A sucky mess

Things got a little tense last night when the Fremont school board discussed the possibility of laying off permanent teachers. Under current terms of the contract, only temporary teachers can be let go, and teachers with permanent teaching status are protected from layoffs.

There will be a more detailed story on this issue in tomorrow’s paper. One thing I learned from the discussion is that the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association may be the only union in the state with a contract which guarantees permanent teachers from being laid off. Not even the district’s other employee groups have this gaurantee.

Union reps say the no-layoff clause  is one reason FUSD can attract and retain qualified teachers. I don’t think trustees would disagree with the benefits of job security, but as the Fremont teachers union President Jeff Poe said to me today,  trustees “were looking at giving themselves maximum flexibility” when it comes to making budget cuts.

The district must cut $25 million over the next two years. Although trustees weren’t directly being asked to amend the teachers contract, by approving program cuts, some teachers with permanent teaching status might end up without jobs. Hence, Wednesday’s discussion ended up being about whether the board could make such cuts, and, by default, about the job security of permanent teachers.

Ivy Wu, one of the school board members, was visibly frustrated with the budget crisis. At a loss for words initially, Wu eventually summed up her feelings by blurting out, “It really sucks,” which elicited a few chuckles from audience members. But a couple board members borrowed her words later on, so perhaps it is the best way to describe the state’s budget impacts on education.

Linh Tat


  1. http://www.peraltadistrictpta.org/petitions.php

    DEADLINE for this petition is FEB 15th. So far we only have about 1000 signatures. Please forward to friends and family members, anyone from Alameda county can sign this petition.

    —– Forwarded Message —-
    From: anjana desai
    Sent: Thursday, February 12, 2009 8:47:44 AM
    Subject: [msjschools] Online Petition for Budget Cuts to Education

    Hello Parents,

    As you know, California is hit with a huge budget deficit and we will all be impacted in various areas especially education.

    Fremont Unified is potentially going to cut $25 million from their operating budget. Since about 80% of their budget is personnel our school will potentially lose teachers, librarians, counselors, custodians, office staff etc.. This will impact programs, and increase class sizes. The overall foundation of our schools will be shifted and very hard to restore even if we recover the funds in the years ahead.

    PTA’s and other organizations are doing all they can to convince the Senators and Legislators that cuts to education breakdown the infrastructure that is important to a successful academic experience for our kids. Cuts made in any category have tremedous impact on the quality of education delivered and the also to the institution delivering the education.

    This is the time when we all need to come together and do our part. You can begin by signing this petition and calling your legislators. Phone calls speak volumes and a united voice is what is needed.

    Let’s do what we can to save what we have.


    DEADLINE for this petition is FEB 15th. So far we only have about 1000 signatures. Please foward to friends and family members, anyone from Alameda county can sign this petition.

    Thank you

    Anjana Desai
    Thornton Jr. High PTSA President.

  2. Ok, the teachers union is THE problem. Like the autoworkers in detroit, the teachers union has overly generous contract provisions like a “no layoff clause” along we extremely generous benefits, medical care, pension and we the taxpayers, who don’t get those luxury benefits from our jobs, have to pay for it. That this package attracts quality teachers is self serving. The Principal at our local Elementary school is an unresponsive lifer that does absolutely nothing except ignore problems and tell us that she has no ability to change things because it is all dictated by the “district”. My daughter’s high school teacher is about to be fired for incompetence, her science teacher last year was unable to teach.. I can go on and on.

    Let’s keep the good teachers, pay them for performance and make their jobs “at will” like in most companies and layoff the ones who are just working to rule.

  3. Permanent teachers can’t be laid off due to their contract according to this article. Even if they’re lousy? Maybe it’s time to get rid of the union if this is the case. Sadly, the school board has some tough decisions to make, but they HAVE to made. This is what is done in private enterprise. I have seen a lot of waste within the district.

  4. Yes, yes, yes John. Do you know how many people feel this way. I am tired of feeling sorry for the teachers. I appreciate the great ones that my children have had over the years, but I can count more lazy, incompetent ones than good ones. They know who they are and the good teachers know who they are! You’re right, pay by performance. There is a lot of waste within the district. Time to tighten the belt. I see big,school buses carrying 5 kids. My 12 yr old says, “we don’t need libraries at school.” It’s a luxury. Go to the public library or use the computer. Like you, I could go on and on and on.

  5. OK, I have worked for a school district, so I certainly know that there are some teachers who I wouldn’t bet any money could find their butts with both hands and a map, but before all of the anti-union people come charging out, let’s look at what unions have done for ALL workers:

    • Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.

    • Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.

    • Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. A high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.

    • The impact of unions on total nonunion wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.

    Let’s not forget that, if you’re female or a racial minority, you have rights now that you would not have had if not for the union movement. Child labor was outlawed as a result of the union movement.

    If you are not sexually harassed at work, thank a union.

    If you have ever been out on maternity leave, thank a union.

    If your job is required to follow safety rules that keep you from being killed or injured, thank a union.

    If you benefit from statutory limits on work-week hours, mandatory breaks, vacation and sick-leave accrual, reimbursement for equipment required for your job (such as steel-toed boots), you got those benefits through the work done in the union movement.

    These are all ways in which unions have brought into being laws which now protect people who may not even be in a union.

    So let’s not put all of the blame on the unions, OK?

    And please let your legislators know how important it is for them to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

    Find out more at:


  6. I see truths in both responses. I am not unions brought all that is claimed above, but like politics, left to their own devices (too much power) the unions have become corrupt ans have become their own worst enemies. Look how they got the auto makers to pay their laid off workers to not work. This of course was helped along by the auto makers horrible choice of producing outdated cars. This type of job protection w/o economic sense is what is killing unions.

