Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Teachers' Perspective Voters Guide

Teachers' Perspective Voters Guide

Posted by: "Stephen Neat" Steve_Neat

Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:03 am (PDT)

[Attachment(s) from Stephen Neat included below]

Not an OEA Publication

>From a Teacher’s PerspectiveFall 2010 Voters’ Guide
By Steve Neat

So many people (colleagues, parents, friends) have asked me advice on the
upcoming election that I’ve decided to put out a special voters’ guide edition
of From a Teacher’s Perspective. (From a Teacher’s Perspective was a newsletter
for parents that I put out during the last round of contract negotiations
between OUSD & OEA [2005-2006].) I have included an endorsement for many local
and state offices below and more detailed rationales follow. I have started with
offices and issues that I think will be most crucial to the future of public
education and to schools in Oakland. Note: the political opinions expressed
below are my own and do not constitute an endorsement by the Oakland Education

Proposition 24: Yes
School Board District 4: Ben Visnick
OaklandMeasure L: No
Governor: Jerry Brown
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson
Proposition 25: Yes
Oakland Mayor: (1) Don Macleay (2) Rebecca Kaplan (3) Jean Quan (anyone but Don
State Assembly District 16: Sandre Swanson
Propositions 23 & 26: No
Propositions 20 & 27: No on 20, Yes on 27
State Board of Equilization: Sherill Borg
Proposition 21: Yes
Proposition 22: No
Proposition 19: Yes
OaklandMeasure X: No
AlamedaCountyMeasure F: No

Proposition 24: Yes
This is a no-brainer. In the early autumns of 2008 and 2009, in the midst of a
heated budget battle, our elected representatives in Sacramento reached a
sweetheart deal with the corporations that pay for their campaigns. Three tax
loopholes were created that will cost this state at least $1.3 billion annually
when they go into effect next year. These tax breaks will benefit only the
largest corporations and are granted unconditionally. No jobs created. No jobs
saved. Just a hand-out. The No on 24 campaign is making job loss claims that
academic studies (Fisher 2010) call “outlandish.” In fact, Prop 24 would save up
to 25,000 jobs in the public sector. The same corporations that are spending
money on the No on 24 campaign made a total of $65 billion in profits last year.
Times are tough for some, not so tough for others. The fact that students across
California are being crammed 40+ deep into classrooms and having their school
year cut to save a few bucks while the same old greedy people rake in the green
is disgusting. If all you do in this election is fill in one bubble on your
absentee ballot, make it YES on Proposition 24. While 24 wouldn’t raise enough
money to solve all of our funding problems, it would send a clear message to
lawmakers in Sacramento: the people think corporations should pay their fare
share to maintain the society upon which they profit.

School Board District 4: Ben Visnick
Just this previous spring the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of
Directors (school board) voted unanimously to impose a contract on Oakland
public school teachers and other members of the Oakland Education Association
(OEA). This virtually unprecedented move was a slap in the face to the men and
women who work hard with the students of Oakland every day. It is important to
note that the imposed contract did not save a penny more than the expired
contract that would have remained in effect as long as the OUSD and OEA
continued to negotiate. In addition, according to how labor negotiations work,
the employer only imposes when they are through bargaining. For the school board
to come back and claim that now they want to bargain again doesn’t make sense.
The only reason that I have heard school board members give for their imposition
vote is that “we need to start bargaining fresh with a clean slate.” That is a
ridiculous statement. You don’t start with a clean slate by smacking someone
over the head with it. It is also interesting that a group of Oakland teachers
and I were told by one school board member that the idea of imposition was
strongly advocated for by Superintendent Tony Smith. This does jibe well with
some of the confused statements school board members made after their vote. One
school board member even asked, “What did we just do?” What did we just do? So
according to the actual words of school board members, Tony Smith asked for
imposition and the school board went along with it, even though some of them
didn’t fully understand the significance of their actions. If this account of
what happened isn’t true I would love to be publicly corrected. In addition,
school board members continue to push for corporate-funded reforms like test
score pay (even though all the research shows that “merit pay” does not even
improve student test scores, much less actual student learning) and more charter
schools (even though only one-fifth of charter schools outperform traditional
public schools). The only clean slate we need to start with is a brand new OUSD
school board. I urge every parent, teacher, and community member who wants to
bring real reform and real democracy to Oakland Public Schools to vote for Ben
Visnick for school board District 4. In addition, if you live in Districts 1, 3,
5, or 7, and want to work with Oakland teachers and parents for better Oakland
Public Schools, think about a run next time.

