"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmakers are Hunt Braly on the "yes" side and Orval Garrison on the "no" side of Propositions 74, 75 and 76 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Braly is chair of the SCV Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee, and Garrison is president of the Hart District and SCV Teachers Associations.
Signal: Who are you and whom do you represent?
Garrison: I'm a teacher here in the Santa Clarita Valley, have been for over 30 years. I'm also the president of the Hart District Teachers Association and the Santa Clarita Valley Teachers Association.
Braly: I'm an attorney with the law firm of Hacker-Braly, have served on the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce board and have been the chairman of their Legislative Committee for the last eight or nine years.
Signal: Proposition 74 would lengthen, from two years to five, the time it takes teachers to acquire tenure. What's wrong with that?
Garrison: I think that it's wrong in the sense that it's not going to do what it purports to do. And that opinion is based rather thoroughly on a large body of research that suggests that the period of probationary time that a teacher experiences really does not have that much to do with whether or not the teacher ends up being an excellent or skillful teacher.
You have different probationary periods across the country; the ballot pamphlet booklet distributed by the state indicates that there are states that have one-year probationary periods, two-year probationary periods, three, four and five. There's just a considerable body of research the USC California Policy Institute, for example, in addition to the Santa Cruz-University of California New Teachers Center research indicates that it's not the length of the probationary period that determines whether or not a teacher becomes skillful and accomplished in the classroom. It's whether or not the teacher has had good training, and then when the teacher comes into the classroom, in the first years of experience, whether the teacher has support, good mentoring, a good example to follow and a sense of being appreciated in the education community.
Signal: Why is Proposition 74 needed?
Braly: From the Chamber of Commerce and the business community's perspective we're an at-will state. Employees don't have an automatic right to keep a job, and employers don't have to let them keep a job forever. But in the public sector, especially when it comes to teachers, that is not necessarily the case. After basically only a year and a half even though it's two years under the existing law, by the time you have to give the notices to rehire, it's really a year and a half is that really enough time for the evaluation to occur, to make sure that a person who's basically going to get a lifetime job, unless they're the Boston Strangler is that fair? The answer is probably not. Is this the best reform and the only reform we need for education? Absolutely not.
And it's really not even an issue with the Chamber of Commerce and the local teachers. We love our teachers in this community, and the Chamber of Commerce has a long history of supporting our educators locally. They created an Education Foundation, a nonprofit, years ago, where we've honored teachers every year. When the Hart school bond needed to be campaigned for, Orval and I worked together, along with many of Chamber of Commerce members, for three times, until we finally passed one. And we have a standing policy in the Chamber of Commerce to support every school bond.
So this is not an anti-teacher issue it's certainly not an anti-Santa Clarita Valley teacher issue but of course Proposition 74 is a statewide initiative, and I think we all recognize there are teachers who are teaching in our schools right now who are not qualified to still be teaching there. Now, it may be true they're been there longer than this new probationary period we would have in there and this certainly would not deal with the teacher who after 20 years decides, "I just really don't care much any more," (and) they get transferred from school to school to school. That's a separate reform which I would hope the CTA and the local teachers union would work with the Chamber of Commerce and business owners to try and do that reform in the Legislature. But with the reform we have right now, it's certainly reasonable.
Signal: Do you really believe two years is enough time for the decision to be made to retain a teacher?
Garrison: I'm not saying that two years is enough time, or that one, four, five or six is enough time. What I'm saying is that a considerable body of research suggests that the length of the probationary period cannot be linked to whether or not you are employing a quality teacher in the classroom. There is simply no evidence that suggests that there is a link between the two. What can be correlated in length is whether or not the new teacher receives effective mentoring, induction and in-service into the profession. There is considerable research that suggests that is a link to the success of new teachers and whether or not they stay in the profession.
One of the problems that the teacher community knows about, and we hope that the general public may come to know about it also, is that the reality is that in about five to six years, there is going to be an enormous number of teachers not only in California but across the nation who will be leaving the profession. A huge number of those people will be boomers who have simply arrived (at) retirement time. But the research also tells us that in the first two to three years of a new teacher's experience, approximately 25 to 30 percent of the teachers leave the profession. And I'm embarrassed to tell you, but in the first five years of a new teacher's experience, approximately 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession.
If you couple that with the fact that teachers who have been in the profession for quite a while are going to be leaving in huge numbers, it doesn't make an awful lot of sense for a state, any state, to be sending signals that it's going to be more difficult to find a spot in the education community to become a teacher and be accepted in a school system. If you're sending signals that we're going to attempt to extend the period of time in which you could be considered ineffective or unacceptable, it could very likely send signals to prospective new teachers that perhaps they should go into a different profession. That might be just fine and dandy, but I think a practical reality is that we will discover, if Proposition 74 passes, that it will complicate and make more difficult the challenge that school districts have in filling all of these spots that are going to be coming up. It's just a practical reality.
