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Tuesday, July 31, 2012



July 27, 2012 - Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON - Despite a personal desire to stay on the job, the city's interim fire chief is stepping down next month to avoid a financial conflict with California's public employee retirement system.

Dave Rudat, who has served as head of the Stockton Fire Department since May 2011, will resign Aug. 8 from the agency with a staff 30 percent smaller than it supported in 2008.

Rudat, 60, a former city manager and fire chief of Orange, has been a public employee in California for more than two decades.

His final shift in Stockton comes two days before a deadline imposed through an ultimatum from the California Public Employees' Retirement System: Pay back CalPERS benefits collected over the last 15 months while serving in Stockton or step down.

"I took the job because it is rewarding and fulfilling, but I have to leave because I don't want to be in a conflict with CalPERS," said Rudat. "I'm having to leave sooner than I wanted to."

CalPERS has said Rudat must return roughly $200,000 in state retirement-and-pension benefits if he continues in his present position. That amount is based off monthly CalPERS disbursements he began earning in 2005 after retiring in Orange.

The city hired Rudat last year through a deal facilitated by DRC Services, a Southern California management-and-administrative-services firm. He receives $14,737 per month before taxes in pension benefits from his time in Orange.

At the time of Rudat's hiring in Stockton, City Manager Bob Deis endorsed the move in a letter to the City Council, saying it saves Stockton money by avoiding insurance and recruitment costs.

Rudat earns a wage of $119 an hour and receives no benefits. His gross pay during his tenure as interim chief is approximately $275,000.

That deal, it appears, was fundamentally flawed.

Even if the fire chief is an independent contractor, Stockton's charter stipulates that paychecks come from the city's payroll. Since the Stockton Fire Department's retirements are established through CalPERS - and Rudat earned monthly payments from Orange - he was in violation of the system's post-retirement employment rules.
CalPERS claims Stockton's leaders didn't check in with them to avoid the conflict.

"Our Employment After Retirement brochure points out that all employment with a CalPERS member agency, even entered into as an independent contractor, should be evaluated carefully to ensure it is not in violation of post-retirement employment rules," Amy Norris, public relations official for CalPERS wrote in an email. "Stockton did not consult with CalPERS before hiring Mr. Rudat under this contract."

Even with the benefit of knowing what they know now, said city spokeswoman Connie Cochran, Stockton officials would still have hired Rudat because of his knowledge and experience.

Deis also defended the hiring in an email.

"The City has been facing challenging circumstances and needed stability and leadership at the department level. In good faith, we engaged Chief Rudat to help us through these difficult times. He has helped us change the culture and has provided comprehensive assessments of a department in transition," he wrote.

Rudat was never meant to be a permanent chief and his abrupt departure does not catch the city off-guard, said Cochran. The city will promote an interim fire chief from within the department shortly, she said.

A permanent replacement will be sought after an interim leader is named.

City Hall has not said how it will go about seeking a permanent fire chief. Whether it will hire a headhunter or consultant is uncertain.

The incoming chiefs will inherit a more stable department that still faces significant challenges, said Rudat.

The reduced staff of 173 sworn members is forcing the department to reorganize its fire-prevention bureau, which conducts inspections and issues permits. Maintaining morale and offering motivation to employees will also be a duty for the next chief, he said.

On the positive, said Rudat, the next leader will oversee a department embracing fiscal responsibility.
"We've seen improvements in our grant acquisition and grant accountability," he said. "We are managing our fiscal house much more attentively and the department turned in a surplus this year."

Rudat has an apartment in Stockton and says he plans to stay in the area for awhile after stepping down but isn't sure what his next move will be.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at (209) 546-8279 or Visit his blog at

Friday, July 20, 2012

Burns' Hiring Just Business as Usual in St. Louis County

Executive Editor - Call Newspapers

July 18, 2012 - It's easy to understand why the public has grown cynical about public officials and the political process.

A perfect example is the contention of St. Louis County Economic Council officials that Dean Burns was the best candidate for the council's vice president of real estate and community development position.

Sixth District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, told the Call's Kari Williams that Economic Council officials said they looked "all over the country" and the "most qualified person they could find for this job is a convicted felon."

"That just simply can't be," Stenger said. "I question the truthfulness of that statement. I think what they're trying to do is put perfume on a pig."