OaklandMeasure L: No
I am an officer of the Oakland Education Association, and the OEA has officially
voted to take NO POSITION on Measure L. The opinions below are my own and are
not part of an official statement of the OEA. My opinion is this: why would we
vote to give more money to OUSD through another parcel tax when there has been
little oversight over Measure E/G funds and a significant amount of it has been
misspent (example: staff development for principals)? Why would we vote for a
per-parcel tax which means that working class homeowners in the Fruitvale or
West Oakland pay the same amount as the Port of Oakland and Wells Fargo? Why
would I ask the wonderful, generous people of Oakland to continue being a
co-dependent enabler of a District that spends tens of millions of dollars on
non-mandatory contracts for Si Swun Math, Action Learning Systems Inc., Edusoft,
BayCES, Cambridge Education Group, etc., etc., etc.? Are these contracts
useless? That’s a question that more people should be asking and it’s a question
to which I don’t necessarily know the answer. I will say this: that money would
be better spent keeping teachers in Oakland and keeping kindergarten class sizes
at 20 students. Until OUSD makes a commitment to spend money on what the voters
expected: the classrooms, I’m not even comfortable saying “no position” on
Measure L. Some OEA members will be upset with me for saying this publicly,
because if Measure L fails that would mean, in theory, that less money would be
available for our next contract. However, what is meant by the phrase “effective
teachers” in the parcel tax language? I still haven’t heard an answer. If
“effective” means high test scores, that’s another reason not to vote for
Measure L. If those blankets have smallpox on them, I say we throw ‘em back in
the fort and just be cold.

Governor: Jerry Brown
This is a tough one. I personally often vote for the Green Party candidate for
governor, particularly when the Democratic candidate is “Ten-Shades-of” Grey
Davis. But this election is so crucial. Brown’s opponent is a hypocritical,
corporate-funded demagogue whose TV commercials come across more like a
recruitment video for a cult than a summary of a platform of policies. Whitman
is threatening to turn the state of California into California, Inc. We let the
corporations run the world and look where it’s got us. I don’t understand why
when someone becomes a billionaire doing one thing (and often not a very nice
thing), they are suddenly an expert on everything. Meg Whitman claims she will
cut the state’s budget in half without cutting education (which takes up a
significant proportion of the budget). When her opponents point out that this is
impossible, she threatens to sue them. Meg Whitman fires the undocumented
immigrant she employed for years when she decides to run for governor, telling
her that “you don’t even know me.” When this woman speaks out to call attention
to the plight, Whitman chides the Brown campaign for using her, as if her former
employee is not a grown woman who can make her own decisions. The OEA has had
its differences with Jerry Brown in the past, but Meg Whitman is the Barry
Goldwater of California 2010. She must be stopped.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson
For a democrat, Tom Torlakson actually seems like a decent guy. Unlike OUSD
Superintendent Tony Smith or US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, he was
actually a classroom teacher (what a concept!), and he has worked to put forward
real education reform in California. He authored the Quality Education
Investment Act (QEIA) with the support of the California Teachers Association
(CTA). This law has brought significant new funding and resources—rather than
sanctions and back-door privatization—to lower-performing schools. He has also
done important work around pre-school and after-school programs.

Proposition 25: Yes
This measure is more of a powerful statement than a solution. It would end the
requirement that there be a two-thirds majority to pass a budget in CA. However,
it would not end the two-thirds requirement to find new sources of revenue.
Therefore it is debatable what this measure will achieve apart from taking the
first step towards a time when democracy will finally rule in California. Will
it ever be true that the same simple majority vote in the legislature that is
needed to cut taxes is the same majority vote needed to approve new sources of
revenue, as well as a new budget? The passage of Prop 25 could send a message
that—outside of such unusual measures as impeachment—two-thirds requirements are
a bad idea when it comes to democracy.

