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Long Beach Resident Alleges City is Paying for Political Campaigns

Editor’s Note: The following was mailed to the California Policy Center office. It address the issue of release time in Long Beach, and is particularly interesting because it is from a retired LAPD chief of police, Stephen Downing.

“Good day,
The attached will be published as a column in the Long Beach Beachcomber this Friday. I provide this copy in the event you may like to consider publishing the story to your subscribers – of which I am one.
Thanks,
Stephen Downing
Long Beach Resident and Retired LAPD deputy chief of police”

 *   *   *

August 16, 2016

Mr. Pat West
City Manager
City of Long Beach
333 West Ocean Blvd. #13
Long Beach, CA  90802

Over the past five years the City of Long Beach has paid out a total of $1,200,387 to a city employee who has not worked a single day for the benefit of the Long Beach taxpayer – but has instead been allowed to work full time for a private corporation that supports, plans and finances political campaigns – a direct and egregious violation of taxpayers rights.

Under California law, local governments are strictly prohibited from engaging in political advocacy using public resources. Local governments may make public statements of an informational nature, provided they are factual and impartial. Statements that are not factual, or that are not impartial are prohibited both by our state and federal Constitutions.

The Free Speech clauses of the federal and state Constitutions prohibit the use of governmentally compelled monetary contributions (including taxes) to support or oppose political campaigns since “such contributions are a form of speech, and compelled speech offends the First Amendment.” Smith v. U.C. Regents (1995) 4 Cal.4th 843, 852.

Moreover, “use of the public treasury to mount an election campaign which attempts to influence the resolution of issues which our Constitution leaves to the ‘free election’ of the people (see Const., art. II A 2) … presents a serious threat to the integrity of the electoral process.” Stanson v Mott (1976) 17 Cal.3d 206 218.

According to compensation records provided to Transparent California by the City of Long Beach the full time president of the Long Beach Police Officer’s Association (POA) has been compensated with funds from the city treasury totaling $1,200,387 over the past five years.

In addition to conducting employee organization representation activity with the City of Long Beach during the five year period (for which release time is separately provided through the legal requirements of the Meyer-Milias Brown Act) the POA president has also devoted his taxpayer-paid time to advocate for, direct and manage the planning, execution, supervision and distribution of monies from the LBPOA PAC to endorse and support a wide variety of political campaigns including those of the current Long Beach Mayor, City Attorney, City Prosecutor, a majority of the sitting members of the Long Beach City Council, Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate, Patrick O’Donnell, Al Martsuchi and Mike Gipson for California Assembly seats, Betty Yee for State Controller, Jackie Lacey for District Attorney, Kim Nguyen, Susan Jung Townsend and Debra Archuleta for Superior Court judgeships, Felton Williams and Jon Meyr for School Board positions – as well as expending city-paid time for planning sessions with elected and non-elected city officials while allocating almost 300,000 from the LBPOA PAC to support the officeholder-controlled, special interest PAC-funded, mailbox-stuffing campaign that urged a YES vote on Measures A & B – a local measure that increased the Long Beach sales tax to the second highest local sales tax in the Nation.

It is a serious breach of the public trust when government officials spend public funds to create an advantage for one side of a political campaign. We have informed the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association about this activity.

As you may know, HJTA has successfully sued individual officials in similar circumstances for an accounting and personal reimbursement of mishandled public funds.

In order to avoid litigation over this matter, we demand that the Government of the City of Long Beach immediately cease using public funds to support the political activity of the LB POA president and restrict his release time – as well as the POA’s entire board of directors – to membership job related representation activity permitted and mandated by the Meyer-Milias Brown Act.

If we receive written confirmation from the City of Long Beach prior to adoption of the 2017 city budget that these demands have been met, we will take no further action.

Sincerely,

Stephen Downing
Long Beach Resident and Taxpayer

Cc:  Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Legal Department
Robert Garcia, Mayor, Long Beach
Members of the Long Beach City Council
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A Kinder and Gentler Teachers Union?

The unions are trying to take the “we’re in it for the kids” shtick to a new level by declaring that they now collectively bargain for “the common good.”

