What would you say to someone who displayed extraordinary courage and initiative to stand up for a law you wrote?
“You’re fired” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but that’s what happened to Arturo Garcia on January 29, after he stepped onto some very big toes. Garcia, a full time district representative for California State Senator Bob Huff since early 2013, had been assigned to work with parents and activists who want to save a failing elementary school in Anaheim.
Palm Lane Elementary School had been underperforming for twelve years. Frustrated parents went to the teachers, principal, school board and the district superintendent seeking change for their school to no avail. They learned about California’s Parent Trigger Act back in July, 2014 from Senator Huff, retired Senator Gloria Romero of the California Center for Empowerment and others requiring them to wage a campaign to gather at least half of the school parent’s signatures on a petition seeking to transform their school into a charter school.
On January 14, 2015, petitions were turned in representing over 50% of the parents of the enrolled students at Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim.
Instead of verifying these signatures, however, according to Garcia, parents, and other observers, the union representing the teachers at Palm Lane started holding meetings with parents, telling them why they thought invoking the parent trigger solution was a bad idea.
When arriving at one of these “informational” meetings on January 20th, by invitation of some of the parents, a meeting where he maintains he had a clear legal right to attend, Garcia was asked to leave by a union official. When he refused, Garcia claims the official – in front of several parents who witnessed the altercation – pushed and shoved him towards the door. When Garcia asked him to stop, they changed tactics, and several teachers swarmed around Garcia to block him. They them began methodically pushing him towards the door by backing up against him.
Garcia claims that when he reported what happened to his colleagues, he was discouraged from filing a police report. On January 29th, Garcia was fired.
It is difficult to determine the exact facts and circumstances surrounding Garcia’s firing. Huff’s office claims Garcia had not been authorized to attend that particular meeting. But if parents had asked Garcia to be there, and if Garcia’s work assignment was to support these parents, wouldn’t it be reasonable for him to assume he could show up? And if Garcia was in fact abruptly fired for just this one possible transgression, why wouldn’t he be subject to progressive discipline, and receive a warning instead of termination? Let’s not forget that just last year, several blatantly corrupt Sacramento lawmakers continued to collect salaries for months before finally, reluctantly, being released from public service.
But hold everything. Why is this about Arturo Garcia being fired by Senator Huff?
Why is that the story?
Why isn’t this about Arturo Garcia being assaulted by a professional operative of the California Teachers Association? Here is the response from Huff’s office:
“Our office contacted Senate Human Resources Personnel the day that we learned of the incident between Arturo and the union representative. She contacted Joe Nunez, Executive Director of the CTA, and informed him of the Senate’s zero tolerance policy as it pertains to our employees and how they are treated by the public and specifically to members of his organization. She told him that CTA representatives must treat all Senate employees with respect and adhere to our policies.”
That’s it? Why isn’t Senator Huff calling for that person to be terminated, abruptly, instead of firing one of his own? Because that’s the story. Senator Huff should have called publicly for the perpetrator of this assault to be fired, immediately, instead of firing his own possibly overzealous employee and hoping this will all go away. It won’t go away. Finish what you started, Senator Huff. The CTA will never support you. Never. Ever. If you won’t fight the CTA, who will?
The California State Legislature is a tight knit organization, where staffers consider one another as family. A place where workers cultivate relationships, trade favors and avoid conflict, so they can keep working in the Capitol building throughout their careers, even as the politicians they serve come and go. Is initiative prized in such an environment? Or is it more important not to ruffle feathers? When senior legislative staffers enjoy cocktails with their colleagues after work in Sacramento, chances are very good that some – if not most – of their bosses were elected with CTA money. So if you want to keep working there, drink another round and get along. Arturo Garcia wasn’t part of that world, and he didn’t want to be part of that world. Because Arturo Garcia was trying to make a difference. Sacramento, and California at large, need more people like him.
* * *
Anaheim Teachers Union Faces A Gathering Storm
UnionWatch, February 3, 2015
Parent empowerment a major tool for school reform in California
Education Watchdog, January 29, 2015
Parent Trigger & Open Enrollment – Ways to Cope With Union Controlled Schools
UnionWatch, January 27, 2015
Rallying for school reform in Anaheim
Orange County Register, January 19, 2015
Parent Trigger Bullies
Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2015
* * *