Oakland Mayor: (1) Don Macleay (2) Rebecca Kaplan (3) Jean Quan (anyone but Don
Using ranked choice voting (see Note 1 below), we can finally vote our
conscience without having any misgivings about handing over the race to the Meg
Whitmans of this world. I am giving Don Macleay my first-choice vote. Macleay is
a longtime Oakland resident with the best interests of Oakland at heart. He is a
small business owner, an environmentalist, and a former shop steward. He has
been the most thoughtful and open candidate as regards responding to the
community at the grassroots level, even posting on the Oakland parents’ online
listserve. Rebecca Kaplan has been a largely consistent progressive voice in
Oakland, but she has been known to favor political expediency over staying true
to her values (she opposed public election funding in one vote for example).
Jean Quan has the best chance of keeping Don Perata out of the mayor’s office. I
agree with many of her campaign statements and some of her policy decisions over
the past few years (libraries, affordable housing, youth programs). She will get
my 3rd choice vote, despite differences she has had with the teachers of Oakland
in the past. If she had come out and publicly admit that some of the statements
she made and actions she took during the 1996 Oakland teachers’ strike were
wrong, she might have even got my first choice vote.

State Assembly District 16: Sandre Swanson
Sandre Swanson has been a strong advocate for Oakland and Oakland public
schools. Since he was elected to the California State Assembly in 2006, he has
consistently called attention to the sorry state of Oakland Public Schools and
has pushed for the return of democratic control (including still-withheld fiscal
control) to OUSD. His consistency as an ally of working people and public
services (a.k.a. civilization) shouldn’t be such a rarity in the Democratic
Party. If it wasn’t, then perhaps the Dems wouldn’t be about to get their butts
kicked after four years in power.

Propositions 23 & 26: No
Just as one has to admire cockroaches for their tenacity and for their ability
to take advantage of any vulnerability or opportunity in our kitchens, one has
to admire oil companies for their insect-like determination to profit off of any
situation that is hurting the rest of us. People are anxious about the economy.
Okay, say the oil companies, how can we take advantage of this to boost are
already obscene profits? Let’s put lots of money behind some propositions that
will weaken California’s laws on greenhouse gases and on punishing polluters.
California has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the nation,
and oil companies (among others) would love to use the anxiety of the people
over the economy to weaken these laws. Don’t let them. Tell your neighbors, tell
those you worship with, tell your friends. A vote for Props 23 & 26 is a vote
for dirty oil.

Propositions 20 & 27: No on 20, Yes on 27
In 2008, Proposition 11 passed in a very close vote. This removed the
redistricting process from the purview of the state legislature and put it in
the hands of an unelected, unaccountable commission. Some argued that having the
legislature in charge of redistricting just entrenched the party in power.
However, it’s hard to see how putting redistricting in the hands of a commission
appointed by that very same state legislature changes anything. Speaking as a
teacher who has lived under 10 years of state administration and trusteeship, I
would rather have decisions in the hands of those I’ve elected than in the hands
of those they have appointed. Proposition 20 would expand the powers of the
commission. I say vote no on 20. Proposition 27 would repeal the original
Proposition 11 and I will vote yes on 27. This whole circus, however, exposes
the silliness of the proposition system. (see Note 2 below)

State Board of Equilization: Sherill Borg
“The marginal tax rate for businesses is 9.5% for corporate state income tax.
But the effective tax rate for large corporations is much less in practice. For
example Chevron, based in California, paid no state income taxes in California
in 2008—instead sending its taxes—both federal and state—to foreign governments
where rates are cheaper. How’d they do it? It’s complicated—sort of—but
basically they structure their business so that they take a loss in the U.S. and
earn profits abroad. By moving ownership of profitable assets to overseas
subsidiaries while incurring expenses in the U.S. Chevron can avoid being taxed
here where tax rates are relatively high.” This is from Borg’s website. She gets
my vote just for breaking it down even better than Stewart or Colbert.

Proposition 21: Yes
This is a hard one for me. I am getting pretty sick of companies like Chevron
paying 0% and millionaires paying less than 10% on capital gains while we pay
20% on the mediocre salary that we bust our ass for. This is a flat vehicle
license fee of $18 which would fund a trust fund to maintain state parks. So it
would affect those who have too many cars more than it would affect the rest of
us. However, we wouldn’t have to Magiver stuff like this together if we had a
progressive tax structure where the people who made the most money from society
contributed the most to maintain it.