Last week, The American Prospect posted “Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good,’” which claims that unions across the country are “expanding their focus to the broader community.” All this is code for, “We don’t want to come off as selfish, so while we are still going to push for our typical me-first (and only) union agenda, we are going to try to deceive the public into believing that we really care about kids and taxpayers.”

According to the piece, public employee union leaders and community organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and came up with a 3-point plan: use the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; work with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognize militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The lofty but ultimately meaningless verbiage led the writer of the piece to conclude that “The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.”

Politicize bargaining?! That’s all collective bargaining in education is and ever was – pure, unadulterated, no additives, not-made-from-concentrate – politics. The union sits at a table with school board members and hashes out contracts that, more often than not, are detrimental to students, good teachers and taxpayers. Collective bargaining agreements inhibit creativity and treat teachers as interchangeable widgets. Additionally, the taxpayer gets to foot the bill for goodies like Cadillac healthcare plans that the union – and frequently their bought-and-paid-for school board – collude on and ratify.

There is a ton of evidence that the cuddly, kind and caring teacher union concept is a fraud. Here are just a few recent examples:

In last week’s post, I wrote about a situation in Yonkers, NY where a union president and vice-president are both caught on video trying to help a teacher who claimed to have physically abused a child while using a racial epithet, and subsequently fled to Mexico, unannounced, for two weeks. (It was actually staged by investigative journalist James O’Keefe.) As all concerned parties investigate the union leaders’ responses, the Yonkers Federation of Teachers has asked the taxpayer subsidized school district to continue paying Paul Diamond, the union vice-president, his salary while he performs his union duties for the 2016-17 school year. Not unique to Yonkers, this phenomenon, known as “release time,” goes on all over the country and is an absolute outrage. It’s a practice that allows a public employee to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay, all the while giving the union a free worker. The employee’s activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences. Diamond will not spend one minute teaching. No evidence of “citizen power” here.

Next, a school district in Illinois just awarded its teachers a 10-year contract that includes a 40 percent salary increase over its term, preserves a pre-retirement, 6 percent yearly pay spike to boost teachers’ pensions, an increase in sick-days from 15 to 24 per year, and a freeze on health insurance and prescription drug costs for district employees for the 10-year period. “Shared goals?” In what universe?

On the state level, we have a situation in California that doesn’t involve collective bargaining but certainly calls into question whose “common good” is being served. Contra Costa Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 would change both seniority and tenure as we know it. The bill includes a provision that offers ineffective teachers extra professional support. If a teacher receives a second low-performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process. It would also increase the time for a teacher to attain tenure (or more accurately “permanent status”) from two to three or four years, depending on their performance. Additionally, seniority would no longer be the single most important factor in handing out pink slips. This is hardly radical stuff and would certainly make for a more effective teaching profession in the Golden State.

But the most powerful special interest group in the state, the California Teachers Association, is fighting the bill. Blithely casting the needs of kids aside, the union first claimed the bill “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” (Yes, just like every other profession in the world.) In a subsequent post on its website, the union went bonkers, claiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.” And that was just the beginning. To read the rest of this bizarre rant, go here. But in any event, we know whose posterior CTA is trying to protect, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “reducing inequality.”

And then there is the pension situation. In California, the state teachers’ retirement system is currently experiencing a $70 billion shortfall. Is CTA willing to accept some responsibility and work to make adjustments for the common good? The union’s response to the nightmare that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the already beleaguered taxpayer is to try to kill any reforms, maintain the miserable status quo and blame Wall Street and “corporate greed.” “Strengthening democracy?” Hardly.

Finally, last week in National Review, former Florida governor Jeb Bush laid out a plan to save America’s education system. His excellent piece included such basic ideas as letting parents choose from a marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools, with education funding following the child. He wants to weed out failing schools and reward good and great teachers for hard work and results. But each of these ideas is fought on a daily basis by the teachers unions, since they would lose much of their power and income if Bush’s ideas were to be implemented on a grand scale.

“Bargaining for the common good” is just a touchy-feely catchphrase which shouldn’t fool anyone. The teachers unions are not acting in anyone else’s best interest. And there is little good about them, common or otherwise.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Teacher Union Pension Flim-flam

The public employee pension problem isn’t new, but a teacher union leader’s defense of it has sunk to new depths.