    In addition to the teachers, there is a whole layer of supervision that could be laid off.

    If layoffs happen to private employees why should teachers be exempt?

    I am sorry that they seem to layoff only employees that produce so much emotion. The real problem is the whole state spending that caused this mess in the first place. It has incresed 40 percent more than the population under a dem and a rep. So may be the enemy is us who keep electing our state representatives over and over again.

    Why are we surprised then that nothing changes.

    Vote the rascals out!

  7. Good points Irvington, but unfortunately some people have taken advantage of the union. That’s the problem. The union protects too much and too many and should not, but it is their job to do this and that is what bothers me. Corrupt teachers have gotten away with way too many things, believe me I have seen it. WS Resident is correct in saying there is a lot of corruption.
    I voted “yes” the last couple times for the school bond, but now I’m apprehensive about voting yes again if they decide to ask for more money. It’s time they learn how to buckle down just like everyone else. I can say the say thing to Wasserman and the city. Every time there is a surplus, spend, spend, spend. Give better pensions, etc…I have to budget so why shouldn’t they learn how to manage their money.

  8. Please to remember, unions do not come by their benefits unilaterally – union contracts are negotiated with business owners or government entities and are agreed to by both parties. If management did not want to agree to the terms that are on the table, negotiation would continue or a strike could be called. Unions do not dictate the terms of their contracts.

  9. Teachers’ unions have done more positive things for education than any other group. They work to set professional standards, improve pay to attract better teachers, fight for smaller classes, and advocate for children in general.

    No union is perfect, just like no organization is perfect. Yes, their duty is to protect teachers, even the bad ones, in something called due process. Too many administrators play games and kick out good teachers to maintain their power. If administrators are too overburdened or too lazy to deal with the paperwork involved in getting rid of good teachers, that the fault of administration, not the unions.

    And in general, the working conditions for teachers, especially new ones, are mediocre at best. It starts with getting laid off every year. It continues with moving from grade to grade or classroom to classroom. Eventually it settles down, but then there are budget problems and deeper layoffs. Ignorant people who have not taught in public schools have no clue what it is like.

  10. Thanks, Jon – you’re absolutely right.

    Please, y’all, don’t fall for that old line that the GOP will try to feed you about how unions are the root of all evil. When they have nothing else to work with, when all of their positions have proven disastrous, they go after the organizations that stand up for worker’s rights, including Hilda Solis’ nomination as Secretary of Labor.

    Having worked for the County Office of Education, I can tell you that, in my experience, school districts are highly stratified organizations marred by internecine battles between departments. Think Borgias, think Medicis. It was an eye-opening experience, in light of their core purpose of educating children. So much energy devoted to scoring points, so little to delivering services.

  11. Jon, was it necessary to use the word ignorant in the last sentence? It says what you meant without it.

  12. Doug,

    Your comment is appreciated. Its meaning gave me pause before I submitted. I really do think ignorant applies, and it wasn’t meant in a whole-person sense. Lacking knowledge of the subject lead to poorly informed comments.
    I’m ignorant of far more than I’m knowledgeable about. The more I learn, the more I realize that.

  13. Why a teacher’s union would want alienate the second largest ideological group in our state is beyond my reason. They have politicized every facet of their processes, and as a whole, cannot have a coherent argument beyond Democrat-good, Republican-bad.

    Their members have some of the lowest wages, job security and benefits of any tax-funded employee group while still enjoying an irrational level of support from their members.

    But, it’s not about teachers and it’s certainly not about children. If the California teachers unions spent a fraction of the time they spend trying to get Democrats elected and instead improved conditions for teachers and students, our schools would be miles away from the shame it is today.

    Teachers will continue to receive marginal support as long as the unions are such a polarizing and politically delusional group.

  14. Irvington, You’re talking legacy. For an up to the minute assessment the role of American unions, consider the following:

    “The UAW stopped negotiations with GM last night, a person familiar with the talks said. A delay in the talks could risk the automakers missing a Feb. 17 deadline to show progress in a government-ordered plan to cut labor and debt costs. It’s not clear what that would mean.”

    Oh, the meaning of that is crystal-clear. The government is about to force a conversion to chapter 11. No pensions, no healthcare benefits, and no jobs for 40,000 UAW employees.

    “All expenses paid” health insurance is finito, regardless. Welcome to medicare, United Auto Worker.

    And when the pension benefit guaranty corp steps in, UAW retirees will be wishing for a private sector retirement. And, of course UAW employees under 45 get nothing.

    I promised up to the minute, so here:

    “the United Auto Workers says they are getting close to an agreement on concessions required as part of the company’s government loans”.

    I am getting the feeling that Gettlefinger and his pals at the UAW are finally getting that unions don’t have the brand name they used to.

    As far a sexual harassment law, I believe that was tangential to the civil rights act. Union role is trivial.

    And OSHA was supported by labor, not created by it.

    Union talking points aside, I do respect their historical role in improving labor. Today, they function as a collective extortion apparatus, and people are catching on.

  15. Just out of curiosity, Marty (and you are, of course, under no obligation to reply) – have you ever been a union member?

  16. Gettlefinger bothers me. From what I’ve read, UAW leadership seems a bit distant from where the needs of its members and reality intersect.

    While the UAW has contributed to American automakers’ troubles, they’re not primarily responsible. For about two decades, management used poor products to run those companies into the ground. I say this as the former owner of a 1995 Dodge Neon.

    It doesn’t help that Japan has manipulated the yen to keep Japanese cars cheaper than they ought to be.

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