Signal: Do you think it's fair to string along teachers for five years without job security, and do you think Proposition 74 might have a dampening effect on the state's ability to find teachers?
Braly: I would be shocked if Proposition 74 in and of itself is going to make it more difficult to fill whatever teacher needs we have.
Orval mentions research. Let's use the research of all of our common sense: Five years for a lifetime tenure? That's unreasonable? That's going to keep people who want to be teachers from being teachers? I think your common sense will tell you, absolutely no. Let's make sure they are well trained, they are receiving the mentoring that Orval is talking about, and give them the time to grow, and then give them the lifetime tenure.
And all the other issues Orval mentions? Well why aren't we doing that up in Sacramento where the CTA is one of the most powerful lobbyist groups in the world, basically has tremendous influence over the majorities in both houses of the Legislature? That's where those reforms should be happening. If those reforms were happening, you wouldn't have Proposition 74 on the ballot.
Signal: Proposition 75 would require teachers' and other unions in California to get permission of their members before spending any of their money on political campaigns. What do you think of that one?
Braly: It's a novel idea: Get permission from somebody before you spend their money on a political campaign. Sounds kind of like democracy to me. I think it sounds like democracy to a lot of voters, and certainly to the business community.
First of all, let's make clear what Proposition 75 does. It only applies to public employee unions. No other unions. Just public employee unions. Why is that important? Well, in this election cycle, the public employee unions, including CTA, have spent over $113 million from their dues-paying members against Propositions 74, 75, 76. One hundred thirteen million dollars. That doesn't sound like a very level playing field to me.
What does Proposition 75 do? It's very simple. Each year, each employee must fill out a single, one-page form, saying, "You may use my money for political donations."
One of our local school districts informed me that they had 376 employees, and under the current system you can do a one-time opt-out. And I asked them, how many have opted out? "Sixteen" was the answer. So then I asked the question: If out of 376 employees only 16 have opted out, why are you afraid of Proposition 75 if you are really representing your regular members? They didn't have an answer to that.
I think the answer is, they obviously are very fearful that their average members will not voluntarily, every year, agree to contribute $113 million for the type of political campaigns they've been running in this state. They just won't.
Then they want to compare it to the fact that corporations don't get approval. Approval from whom? Shareholders? Shareholders give approval or disapproval all the time when they buy or sell shares. It's not the same thing. And I'm a lawyer. I have to be a member of the State Bar of California. I have to pay annual dues. But guess what? Because of a court decision several decades ago, I get to deduct from my dues, if I want to, every year, whether or not I pay for any of their lobbying activity in Sacramento. I think if it's good enough for us, it should be good enough for public employees.
Signal: Shouldn't unions have to ask permission of their members before spending their money on political campaigns?
Garrison: They already do. And this of all the three initiatives that we'll be discussing is perhaps one that's the most farcical. And I don't use that word cavalierly. Proposition 75 is a proposition chasing a problem that doesn't exist.
I'd like to address several issues here with regard to what Hunt just said. It is true that the California Teachers Association and other public employee unions have been spending a considerable amount of money trying to get the word out to its members and to the electorate with regard to all of the key propositions that are on the ballot this go-around. However, I do not believe that any of the public employee unions are going to have to feel ashamed or timid about advertising at the end of the campaign just how much money they have spent. We have decades and decades of experience that tells us and shows us that no matter how much we spend, if you compare what we spend with what corporations spend with regard to the initiatives and propositions that they are in favor of, we always come up (on the) short end of the stick. We are always behind them. We just simply don't have as money to spend as corporations do. We accept that and we tell ourselves that our numbers in terms of soldiers in the field, trying to contact voters, is what can sometimes make the difference for us. The issue is, it is a proposition chasing a problem that doesn't exist.
Hunt made the comment that you have the opportunity to opt out once. That is simply not true. A person has the opportunity to opt out once one first joins, voluntarily, the association, or the union, and one may do so by marking the appropriate box that specifically says, do you want to opt out? However, throughout the tenure of that employee, and the membership of that employee in the union or the teachers union, as is in our case, one has the option of opting out at any time throughout the remainder of his or her career. (There) is an opt-out card which is available to our members through the California Teachers Association. Do we use it? Yes. Do we use it often? No. Why? Because the overwhelming majority of our members choose not to opt out. But they are informed, they are kept aware throughout their career, that if they wish to do so, they may do so.
And yes, it is true: In any given campaign that we have, we do have members who become somewhat troubled by a position that the union or the Teachers Association takes, and they contact us and ask us, "Is it still possible for me to opt out?" and our answer, by law, an appellate court decision, must always be the truth, and that is, "Yes, you may, and if you want the card, it will be sent to you." So I think that the issue of this being somehow a liberation of the union member and of the employer whose association or union dues are being used against his or her will with regard to political purposes and political issues is simply a specious or false one. It's simply not true.