According to the Federal Reserve, public employee pensions in aggregate nationally are in serious trouble. Currently totaling $5.8 trillion, they are underfunded by $1.7 trillion. While all these pensions are draining public resources, Don Boyd, director of fiscal studies at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, charges that the teachers’ plans are a disproportionate part of the problem. And in a recent US News & World Report piece, “America’s Bankrupt Schools,” Lauren Camera sounds alarm bells, explaining that “Pension plans could be the culprit behind broke big-city school districts,” and goes on to detail the bleak fiscal situation that now burdens Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago.

Teachers’ pensions are funded to some extent by teachers themselves but the bulk of the payment is supplied by the school district (the taxpayer) and the local and state government (the taxpayer). It’s a “defined benefit” set-up whereby the teacher, upon retiring, receives a fixed monthly amount for life…no matter how much he or she has actually contributed to the plan.

While it is true that local and state governments are responsible for the looming disaster, the influential teachers unions have much to say about these policies and are leading the charge to maintain the unsustainable status quo. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents many educators in the most fiscally challenged cities, claims, “People become schoolteachers knowing full well they will not command riches like in the private sector, but when they retire they can take comfort in knowing they have a pension to support them…The real culprit of the school systems’ trouble has been state governments’ support for expanding charter schools, voucher plans and other school choice policies,” which she argues have eaten into the budget for traditional public schools. She adds, “There is a common thread in how the Philadelphia crisis started, what happened in Michigan, and what’s happening in Illinois, where there is abandonment by these Republican governors or legislatures of urban city school districts.”

Where to begin?! In one fell swoop, she plays the “poor teacher” card, blames legislators who try to help kids to escape their failing public schools (which her union rules over) and Republicans. Of course, she omits the fact that every city and some states that are underwater are run by Democrats. As for her first claim, the myth of the underpaid teacher has no basis. Perhaps the most respected study to date, conducted by researchers Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs (in which they account for all variables – including the fact that teachers work on average for 180 days, while private industry workers toil for 240-250 days) found that workers “who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.” And that doesn’t include the very generous “Cadillac” healthcare plans that most teachers have and don’t pay for. So it would seem that teachers do quite well compared to other workers, even before their pensions are accounted for.

Weingarten’s comments about school choice are especially egregious. As explained by the Friedman Foundation’s Martin Lueken, “First, the states Weingarten cites are experiencing the worst pension crises, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois, do not even have strongly funded private school choice programs. Michigan has none, and fewer than 3 percent of the state’s students in Pennsylvania and likely fewer in Illinois are currently using any private school choice program.” He rightfully points out that schools of choice do not siphon public funds. “The truth is that school choice programs can improve the fiscal health of public school districts. Between 1990 and 2011, there were 10 private school choice programs in operation. Those programs saved a total of $1.7 billion. Another fiscal analysis on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program demonstrated net savings of $37 million in FY 2009 from the program.”

Unmentioned in Weingarten’s misguided explanation was a prior classic. She is on record saying that, “Every dollar paid out in pension benefits puts $2.37 back into the economy.” Here the union leader blithely ignores that the same economic activity would be generated by taxpayer money if it were not diverted to pensions in the first place.

Another outrage that has been rarely acknowledged in the pension discussion is what is euphemistically called release time or, in some circles, “ghost teachers.” It’s a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and even out-of-town conferences. It has cost the state and federal governments billions to date, not including the pension time the “ghosts” rack up doing work for their union. Thankfully, reports about abuses in Michigan, Connecticut, Philadelphia and elsewhere have been brought to light over the past year.

Via legislation or initiative – whatever it takes – public sector employers must be made to set up 401(k) or “defined contribution” retirement plans as exist in the private sector. In this arrangement, the employer, employee or both make contributions on a regular basis, but there is no additional taxpayer involvement. However, until 401(k) plans are implemented – and the unions will fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening – so much of the money that should be spent on education, especially in our most blighted cities, will go into the pockets of not only retired teachers but to various other public employees…ghost and otherwise. And all the while the teachers unions claim that everything they do is for the children. In this case (and in so many others), they are doing it to the children, not to mention the ever-more-beleaguered taxpayers.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Release Time on the Taxpayer’s Dime

All over the country, American workers are subsidizing unions with tax dollars.

