California school boards are prevented by the state legislature and governor from offering disproportionate pay to employees willing to work in high-poverty zones, cutting pension spending, altering permanent employment (tenure) rules or granting principals the power to fire poorly performing employees. The outcome: poor student performance, inadequate teacher salaries, and shaky finances despite a huge increase in spending.
All it takes is 62 legislators and the governor to change that outcome. Every legislator knows that school districts should not be forced to grant permanent employment after just 24 months or to divert money from current to retired teachers and should be permitted to pay more to teachers who take on tougher assignments and to fire under-performers.
The only thing stopping them is fear. They are afraid of CTA, the largest commercial and political special interest roaming the halls of the State Capitol. But don’t blame CTA. Its members collect $70 billion per year from taxpayers. You too would roam the Capitol if you were collecting $70 billion from legislators. Blame legislators and governors who don’t have the courage to attack the real causes of school distress. It is they who are letting down students — especially our most vulnerable students. Just look at what’s happening to African-American students in San Francisco and to students all around the state.
But the legislature and governor don’t get all the blame. Believe it or not, some districts subsidize retired teachers at the expense of current teachers. San Francisco could pay teachers an extra $40 million this year if it stopped subsidizing health insurance for retired teachers who, like their fellow Californians, could obtain health insurance on the state’s excellent Obamacare exchange (Covered California) until they become eligible for Medicare. The city of Glendale shows how. The San Francisco school board doesn’t need permission from the state to make that change right now. But instead, it is asking voters to approve an additional tax on property. Middle class residents already have a difficult time living in San Francisco. Now the school board wants to make it even harder — and in order to subsidize retirees, many of whom live in lower tax environments.
Fixing that doesn’t take rocket science. It just takes courage.