Burns pleaded guilty in 1999 to transferring nearly $30,000 of Housing and Urban Development funds to his own company in 1994. Ironically, when he pleaded guilty in 1999, Burns worked for the Economic Council — believe it or not — as vice president of real estate and community development.

Shortly after Burns entered this guilty plea in 1999, then-County Executive "Buzz" Westfall said Burns should resign — which Burns did.

Now 13 years later, Burns is back in his old post. We believe Stenger hit the nail on the head when he said, "I think that this is another example of political favoritism and cronyism."

Not surprisingly, Katy Jamboretz, vice president of marketing and communications for the Economic Council, said Burns' hiring "couldn't be any less of a political cronyism story."

Certainly Jamboretz understands the meaning of "political cronyism," especially given the fact that before she was hired by the Economic Council, she served as spokeswoman for County Executive Charlie Dooley's 2010 re-election campaign.

But there's plenty of blame to go around, starting with Economic Council President and CEO Denny Coleman.

Under Coleman's watch, Burns now has been hired twice. In fact, in a news release, Coleman termed Burns' employment "... A very strategic hire."

Then there's Dooley, whose administration is riddled with political hires and cronyism. Given that Coleman serves at Dooley's pleasure, we're surprised the county executive hasn't called for Burns to resign.

Perhaps Stenger said it best: "I think that at a minimum (Burns' hiring) has the appearance of impropriety, and I don't think that the taxpayers of St. Louis County, for what they pay for their government, deserve even the appearance of impropriety."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First Indiana Worker Invokes New Right to Work Law to Cut Off Dues to Teamster Union Bosses

Union membership and dues payments in the Hoosier State are finally voluntary

Noblesville, IN (July 16, 2012) – Robert Symonds, a local trucker, has just become one of the first Indiana citizens to exercise his right to stop paying union dues under the new Indiana Right to Work law. Symonds received free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys while he was attempting to cut off further dues payments.
On May 17, 2012, the contract between Teamsters Local 135 and Symonds’ employer, Indianapolis Haulage, expired and a new contract was agreed to. Under Indiana’s Right to Work law, contracts entered into after the law went into effect on March 15, 2012 must respect employees’ rights to refrain from the payment of any union dues. Despite the fact that Symonds resigned his union membership and revoked his dues check-off, Teamster officials told him he wouldn’t be able to stop paying dues until November 2012.
Upon the advice of a Right to Work Foundation attorney, Symonds responded to this obstructionist tactic by sending a letter to his employer, requesting it comply with Indiana law and immediately stop deducting dues from his paychecks. On June 29, Teamster officials sent Symonds a letter indicating they would back down and honor his request to immediately stop deducting union dues.
Symonds’ experience reflects an opportunity thousands of Indiana workers will have in the coming months. Under Indiana’s Right to Work law, forced-dues contracts between unions and employers entered into prior to the legislation’s effective date are still in place throughout the state. As these contracts expire, Indiana workers who were forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment will now have the option to refrain from paying any dues at all.
“We’re happy to report that Robert Symonds has successfully stopped paying dues to a union he no longer belongs to,” said Patrick Semmens, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “You shouldn’t have to pay union dues to get or keep a job, which is why Indiana’s new Right to Work law is right for Hoosiers everywhere.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting thousands of employees in over 200 cases nationwide.

Public Sector Pensions: How Well Funded Are They, Really?

State Budget Solutions | by Andrew G. Biggs | July 18, 2012

Introduction and Summary

Around the country, the financial health of defined benefit pension plans for state and local government workers is a matter of concern for elected officials, taxpayers and the financial markets, all of whom worry about governments' long-term ability to meet their financial obligations. These pension plans have come under increased scrutiny as funding levels have dropped and required contributions have risen.

According to standard actuarial accounting, the average public pension has fallen to around 75 percent in 2011, versus 103 percent in 2000. Annual Required Contributions to public pensions have more than doubled since 2001, though researchers at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College project that state and local governments will meet only around 79 percent of required payments this year. Public sector pensions, as of mid-2011, were underfunded by around $885 billion, based on accounting rules established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board applied to a large sample of plans from the Public Plans Database.