In St. Charles, IL, a teacher is paid $141,105 not to teach. In Philadelphia, “ghost employees” who don’t do work for the state collect benefits from the state. In Kalamazoo, MI a former teacher is collecting a government pension of $85,903 a year even though he didn’t teach his last 14 years, but instead worked as a union employee.

Called “release time,” or “official time” at the federal level, it’s a practice that allows public employees to conduct union business during working hours without loss of pay. These activities include negotiating contracts, lobbying, processing grievances, and attending union meetings and conferences.

According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this racket has cost the federal government about $1 billion since 1998. Between 2008 and 2011, the fraud has increased from 2.9 million hours at a cost of $121 million to 3.4 million hours at a cost of $155 million.

School boards, which frequently consist of members bought and paid for by the teachers unions, are particularly guilty of this crime against the taxpayer. In CA, where the California Teachers Association wields great power, the situation is particularly egregious. Typically this scam is written into collective bargaining contracts and comes in different flavors. Sometimes the school district will pay for the cost of a sub if the teacher/union employee needs to do work for the union. In Los Angeles, page 6 of the teacher contract states that the United Teachers of Los Angeles “may request the release of designated employees from their regular duties with no loss of pay for the purpose of attending to UTLA matters, with the expense of the substitute or replacement to be borne by UTLA.”

Sounds fair, right? But it’s not.

The substitute invariably makes a lot less than the teacher/union employee and the taxpayer is sucking up the difference in pay. The teacher is also racking up pension time, (which is taxpayer-subsidized), while doing union work. And of course the students lose out by having frequent subs, who often are nothing more than placeholders.

In other districts, the union gets a completely free pass. Page 15 of Orange County’s Fountain Valley School District contract reads, “The Association (union) President or designee may utilize one (1) day per week for Association business. The District shall bear the cost of the substitutes.” So a classroom teacher of 15 years, who doubles as union president, makes an $89,731 yearly salary, or $485 a day. The taxpayer is also paying $100 a day for a sub which brings the total to $585 for one day of union business per week. Repeated over the 38 week teaching year, the taxpayer is on the hook for $22,230. And that amount does not include the thousands of dollars the employer (ultimately the taxpayer) has to pay for contributions to the teacher/union leader’s retirement fund, health benefits, unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

With over a thousand school districts in the state doing business like Los Angeles and Fountain Valley, we are talking about serious larceny.

Not everyone has rolled over and accepted this criminal arrangement. Jim Gibson, a former Marine Corps Captain who had sat on the Vista Unified School District board for 13 years, was outraged at the fraudulent set-up and decided to act. He initiated a lawsuit against the Vista Teachers Association in 2011, using a section of the California education code to make his case:

The governing board of a school district shall grant to any employee, upon request, a leave of absence without loss of compensation for the purpose of enabling the employee to serve as an elected officer of any local school district public employee organization, or any statewide or national public employee organization with which the local organization is affiliated.

… Following the school district’s payment of the employee for the leave of absence, the school district shall be reimbursed by the employee organization of which the employee is an elected officer for all compensation paid the employee on account of the leave. Reimbursement by the employee organization shall be made within 10 days after its receipt of the school district’s certification of payment of compensation to the employee. (Emphasis added.)

Gibson and the school district won the case.  All monies paid to do union business were ordered to be repaid by the union to the district. This ruling should have had ramifications statewide, but clearly it hasn’t. And things won’t change until enough citizens rise up and put an end to it.

What can be done?

One way to stop the criminal practice of taxpayer-supported “release time” would be to open collective bargaining negotiations to the public. That kind of sunlight would go a long way toward disinfecting wounds inflicted by unions and compliant school board members.

More than anything, citizens need to get involved. Examine the part of your local teacher union contract that is headed Organizational Security, Association Rights or (Name of local union) Rights. Ask your local school board president how the district deals with this policy. Go to school board meetings and ask questions about the contract wording and ask for verification that that district actually lives up to the contract. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and your kid’s teacher. Talk to the media if necessary.

If we the people don’t care enough to stop it, union orchestrated taxpayer theft will go on unabated.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.