Proposition 22: No
More lazy American democracy. This Proposition is designed to stop state
government from dipping into local money when they can’t raise enough to keep
the state running. Fair enough, but here’s a better idea: if you want money for
your town, neighborhood, city, or county, elect people who will find the revenue
sources to get that money. If they take campaign donations from corporations and
the rich and then refuse to force them to pay their share to maintain
civilization, then don’t vote for them any more. It’s called democracy people.
Let’s start today.

Proposition 19: Yes
Fact: between 1999 and 2009, 570,000 California residents were arrested for
misdemeanor marijuana possession. Fact: enforcing marijuana prohibition in CA
costs our state $1.87 billion per year. Fact: there is no evidence that
marijuana prohibition has resulted in a drop in use. Fact: African Americans are
arrested for pot possession at higher rates than whites even though studies show
marijuana use is more widespread among white youth than black youth. Fact:
marijuana is less harmful to health than alcohol or cigarettes. Marijuana
prohibition makes no sense and Prop 19 would end it.

OaklandMeasure X: No
Here we go with another parcel tax. Million-dollar homeowners in the hills would
pay the same rate as a homeowner in West Oakland. What would they be paying for?
More police officers. But if you call the police from a West Oakland phone
number will you be served as fast as if you call from a phone number in
Montclair? And what if three teens are walking the dog through the fog on
Skyline Dr.? Are they going to be treated the same by all these new police
officers as three kids walking home on 98th? Will more police on the streets
solve anything? No. No on X

AlamedaCountyMeasure F: No
Another increase on the vehicle license fee, this time to pay for road
maintenance, public transit, and pedestrian and bicycle routes. No thanks. How
about Chevron paying a 1% CA tax on its income (Chevron is based in CA, but pays
no taxes here) to maintain the roads that we the taxpayers maintain and from
which Chevron profits. Prop 21 is the last vehicle license fee increase I’m
voting for before corporations pay their fair share.

Note 1: Rank-Choice Voting, Beyond Tweedledum & Tweedledee
Finally, rank-choice voting comes to Oakland. Here’s how it works. If your first
choice doesn’t get close to enough votes to win, your 2nd-ranked vote counts as
if it was your only vote. If neither your 1st- or 2nd- choice vote comes into
play, then your 3rd-choice vote becomes your vote that counts. This could allow
people to vote without fear that they are handing a public office to a corporate
shill or a reactionary demagogue. For example, I get to vote for my personal
choice for Oakland mayor, Don Macleay, even though he will likely have a hard
time mounting a strong challenge. If he doesn’t do well, then my vote reverts to
my 2nd and then my 3rd choices. Republican and Democratic Party machines don’t
really appreciate ranked-choice voting because it encourages independent
thinking and discourages people from voting a straight party ticket. However,
after what Republicans and Democrats have brought us these past 30 years (a
boom-and-bust economic cycle, the collapse of public education in California,
the shredding of the social safety net, expensive foreign military adventures,
etc.), I don’t know how they still feel qualified to speak on anything. It’s
about time they started taking orders from we the people.
Note 2: Propositions, putting the lazy American in democracy
Speaking of we the people, we need to start doing our job as active participants
in democracy. Enough of these propositions. Even when we get a good one passed
(Prop 98 that guarantees minimum school funding for example), the politicians
just ignore it when it suits them (as they ignored Prop 98 when passing this
year’s 100-day-late budget).

This is how democracy works right now:

1) Corporations decide which two candidates we should vote for.

2) We vote for the one with the better ads, or the better speaker, or the
prettier one

3) They do what the corporations paid them to do

4) If we get mad at them or find them out, the people that run the show have
another one ready. Have you ever seen a shark’s mouth? They got another tooth
ready right behind the one you just knocked out.

This is how democracy is supposed to work:

1) We elect them.

2) A. They do what we want. OR B.They stab us in the back.

3) If A, we re-elect them. OR If B, we vote them out.

Propositions are just a lazy short cut. We’re not willing to put in the work to
make democracy work, so we just try and make things happen on a single-issue
basis by passing a proposition every now and again. Of course there are more
important factors that are stifling democracy. Campaign finance reform would be
a big step in the right direction, but now that’s going to take a constitutional
amendment (thanks Supreme Court). Propositions solve nothing, however, and they
allow powerful and monied interests from out of state to influence this
democracy that is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the

Attachment(s) from Stephen Neat

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