However, reports from academic economists and nonpartisan government agencies strongly suggest that the true state of public sector pension funding is far worse than suggested by official plan disclosures. The accounting rules followed by U.S. public sector pensions are more forgiving than those required for private sector pensions or public sector plans in other countries. So-called "fair market valuation" more fully reveals the value of public sector plan liabilities and shows that the average public employee pension plan in the United States is only around 41 percent funded while total unfunded liabilities as of 2011 are roughly $4.6 trillion.

While state and local governments around the country have enacted reforms to public sector pension plans, including contribution increases, less generous benefits for newly hired employees, and in some cases reductions in cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for current beneficiaries, accurate accounting of public employee pension liabilities shows that elected officials must do much more to make these plans financially sustainable.

This paper first describes how public employee pensions currently measure their financial health; then describes the strong consensus from economists that current accounting rules significantly understate pension liabilities and overstate pension funding levels; and finally, describes how pension financing across the country would appear using accounting rules similar to those required for private sector pensions or which are used by public employee plans in other countries.

Read more:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Worst Union in America


How the California Teachers Association betrayed the schools and crippled the state 

In 1962, as tensions ran high between school districts and unions across the country, members of the National Education Association gathered in Denver for the organization’s 100th annual convention. Among the speakers was Arthur F. Corey, executive director of the California Teachers Association (CTA). “The strike as a weapon for teachers is inappropriate, unprofessional, illegal, outmoded, and ineffective,” Corey told the crowd. “You can’t go out on an illegal strike one day and expect to go back to your classroom and teach good citizenship the next.”

Fast-forward nearly 50 years to May 2011, when the CTA—now the single most powerful special interest in California—organized a “State of Emergency” week to agitate for higher taxes in one of the most overtaxed states in the nation. A CTA document suggested dozens of ways for teachers to protest, including following state legislators incessantly, attempting to close major transportation arteries, and boycotting companies, such as Microsoft, that backed education reform. The week’s centerpiece was an occupation of the state capitol by hundreds of teachers and student sympathizers from the Cal State University system, who clogged the building’s hallways and refused to leave. Police arrested nearly 100 demonstrators for trespassing, including then–CTA president David Sanchez. The protesting teachers had left their jobs behind, even though their students were undergoing important statewide tests that week. With the passage of 50 years, the CTA’s notions of “good citizenship” had vanished.

So had high-quality public education in California. Seen as a national leader in the classroom during the 1950s and 1960s, the country’s largest state is today a laggard, competing with the likes of Mississippi and Washington, D.C., at the bottom of national rankings. The Golden State’s education tailspin has been blamed on everything from class sizes to the property-tax restrictions enforced by Proposition 13 to an influx of Spanish-speaking students. But no portrait of the system’s downfall would be complete without a depiction of the CTA, a political behemoth that blocks meaningful education reform, protects failing and even criminal educators, and inflates teacher pay and benefits to unsustainable levels.

The CTA began its transformation in September 1975, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Rodda Act, which allowed California teachers to bargain collectively. Within 18 months, 600 of the 1,000 local CTA chapters moved to collective bargaining. As the union’s power grew, its ranks nearly doubled, from 170,000 in the late 1970s to approximately 325,000 today. By following the union’s directions and voting in blocs in low-turnout school-board elections, teachers were able to handpick their own supervisors—a system that private-sector unionized workers would envy. Further, the organization that had once forsworn the strike began taking to the picket lines. Today, the CTA boasts that it has launched more than 170 strikes in the years since Rodda’s passage.

The CTA’s most important resource, however, isn’t a pool of workers ready to strike; it’s a fat bank account fed by mandatory dues that can run more than $1,000 per member. In 2009, the union’s income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt. The CTA doesn’t need its members’ consent to spend this money on politicking, whether that’s making campaign contributions or running advocacy campaigns to obstruct reform. According to figures from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (a public institution) in 2010, the CTA had spent more than $210 million over the previous decade on political campaigning—more than any other donor in the state. In fact, the CTA outspent the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, and the tobacco industry combined.

All this money has helped the union rack up an imposing number of victories. The first major win came in 1988, with the passage of Proposition 98. That initiative compelled California to spend more than 40 percent of its annual budget on education in grades K–12 and community college. The spending quota eliminated schools’ incentive to get value out of every dollar: since funding was locked in, there was no need to make things run cost-effectively. Thanks to union influence on local school boards, much of the extra money—about $450 million a year—went straight into teachers’ salaries. Prop. 98’s malign effects weren’t limited to education, however: by essentially making public school funding an entitlement rather than a matter of discretionary spending, it hastened California’s erosion of fiscal discipline. In recent years, estimates of mandatory spending’s share of the state’s budget have run as high as 85 percent, making it highly difficult for the legislature to confront the severe budget crises of the past decade.