Signal: Just like corporate shareholders can dump the board of directors if they're unhappy, unions have elections where the members can dump the board if they're unhappy with the union leadership. If corporations don't have to ask each shareholder before spending the corporation's money on a campaign, why should a union be held to a different standard?
Braly: Apples and oranges. Shareholders aren't being given an assessment each year like the CTA has done especially this year, several times, to raise extra money specifically for political campaigns. Again, how do the shareholders walk? They sell their shares and buy shares in other companies if that's what they want to do. I think the CTA, and with all due respect to my good friend Orval, protesteth too much.
If it's not a big deal, then why are they spending more money than any other entity in this campaign, on any of these three propositions and in total, $113 million; no corporation is spending $113 million on 74, 75 and 76 in this election if they weren't afraid their membership would be liberated in this process? They must be fearful of what it's going to do, or why would they be assessing their members to the tune of $50 additional, why would they be taking out $40 million in bank loans, and why would there be reports that they're bankrupt and those are public reports that have been in the Sacramento Bee and other newspapers if they weren't fearful that their members would not each year say, "Yes, so much of my money can go for the political contributions and political activities." I just think it's obvious to anybody who would be listening to their argument, with all due respect, that they are very fearful that their membership would not voluntarily contribute those funds.
Signal: What do you say to that?
Garrison: I think first off, we need to correct a few things. The California Teachers Association, through its elected state council, which consists of approximately 720 or so statewide elected representatives, met earlier this year and debated and discussed rather thoroughly whether or not it wanted to surcharge the members $60 per year, $6 per month, for three years, a temporary measure in order to help fund the campaign against the hostile initiatives. And so the amount of money that the California Teachers Association is contributing to this campaign is not specifically directed just to Proposition 75, but it's also directed to Proposition 74 and Proposition 76. So if you consider that, you're spreading whatever money we're giving out in terms of our contribution to the campaign.
But that was a decision made very soberly by the state council in a public and voted election, because it was quite clear to the state council and to the rank-and-file membership of the California Teachers Association that Proposition 75 would not be on the ballot at all, were it not fro the fact that the California Teachers Association stood up to a governor and told the governor, "We are not going to let you take the money that Proposition 98 rightly entitled us to, and to which you had spoken out in public, saying that it would be paid back" because I'm sure you know that there was an entitlement now of over $3 billion over a year and a half period of time, which Proposition 98 said the education community was entitled to. The California Teachers Association, among others, engaged in discussions with the governor, came to an agreement that because there was a difficulty with regard to the state budget in that given year, a year or so ago, that we would forego receiving the full entitlement that the law provided for us, but that we would then understand, and the governor agreed, it would be repaid.
Because we stood up to the governor and said, "Now you are reneging on your promise, made quite publicly, and we're not going to stand by and let it happen," the governor has essentially gone after the California Teachers Association. And quite frankly, from the California Teachers Association's point of view, Proposition 75 is just the beginning. This is not the end of his going after an outspoken group of teachers who dared to stand up and say, "Governor, be a man of your word. Do what you said you would do." We believe that if we do not fight Proposition 75 vigorously, it will not be the end of the road. There will be additional attempts on the part of the governor to hamstring the ability of public employee unions such as the California Teachers Association to engage in the political process. That strikes us as being just slightly dictatorial and punitive, but we're big boys and big girls, and we're willing to fight the fight, and we have been willing to put our money where our mouth is.
I go back to the issue that I said before: Any of our members who do not want to have some of their dues go toward political activity have known they know now and have known for their entire career that they may opt out. And they are not pariahs; they are not people who are mistreated or in any way ostracized within our organization if they make that decision. This has been going on for years, and we continue and will continue to do it.
Signal: What does Proposition 76 do?
Braly: Before we get right into 76, let's have truth in advertising. A hundred thirteen million dollars in political campaigns? The public employee unions are being disenfranchised? Doesn't make any sense. Also, again the facts: Proposition 75 was put on by not the governor; it was not one of his funded initiatives. Yes, he is endorsing it, but that's not what got it on the ballot. Again, let's just be fair, give people the right to be democratic and decide each year whether or not they give money. And if they weren't afraid that a lot of people wouldn't give them money, they wouldn't be opposing it.
What does Proposition 76 do? Let's talk about what the problem is. It wasn't just a budget deficit last year. It's been a budget deficit for the last five years. We recalled a governor because of the budget deficit, and we still have a projected $6 billion deficit for next year. We have to get a handle on the budget. So what Proposition 76 does is put into law, in the constitution, good limits for the Legislature to follow and for the governor to follow, each year, so we live within our means. When we have good years, like we had under the first couple of years of Gray Davis, we don't spend all that money; we put some money away for a rainy day like we do in each our personal lives when we can. Sounds very reasonable.
