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Teachers' Bid for More Bargaining Power Fails

Labor: But the amended Assembly bill would give them a voice in choosing textbooks and in developing curriculum.

May 23, 2002|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state teachers union on Wednesday lost a bid to vastly expand its collective bargaining powers but is still trying to gain a say on such issues as textbook selection and curriculum.

A bill pushed by the California Teachers Assn. would have required school districts and local teachers unions to negotiate those kinds of decisions now usually made by administrators. After opposition from Gov. Gray Davis and school board groups, the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved an amended version that stripped out references to collective bargaining and would set up another system allowing teachers unions to help make those decisions.

Under the amended bill by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), local school boards and teachers unions would form academic partnerships to choose textbooks and develop curriculum and "any program designed to enhance pupil academic performance." The teams would not be allowed to address issues of salaries, wages or working conditions already spelled out in union contracts.

Union leaders said they hoped the new version would satisfy critics and give teachers a voice in issues affecting their classrooms.

"The basic concept here is having teachers involved in selecting the tools they use to educate children," union President Wayne Johnson said. "The concept is a very positive one."

School district leaders called the previous version of Goldberg's bill, AB 2160, a blatant power grab by the union, and Davis also opposed it, saying last month that he didn't want "textbooks to be held hostage to issues involving wages."

On Wednesday, critics assailed the latest proposal as a veiled attempt to expand union powers. The proposed partnership committees, they said, would create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to argue over everything from teacher training to parent involvement programs.

The opponents also noted that the amended bill would let district officials or union leaders file complaints with the state Public Employment Relations Board for "failure to participate in good faith in the partnership process." The board regulates collective bargaining and can issue fines or order negotiating parties back to the table.

In addition, both sides would have to sign off on any agreements. Currently, school boards set policies and are required only to consult teachers unions.

"We think the bill mirrors collective bargaining. We are still very much opposed to it," said Laura Jeffries, legislative advocate for the Assn. of California School Administrators, one of the opponents. "I just see it backfiring."

A Davis spokeswoman would not comment, saying the governor had not yet seen the amended bill. But she said Davis would resist any legislation that would bog down textbooks or curriculum in the collective bargaining process.

"The devil is in the details, and [the governor] is going to have to look at what those details are and what they mean for students," Hilary McLean said.

The original bill pitted Davis against some of his most loyal and generous supporters--public school teachers. Davis' stated opposition set off a nasty spat with Johnson, who embarrassed Davis recently by publicly disclosing that the governor had asked the union for a $1-million campaign contribution during a meeting in his private Capitol office.

Johnson has said he doubts that Davis opposed the bill because the union balked at giving him $1 million.

Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn., was among the education leaders who met with the union to draft a compromise on the bill. His association remains unhappy with the amendments.

The recent meetings were led by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, (D-Sacramento) and included Goldberg, a former teacher and member of the Los Angeles school board.

Goldberg did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Steinberg, who heads the Appropriations Committee, said he believes that the two sides have begun to bridge their differences.

"I hope this can move forward with some of the rhetoric toned down and the ability to talk about some of these remaining issues," Steinberg said. "There is general agreement that teachers ought to have real input. The debate has always been about the method to achieve that."

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