In 1991, the CTA took to the ramparts again to combat Proposition 174, a ballot initiative that would have made California a national leader in school choice by giving families universal access to school vouchers. When initiative supporters began circulating the petitions necessary to get it onto the ballot, some CTA members tried to intimidate petition signers physically. The union also encouraged people to sign the petition multiple times in order to throw the process into chaos. “There are some proposals so evil that they should never go before the voters,” explained D. A. Weber, the CTA’s president. One of the consultants who organized the petitions testified in a court declaration at the time that people with union ties had offered him $400,000 to refrain from distributing them. Another claimed that a CTA member had tried to run him off the road after a debate on school choice.

Weber and his followers weren’t successful in keeping the proposition off the ballot, but they did manage to delay it for two years, giving themselves time to organize a counteroffensive. They ran ads, recalls Ken Khachigian, the former White House speechwriter who headed the Yes on 174 campaign, “claiming that a witches’ coven would be eligible for the voucher funds and [could] set up a school of its own.” They threatened to field challengers against political candidates who supported school choice. They bullied members of the business community who contributed money to the pro-voucher effort. When In-N-Out Burger donated $25,000 to support Prop. 174, for instance, the CTA threatened to press schools to drop contracts with the company.

In 1993, Prop. 174 finally came to a statewide vote. The union had persuaded March Fong Eu, the CTA-endorsed secretary of state, to alter the proposition’s heading on the ballot from PARENTAL CHOICE to EDUCATION VOUCHERS—a change in wording that cost Prop. 174 ten points in the polls, according to Myron Lieberman in his book The Teacher Unions. The initiative, which had originally enjoyed 2–1 support among California voters, managed to garner only a little over 30 percent of the vote. Prop. 174’s backers had been outspent by a factor of eight, with the CTA alone dropping $12.5 million on the opposition campaign.

As the CTA’s power grew, it learned that it could extract policy concessions simply by employing its aggressive PR machine. In 1996, with the state’s budget in surplus, the CTA spent $1 million on an ad campaign touting the virtues of reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Feeling the heat from the campaign, Republican governor Pete Wilson signed a measure providing subsidies to schools with classes of 20 children or fewer. The program was a disaster: it failed to improve educational outcomes, and the need to hire many new teachers quickly, to handle all the smaller classes, reduced the quality of teachers throughout the state. The program cost California nearly $2 billion per year at its high-water mark, becoming the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers were swelled by all those new teachers.

The union’s steady supply of cash allowed it to continue its quest for political dominance unabated. In 1998, it spent nearly $7 million to defeat Proposition 8—which would have used student performance as a criterion for teacher reviews and would have required educators to pass credentialing examinations in their disciplines—and more than $2 million in a failed attempt to block Proposition 227, which eliminated bilingual education in public schools. In 2002, the union spent $26 million to defeat Proposition 38, another school voucher proposal. And in 2005, with a special election called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger looming, the CTA came up with a colossal $58 million—even going so far as to mortgage its Sacramento headquarters—to defeat initiatives that would have capped the growth of state spending, made it easier to fire underperforming teachers, and ensured “paycheck protection,” which compels unions to get their members’ consent before using dues for political purposes. (A new paycheck-protection measure will appear on the November 2012 ballot.)

Cannily, the CTA also funds a wide array of liberal causes unrelated to education, with the goal of spreading around enough cash to prevent dissent from the Left. Among these causes: implementing a single-payer health-care system in California, blocking photo-identification requirements for voters, and limiting restraints on the government’s power of eminent domain. The CTA was the single biggest financial opponent of another Proposition 8, the controversial 2008 proposal to ban gay marriage, ponying up $1.3 million to fight an initiative that eventually won 52.2 percent of the vote. The union has also become the biggest donor to the California Democratic Party. From 2003 to 2012, the CTA spent nearly $102 million on political contributions; 0.08 percent of that money went to Republicans.

