By now it should be self-evident that teachers unions in California operate in the interests of the unions, not the children their teachers are responsible for educating.
A union-backed rule that severely limits school reserves is a perfect example of this.
In 2014, a provision was slipped into a budget trailer bill, Senate Bill 858, that would limit school reserves if the state makes a deposit — even a very small one — into the state school reserve fund created by the Proposition 2 rainy-day fund, approved later that year by voters. What, you might ask, would be the purpose of tying school districts’ fiscal hands, putting them at greater risk during economic downturns, reducing their credit ratings, driving up borrowing costs and encouraging greater use of expensive bond financing?
It makes perfect sense to the teachers unions, who stand to be in a much stronger position to negotiate compensation increases if school districts are forced by the cap to spend down their reserves or allocate less money to emergency repairs, infrastructure improvements, instructional programs and the like.
As Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters described it in a December 2014 column, the move was “clearly a sop to the powerful California Teachers Association and other unions which might have otherwise opposed Proposition 2, which was to be the focal point of Brown’s re-election campaign.”
A January 2015 Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended eliminating the reserve cap, and noted that the median reserve for midsize school districts in the state was 21 percent of expenditures, yet, under SB858, their reserves would be capped at just 6 percent. Furthermore, the caps were smaller than the reserve levels of more than 90 percent of public schools in the state.
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, introduced Senate Bill 590, which would have eliminated the cap altogether, but it was defeated in the Senate Education Committee two weeks ago. During the committee hearing, Moorlach, a certified public accountant, asserted that the cap “defies fiscal stewardship logic,” and that the low level of the cap is “too precarious.”
But it is not just fiscal conservatives who are pushing for reform. Democratic Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Steve Glazer of Orinda have introduced a bill, SB715, which would increase the cap from 6 percent to 17 percent and exempt small and basic aid school districts from the requirements. In a positive sign, SB715 passed the Senate on a unanimous 38-0 vote on Monday, and now heads to the Assembly.
In addition, Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson noted during a budget hearing earlier this year that he opposed the cap, and in June 2015, 26 Democratic members of the Assembly and Senate sent a letter to legislative leaders to express support for modifying the cap in the interest of fiscal soundness.
Yet, even in the face of such significant bipartisan support, the teachers unions have thus far been able to exert their influence to scuttle multiple reform efforts. Let us hope that the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown will finally put the fiscal and educational interests of students, school districts and taxpayers ahead of the special interests of the teachers unions by eliminating, or at least significantly increasing, the school reserve cap.
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