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Governor’s proposals irk educators

By John Hall

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing a number of changes to California´s education system, including teacher pay.

“I propose that teacher pay be tied to merit, not tenure. And I propose that teacher employment be tied to performance, not to just showing up,” Schwarzenegger said in his Jan. 5 State of the State address to California legislators.

“Saying that teacher pay is tied to tenure is not true,” Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools John Brophy said. “Teachers are evaluated on a regular basis. The only ways teacher pay increases are successful completion of another year of teaching or by cost-of-living increases.”

Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Joe Wilimek has a “real problem” with Schwarzenegger´s teacher-pay proposal.

“Teachers are not state employees,” Wilimek said. “Teachers have contracts with (school) districts, not the state. How is the state going to change the contracts districts now have with their teachers?”

Each district has different agreements with its teachers, including different pay ranges, different steps within ranges and different benefits packages, Wilimek said.

“Is the state going to come up with money to take over those contracts? I have no idea what the Governor has in mind,” he said.

“I was very disappointed,” Brophy said. “The Governor is focusing on an issue and distorting the facts concerning teacher pay as a way to distract from the fact that he is cutting education funding again, after promising last year not to.”

“It will be interesting. He has picked some difficult ground to do battle on,” Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Jim Frost said, regarding Schwarzenegger´s merit-pay proposal. “Legislatively, if they said every district had to have some kind of criteria for merit raises, they could probably make it enforceable.”

States that have tried to similar schemes in the past – Tennessee and Texas – have seen them fail, Frost said.

“And, they raised the cost of education dramatically,” he said.

Another of the Governor´s proposals is to withhold $2.2 billion from public schools. This will be the second consecutive year in which he has cut state school funding.

“The worst thing is him reneging on his promise to the Education Coalition – California Teachers Association, California School Boards Association, Parent-Teachers Association, California Association of School Business Officials, Association of California School Administrators and California County Superintendents Educational Services Association n on Prop. 98,” Wilimek said. “(Schools) will suffer again. It will be interesting to see what his budget says, when he presents it.”

“California will spend $50 billion on K through 14 education this year; that´s $2.9 billion more than last year,” Schwarzenegger said in his speech.

Although the increase is 7 percent more than last year´s funding, it falls short of the 14 percent increase public schools could have expected this year under the provisions of Proposition 98. Prop. 98, originally approved by the state´s voters in 1988, guarantees K-12 schools and community colleges 40 percent of state´s general fund.

In the 2004-05 budget, the Education Coalition agreed to suspension of more than $2 billion in Prop. 98 funds in exchange for the Governor´s promise to start allocating in the 2006-07 budget the amount of funds that were owed, but not paid, to schools in prior years.

“The $50 billion spent on education is a lot of money. And we must ensure that money is being spent well,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O´Connell said, following the Governor´s. “But just this week three major research reports pointed out that California is failing its children by significantly under-funding our schools.

“While money is not the only answer to what ails our schools, it is no coincidence that those states which spend the most on their children also consistently show the highest achievement. In California, we educate close to 7.5 million students in our K-14 system. Using the Governor´s math, spending $6,700 dollars per student ranks us eighth from the bottom across the United States in per pupil spending – I refuse to believe that is the best we can do. The answer is not to cut education; it´s to invest in our state´s future.”

“To reiterate, he is taking a politically-charged issue and using it to create a conflict with the California Teachers Association as a way to distract from the real issue, which is that he is under-funding education now and, evidently, intends to do so in the future,” Brophy said.

The Governor said he also plans to introduce measures to further charter schools, increase vocational education and make it easier for taxpayers to see how education dollars are spent.

Reprinted with permission from the Calaveras Enterprise