At the same time that the union was becoming the largest financial force in California politics, it was developing an equally powerful ground game, stifling reform efforts at the local level. Consider the case of Locke High School in the poverty-stricken Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Founded in response to the area’s 1967 riots, Locke was intended to provide a quality education to the neighborhood’s almost universally minority students. For years, it failed: in 2006, with a student body that was 65 percent Hispanic and 35 percent African-American, the school sent just 5 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges, and the dropout rate was nearly 51 percent.

Shortly before Locke reached this nadir, the school hired a reform-minded principal, Frank Wells, who was determined to revive the school’s fortunes. Just a few days after he arrived, a group of rival gangs got into a dust-up; Wells expelled 80 of the students involved. In the new atmosphere of discipline, Locke dropped “from first in the number of campus crime reports in LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] to thirteenth,” writes Donna Foote in Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America. Test scores and college acceptance also began to rise, Foote reports.

But trouble arose with the union when Wells began requiring Locke teachers to present weekly lesson plans. The local CTA affiliate—United Teachers Los Angeles—filed a grievance against him and was soon urging his removal. The last straw was Wells’s effort to convert Locke into an independent charter school, where teachers would operate under severely restricted union contracts. In May 2007, the district removed Wells from his job. He was escorted from his office by three police officers and an associate superintendent of schools, all on the basis of union allegations that he had let teachers use classroom time to sign a petition to turn Locke into a charter. Wells called the allegations “a total fabrication,” and the signature gatherers backed him up. The LAUSD reassigned him to a district office, where he was paid $600 a day to sit in a cubicle and do nothing.

Luckily for Locke students, the union’s rearguard action came too late. In 2007, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted 5–2 to hand Locke High School to Green Dot, a charter school operator. Four years later, as the final class of Locke students who had attended the school prior to its transformation received their diplomas, the school’s graduation rate was 68 percent, and over 56 percent of Locke graduates were headed for higher education.

One of the most noticeable changes at Locke has ramifications statewide: when Green Dot took over, it required all teachers to reapply for their jobs. It hired back only about one-third of them. That approach is unimaginable in the rest of the state’s public schools, where a teaching job is essentially a lifetime sinecure. A tiny 0.03 percent of California teachers are dismissed after three or more years on the job. In the past decade, the LAUSD—home to 33,000 teachers—has dismissed only four. Even when teachers are fired, it’s seldom because of their classroom performance: a 2009 exposé by the Los Angeles Times found that only 20 percent of successful dismissals in the state had anything to do with teaching ability. Most terminations involved teachers behaving either obscenely or criminally. The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based education-reform organization, gave California a D-minus on its teacher-firing policies in its 2010 national report card.

Responsibility for this sorry situation goes largely to the CTA, which has won concessions that make firing a teacher so difficult that educators can usually keep their jobs for any offense that doesn’t cross into outright criminality. With the cost of the proceedings regularly running near half a million dollars, many districts choose to shuffle problem employees around rather than try to fire them.

Even outright offenses are no guarantee of removal, thanks to CTA influence. When a fired teacher appeals his case beyond the school board, it goes to the Commission on Professional Competence—two of whose three members are also teachers, one of them chosen by the educator whose case is being heard. The CTA has stacked this process as well by bargaining to require evidentiary standards equal to those used in civil-court procedures and coaching the teachers on the panels. One veteran school-district lawyer calls the appeals process “one of the most complicated civil legal matters anywhere.” As the Times noted, “The district wanted to fire a high school teacher who kept a stash of pornography, marijuana and vials with cocaine residue at school, but [the Commission on Professional Competence] balked, suggesting that firing was too harsh.” The commission was also the reason that, as the newspaper continued, the district was “unsuccessful in firing a male middle school teacher spotted lying on top of a female colleague in the metal shop”; the district had failed to “prove that the two were having sex.”

Another regulatory body dominated by CTA influence is the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), the institution responsible for removing the credentials of misbehaving teachers. A report released in 2011 by California state auditor Elaine Howle found that the commission had a backlog of approximately 12,600 cases, with responses sometimes taking as long as three years. Because the CTC—which was created by an act sponsored by the CTA—is made up of members appointed by the governor, the CTA is able to bring its political pressure to bear on determining the commission’s makeup. In September 2011, for instance, one of Governor Jerry Brown’s appointments to the CTC was Kathy Harris, who had previously been a CTA lobbyist to the body.

