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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Free California’s School Districts
Legislators pick union payback over education…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 7/22/04

Last month California legislators failed to repeal a law that transformed milk testers and billboard inspectors into safety workers on a par with police and firefighters, a failure that will cost the state more than $200 million over 20 years. But there are other bills equally worthy of concern, such as SB 1419, which costs taxpayers an estimated $300 million per year, hamstrings cash strapped school districts, and harms the prospects of students.

Authored by Sen. Richard Alarcon and signed two years ago by Gray Davis, SB 1419 forbids school districts from contracting out with private firms for transportation and other services. It is a mandate for union labor and also a kind of prevailing wage law that, as in the building of schools, ensures that school transportation costs remain as high as possible.

“In a more reasonable world,” noted Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee, “SB 1419 would have never been proposed, let alone passed.” But it was, and it fit with the anti-privatization crusade during the previous administration. Gray Davis, for example, stopped the process of contracting out to the lowest bidder for the cleaning of government buildings. That is now done by state employees, at approximately twice the cost.

Partisans of SB 1419 portray the repeal effort as job-protection or a push by Republicans to help private bus companies. Those in favor of the repeal respond by citing the influence of the California School Employees Association, which has been running ads against the repeal. Favored by Governor Schwarzenegger, the repeal has been part of the current budget negotiations.

As critics have noted, SB 1419 makes it virtually impossible for school districts to find the least expensive option and, in some cases, the best qualified workers. These are not necessarily union workers. The case that districts should not have flexibility is a hard one to make. Obviously, the more money spent on non-academic services the less remains available for the classroom. California education is already rife with waste and fraud, and school districts are already heavily restricted by union rules.

In 2002, the same year SB 1419 was signed, the Pacific Research Institute released Contract for Failure: The Impact of Teacher Union Contracts on the Quality of California Schools. This was based on a wide study of bargaining agreements and found that they cover many aspects of school practices which should be left to the discretion of educators. For example, seniority rules govern which teachers are assigned to classrooms. This prevents a principal from assigning teachers based on competence or their suitability with a particular group of students. Union rules also interfere with parent-teacher relations, and grievance procedures regularly take teachers out the classroom. Thus, with their discretion and options already limited, under SB 1419 local educators are similarly hamstrung with non-teaching employees.

The union bosses of the California Teachers Association, California School Employees Association, and California Union of Safety Employees, the 3,200-member group that bagged big pension increases, are not subject to public vote. So they wield a lot of power. The pension debacle and SB 1419 confirm that what is good for government employee unions is not necessarily good for California taxpayers, or schoolchildren. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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