Yes, it suspends Proposition 98, the automatic funding mechanism for public education. And I would understand that concern by the teachers unions, and I would be concerned about that. But you should not automatically assume that public education which gets over 50 percent of our state budget will necessarily be disproportionately cut if the budget and the revenue is not coming in.
I also think it's important to correct a misstatement by Orval and the CTA. The state Legislature passed the legislation last year, and the governor signed it, that suspended Proposition 98 and suspended the $2 billion. I don't see them going after their friends in the state Legislature. And just because the governor proposed a budget in a tough economic year and said, " I can't repay it this year," he's the only one being ostracized. But did the state Legislature, which is controlled overwhelmingly by supporters of the CTA, put it in their budget? No. So again, it shows the hypocrisy of the state CTA leadership in just attacking one individual when it was the whole Legislature and the whole budget process that did that.
We need common-sense budget reform, or we're going to have deficits every single year. And with deficits we will not have the economic recovery we need.
Signal: Tell us what Proposition 76 does.
Garrison: Proposition 76, from the education community's point of view, will see California's schools drop further and further into the cellar as far as quality public education in this nation and this state is concerned.
It is probably not known by most people, but the fact of the matter is, at this present time, California ranks 44th in per-pupil spending in the public education system in the nation. There was a time, some years back, when we had clawed our way up to around 32nd in the nation, but unfortunately in recent years we have drooped again. What this essentially means is that California, which happens to be from year to year the fifth or the sixth largest economy in the world if we were a separate country, does not very adequately fund its public education system.
Because California is so large, however, and because the economy of California is so large, the actual raw dollar figures look impressive. But when you take a look at how those raw dollar figures are dispersed to the various 1,070-plus school districts in the state, you discover by comparison that the kind of revenue and the kind of support from state funding that California school districts get, is just pathetically low with relation to most other school systems in other states.
The problem with Proposition 76 is that it basically unhinges the balance of power which has traditionally existed in our state with regard to budgeting, and it gives the governor extraordinary powers to declare an emergency and to basically take over the budget. The California Policy Project, which happens to be a rather prestigious and well-known think tank in the state that is nonpartisan and nonpolitical in terms of favoring one party over the other and the California Legislative Analyst, Elizabeth Hill, among others have all gone on record recently as stating that if this initiative were to pass, and if the governor were to have the ability to exercise the power that the initiative gives him, that would reduce further the funding for public education in the state, taking anywhere in the neighborhood of $600 to $660 per pupil away throughout California from every school district.
I wonder whether or not the practical result of Proposition 76 is fully understood by most of the public, and I sense that perhaps it is not. What it basically does is it nullifies the process which we have been using ever since Proposition 98 went into effect, which says that when we do have very bad times in the state budget with regard to revenues coming in, then we go into what are called Test 2 and-or Test 3. To put it simply and conceptually, what that means is this: The school systems throughout the state agree not to take what they are entitled to under Proposition 98, but to instead take less, with the understanding under Test 2 and Test 3 that that money will be paid back later on. What Proposition 76 will essentially do is nullify that promise and nullify that requirement that the money be paid back.
Signal: Care to give us a summation?
Braly: Let me just deal with Proposition 76. If Proposition 98 was the answer, why did we go from 32 back to 44? We have a funding problem, not a revenue problem. Revenue increased 44 percent from 1998 to 2004.
Here in the Santa Clarita Valley we need more money for our schools. We're $3,000 less per pupil than the L.A. Unified school district. The problem is that there are a lot of areas where it's being wasted. (Have you seen) their ads? "We don't have any school books." Well, I have a seventh grader at Placerita Junior High School. There's a set of books in her room, and a set of books she brings home, and we spend $3,000 less here because we get $3,000 less per pupil. I'd like to see the CTA start dealing with those issues. Stop sending the money to those underperforming school districts. That's where the problem is. And if we do that reform, we'll solve some of the problems.
As far as the mid-year budget cuts? That only occurs if the governor sees an economic situation which is different than what the budget has been passed by the Legislature.
Garrison: I just believe, and I think that the education community agrees on this, that Proposition 76 is going to make it more difficult for us to provide quality educational programs in California.
I don't pretend to have a fix for the entire state budget process; I do find it difficult that California is one a the very, very (small) number of states that requires a super-majority, or a two-thirds, in order to pass a state budget, which basically means that a minority of legislators in the state Assembly and state Senate can basically hijack and hold up the passage of a budget. This takes us into a whole different area that is not a part of this (discussion), but I can certainly assure you that Proposition 76 will make life miserable, or at least worse, for public education in California.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.