The CTA’s most recent crusade for job security made clear that the union was prepared to jeopardize the financial future of California’s schools. Last June, it vigorously pushed (and Governor Brown hastily signed) Assembly Bill 114, which prevented any teacher layoffs or program cuts in the coming fiscal year and removed the requirement that school districts present balanced budget plans. The bill also forced public schools to prepare budget estimates that didn’t take into account the state’s downturn in revenues—meaning that schools could budget for activities even though there wasn’t money to pay for them. Since then, state officials have forecast that revenues for the 2012 fiscal year will be $3.2 billion lower than they were when the schools were making their budgets. Eventually, accommodations to reality will have to be made—at which time the CTA will, of course, use them to plead hardship.

Such pleas seem impudent coming from the highest-paid teachers in the nation, with an average annual salary of $68,000. For a bit of perspective, if two California teachers get married (not an unusual occurrence) and each makes the average salary, their combined annual income would be $136,000, nearly $80,000 more than what the state’s median household pulls down. That’s for an average annual workload of 180 days, only two-thirds of the average total in the private sector. Don’t forget retirement benefits: after 30 years, a California teacher may retire with a pension equal to about 75 percent of his working salary. That pension averages more than $51,000 a year—more than working teachers earn in more than half the states in the nation. And that’s just an average; from 2005 to 2011, the number of education employees pulling down more than $100,000 a year in pensions skyrocketed from 700 to 5,400.

With the state’s economy in tumult, however, prospects for the teachers’ retirement fund look grim. CalSTRS is now officially estimated to have about $56 billion in liabilities and about 30 years left before it runs dry, though many outside analysts think that those numbers are too optimistic. A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in November 2011 estimated that restoring full funding to CalSTRS would require finding an extra $3.9 billion a year for at least 30 years.

If California is to generate the economic growth necessary to mitigate its coming fiscal reckoning, it will need to retain its historical role as a leading site for innovation and entrepreneurship. But that won’t be possible if its next generation of would-be entrepreneurs attends one of the Golden State’s many mediocre or failing schools. And what little economic dynamism is left in California will be impeded if the union gets its way and the state increases its already weighty tax burden.

Meaningful change probably won’t come from elected officials, at least for now. The CTA’s size, financial resources, and influence with the state’s regnant Democratic Party are enough to kill most pieces of hostile legislation. For years, school reformers fantasized about a transformative figure who could shift the balance of power from the union through force of charisma and personality, taking his case directly to the people. Yet when that figure seemed to emerge in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, even he proved unable to alter the status quo, with his 2005 ballot initiatives to reform tenure, school financing, and political spending by unions all going down to decisive defeat. It’s unlikely that salvation will come from Governor Brown, either. The man who originally opened the door for the CTA’s collective bargaining has remained a steadfast ally of the union, firing four pro-reform members of the state board of education in his first few days in office and appointing a new group that included Patricia Ann Rucker, the CTA’s top lobbyist. Brown also avoided including any changes to CalSTRS in his October announcement of proposed pension reforms, probably because he had learned Schwarzenegger’s lesson that irking the CTA can lead to the demise of a broader agenda.

Parents, however, are starting to revolt against CTA orthodoxy. Unlike elected officials, parents—who want nothing more than a good education for their kids—are hard for the union to demonize. In early 2010, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit called Parent Revolution shocked California’s pundit class by getting the state legislature to pass the nation’s first “parent trigger” law, which lets parents at failing schools force districts to undertake certain reforms, including converting schools into independent charters. The law caps the number of schools eligible for reform at 75, but if early results are successful, it will become hard for Californians to avoid comparing thriving charter schools with failing traditional ones.

The CTA is fighting back, of course. In 2010, when 61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in the blighted L.A. neighborhood of Compton opted to pull the trigger, the CTA claimed that “parents were never given the full picture . . . [or] informed of the great progress already being made”—despite the fact that McKinley’s performance was ranked beneath nearly all other inner-city schools in the state. Several Hispanic parents in the district also said that members of the union had threatened to report them to immigration authorities if they signed the petition. Eventually, the Compton Unified school board—heavily lobbied by the CTA—dismissed the petition signatures, with no discussion, as “insufficient” on a handful of technicalities, such as missing dates and typos. Though the union’s power had proved too much for the McKinley parents, an enterprising charter school operator opened two new campuses in the neighborhood anyway.

