budget. Alternatively, depriving VTA and its affiliates of a half-million bucks could mean fewer ads touting union-approved causes (like Prop. 25) in the next five weeks.
It might also mean that school districts statewide will begin to reexamine their own union-cozy contracts.