Last Updated on September 25, 2015 by Alex Brown-Hinds

Last week, I listened in on a senate committee hearing under the leadership of Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) where they were discussing SB955 authored by Republican Senator Bob Huff on education reform. Some ofthe key issues centered on teacher seniority for assignment, transfer, discipline, dismissal, grievance hearing and morelocal authority invested in school boards.

These are very sensitive subjects when it comes to teacher associations and other unions and rightfully so, because they are the perceived foundation of unions. However, they are also the achilles heel of these organizations when looking at them from the outside because it appears good teachers get passed over and bad teachers are protected because of the seniority clause and cumbersome grievance procedures. The California Teachers Association spoke out forcefully against the bill and wants no change to the current set up.

As I listened, I heard nothing from the teachers that addressed my concern of the African American students who are suffering under the current system of teacher seniority for assignments in classrooms within the district. Currently we have over 454,000 Black students, 7.3% of the student population, with a statewide dropout rate of 32.0%, an academic achievement gap wider than the Mississippi River and getting wider each year. Blacks are scoring at 674 in the Accountability Progress Reporting (API) test where 800 would be the acceptable score. Black students out test Asians and Hispanics only in English with 33% passing compared to 24% for Asians and 27% for Hispanics. Also according to the Department of Education, we expel 20,883 and suspend 782,692 students each year so who is left in the classrooms for teachers to teach?

I heard nothing coming from the association to address the civil rights of students to get a good quality educationfrom competent teachers whose civil rights should not be violated either. I did hear from one of our senior publishers, a strong supporter of teachers, who said, he is sick and tired of teachers complaining about nothing but money while producing nothing in our classrooms. I agree with him because I advocated for the passage of Proposition 198 and higher teacher salaries back in the eighties. What I have seen is salaries with benefits going up and African American student achievement rates going down. I see a current teacher staffing pattern of Whites at 70.1% and White students at 27.9% of the population and Blacks comprising 4.3% of the teachers and 7.2% for students.

This is not an indictment that the color of one’s skin cannot teach another person of a different race but I wish to point out the inequities of who gets the financial benefits from our education system.

I am not against seniority because seniority should account for something but it should not be the only criteria for districts to make classroom assignments or layoffs due to budget constraints. We cannot forget the primary mission of our public education is to produce an educated and literate society.

I want to commend Senator Gloria Romero for leading the hearing, Senator Huff for authoring SB955 and passing it through the committee with bi-partisan support. I also want to commend Governor Schwarzenegger for his leadership in pushing for this issue to be discussed. As we race to the top in education, they realize, if we all don’t get there we fail as a state. It is my hope and support of SB 955 that as it moves through the legislature they keep the children at the top of discussions with the changes that are bound to occur.

Budget Suggestions for the City of San Bernardino to Consider

The City of San Bernardino is facing a deficit of $24 million and they do not want to raise taxes or fees and do not want to cut services or any combination of the two. I watched public access Channel 3 as some council members declared some departments off limits with a standard Republican echo of “no new taxes.”

Since the city manager indicated he will explore alternatives to help them decide, I have a few suggestions to offer.

I did hear them discuss a “transient tax” for people who stay in hotels, since these people do not live here but use our resources. Cheryl Brown suggested and I concur, that we institute a “working tax” for all city employees who work here but live in other cities. These employees use the city services but do not contribute to the tax base that citizens have to pay for. These people could be considered drain resources while not contributing to the general budget.

The city should consider “contracting out public safety services” to the sheriff’s office. I am sure they can provide high quality services cheaper than the current $68 million department. In a way we contract out the servicenow because 90% of the police staff live in other citieswith a combined salary plus benefits equaling $128,684 a year. Just to give you an example of where they live: 29 in Beaumont, 11 in Corona, 17 in Riverside, 10 in Fontana, 21 in Highland, 28 in Redlands, 16 in Victorville, 41 in Yucaipa and one as far away as Sacramento with only 34 living in San Bernardino. They pay no city taxes or fees and only contribute to citycouncil member’s re-election campaigns and those council members are saying they are “untouchable”. Sounds like a campaign promise being kept.

They can keep the police officers hired with “Measure Z Funds” since it is a “special tax” and layoff police officers whose salaries come from general funds. Next they could bring the “Impounding of cars” back as a city function instead of contracting it out to political partners.

Even though I detected displeasure and downright meanness in some of the comments toward the city manager and his staff they were doing their job by providing all possibilities to reduce the deficit. It is apparent thatsome of the council members want to handcuff the staff from doing their job and then blame them (staff) if it does not go in the direction of their personal liking. You will have to “raise taxes” or “cut services” everything should be placed on the table with no sacred cows. You will have to raise taxes or cut services. When people get hungry they will eat things they vowed never to eat, like the things you took off the table.