Institutions like Locke High School, Green Dot, Parent Revolution, and the Compton charters are glimmers of hope for California’s public school system. Despite their inferior resources, they have fought the CTA not by participating in direct political conflict but by undermining the union’s moral standing. These organizations reframe the education question in starkly humanitarian terms: In the California public school system, are anyone’s interests more important than the students’? It was a question that the CTA itself might have asked back when teachers entered the classroom to “teach good citizenship.”

Troy Senik is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom and an editor at

Saturday, July 7, 2012

GOP Teachers Uneasy at Obama-Themed Union Convention

Published July 06, 2012 | Associated Press

It had all the trappings of a re-election rally: thousands packing a convention center, Barack Obama T-shirts, videos celebrating the health care law, and a wall-size banner with encouraging messages to the incumbent president. 
"You are our knight in shining armor -- Sarah C., Norman, Okla.," read one inscription. 

But this Obama love fest in Washington was not a campaign event. The nearly 9,000 gathered were teachers in town for the National Education Association's weeklong annual convention. 

For the Republican teachers in attendance, the digs at their political views were impossible to overlook. 

"What I don't like is the harassment going on for people to be an `EFO' -- an educator for Obama," said Maureen van Wagner, a special education teacher from Anchorage, Alaska. 

In interviews with The Associated Press, roughly a dozen teachers who identified themselves as Republicans said they felt pressure from union leaders and the rank-and-file to support Obama's re-election -- and felt marginalized when they wouldn't. Some interviewed said they were so worried about retribution from their colleagues that they wouldn't provide their names for publication. 

National unions such as the NEA -- it's the largest teachers union in the U.S. -- have long been stalwart supporters of Democratic candidates, and to be effective, they must speak with a unified voice. But teachers, like other professional groups, are not monolithic in their political views, prompting inevitable tensions when the union mobilizes its political machine. 

NEA leaders have been urging members to hold house parties to educate their friends about why Obama, who addressed the convention Thursday by telephone to thank teachers for their support, deserves a second term. So it wasn't really a surprise that the union showed its support for Obama so overtly at the convention. After all, 72 percent of delegates at last year's NEA convention voted to endorse Obama for re-election -- the earliest the group has ever endorsed in a presidential election cycle. 

But what did take Republican teachers off guard was the criticism they received for expressing support for Mitt Romney. 

A Republican teacher speaking at the convention was booed for doing just that. The incident prompted NEA President Dennis Van Roekel to intervene, saying that everyone had the right to speak. And when the union invited delegates to the Democratic National Convention in September to a special meeting, no such invitations went out to delegates to the GOP convention until a Republican teacher complained to Van Roekel -- an error the union said resulted from a missed newsletter deadline. 

Then there were the T-shirts. Some Republicans said they were presented with NEA T-shirts featuring Obama's name -- and that it felt like being forced to choose between their profession and their politics. 

"I'm not here representing myself, I'm here representing other teachers," said Chris Cvijetic, a first-grade teacher and Republican from Palm Springs, Calif. "That's the only way I can get through the day." 

NEA officials said the union, which has never endorsed a Republican for president, makes every effort to ensure all its members feel welcome. The union holds a Republican Leadership Conference the same week as the annual convention. Union dues are kept separate from the NEA's political action committee, which spends donated funds to promote candidates such as Obama. And the NEA has endorsed GOP candidates who are pro-public education. 

Despite the complaints, the NEA has no plans to shy away from a full embrace of what Mary Kusler, the union's director of government relations, called "the incredible legacy and vision of this current administration." 

That's not stopping NEA members who disagree with Obama from making their voices heard. 

In the convention center's basement-level expo center, squeezed in between the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teacher's caucus and a stall selling designer handbags of questionable authenticity, sat a small, two-person table for the NEA's Republican Educators Caucus. The group has about 160 members, although it has seen its ranks grow in recent years, said Davina Keiser, the caucus chairwoman. 

"For Republican teachers, it's almost like we're stepchildren in NEA, and then in the Republican Party we're also stepchildren, because we're public schoolteachers, and that's not part of their focus," said Keiser, who teaches high school math in Long Beach, Calif.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Teachers' Retirement System Needs Change, Legislators Say

Haefner says she doesn't lack will, courage to change PSRS

Staff Reporter - CALL NEWSPAPERS

July 04, 2012 - Reps. Marsha Haefner and Cloria Brown said the Public School Retirement System, or PSRS, has a numbers problem and needs to be changed.

Haefner, R-Oakville, told the roughly 40 people who attended a town-hall meeting at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library last week the current PSRS system is "unsustainable."

"We have about 68,000 teachers in the state of Missouri who are currently teaching and adding to that fund. We have, I believe, 56,000, plus or minus, people receiving retirement benefits from that fund," Haefner said. "So just right there, do the math, and you can figure out that the money that's in the pot for retirement is going to run out very quickly."

PSRS and the Public Education Employee Retirement System, or PEERS, are retirement plans for certified and classified public education employees.

Under the current system, PSRS and PEERS members and school districts contribute to the funds. PSRS contribution rates for educators and school districts are 14.5 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, the same as last school year.

Similarly, PEERS contribution rates did not increase. School districts and employees both contribute 6.86 percent.

The PSRS funding ratio — actuarial value of assets divided by actuarial accrued liability — was 85.5 percent in 2011. The 2011 PEERS funding ratio was 85.3 percent.

Brown, R-Lemay, vice chair of the House Retirement Committee, said PSRS is "managed by people who say there is no problem."

"The teachers sit there and they believe there is no problem," she said. "There is a problem. It is not a problem that is going to happen today or tomorrow."

Legislators, according to Haefner, have been trying to work with PSRS representatives to come to an agreement that will work for retired teachers and taxpayers.

"What I would like to see is an agreement from this system saying that if this is what they want to continue doing, they will let the state taxpayers off the hook if their calculations are not what they say that they are," Haefner said.

Brown said she spoke with Steve Yoakum, PSRS/PEERS executive director, last year, and he told her "they were looking into a second-tier system."

"... New teachers coming in, instead of coming in and putting in 14.5 percent of their salary with the taxpayer having to match 14.5 percent, that maybe they would go to like a 7-percent tier ...," Brown said.

The PSRS/PEERS Board of Trustees last August approved a funding stabilization policy that "provides an annual 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment to retirees when inflation is between 0 percent and 5 percent ... (and) utilizes a 30-year amortization period with the goal of paying off the unfunded accrued liability and becoming 100-percent pre-funded within that time period," according to the PSRS/PEERS website.

Legislators tried to enact that policy into law, according to Brown, but the bill, Senate Bill 842, did not leave the Senate. Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, introduced SB 842, which would have implemented "a 30-year amortization period beginning with the 2011-2012 school year to pay off the unfunded actuarial accrued liability or until the system becomes 100-percent funded."

The bill also stated, "The level rate of contribution for a fiscal year cannot exceed the level rate of contribution for the prior fiscal year by more than one-half percent for PSRS or one-quarter percent for PEERS."

A report from the Committee on Legislative Research Oversight Division states PSRS/PEERS officials assume the "proposal requires the contribution rate to be fixed at the current contribution level for 2011-2012 until the PSRS/PEERS funded ratio is 100 percent."

PSRS/PEERS posted on its website,, that it is happy to report "no legislation passed impacting the retirement benefits" of its members or retirees.

"This effort was accomplished by the involvement of education associations, retired and active members contacting their legislators, and our legislative team, who spent many hours walking the floors of the Capitol and monitoring numerous hearings and floor debates," the website stated.

Neither Haefner nor Brown introduced legislation regarding PSRS/PEERS. However, Haefner said that does mean she does not have "any political will or courage."

"I said two years ago when I ran for this office for the first time the (public education retirement) system is broken," she said. "We need to come together, the teachers and the legislators, to find a solution. We work every day on trying to find that middle ground. But because I don't have a bill, one of 1,800 bills this session, doesn't mean I lack will or courage."

Additionally, Brown questioned how she would introduce a bill when she does not know the answer to the problem.

"I can't write a bill that says, 'Do this, this and this,' if I don't know what the answer is," Brown said.

Mehlville Board of Education member Rich Franz told the Call if Brown, Haefner and Sen. Lembke, R-Lemay, who attended the June 28 town-hall meeting, are committed to addressing the PSRS/PEERS situation, their commitment should have been noticeable through media attention given to legislation they introduced.

"(Rep. Haefner) said she did not introduce any legislation," Franz said. "I simply want our state legislators to put this issue before politics because, as Rep. Haefner pointed out herself, it's a problem that's not going to go away and it cannot be ignored."

Yoakum was unavailable for comment before the Call went to press.