We in the Santa Rosa Teacher's Union recently agreed to salary cuts in the form of a tentative calendar which would distribute several furlough days throughout the 2011-12 school year. The negotiating team approved two furlough days in the increasingly unlikely event that Jerry Brown's tax extension passes, and 6 furlough days if it doesn't. I was thinking of entitling this post Calendar Vote: The Aftermath but that seemed entirely too grim and divisive; and no doubt it would have led to the childish amusement of renaming the first post Calendar Vote: The Final Countdown. Can I help it if these are ominous times? I don't mean to suggest that anyone who voted for the budget crime days did the wrong thing. In these times, it's hard to know what's right. All irony aside, I believe the 2 to 1 majority that succumbed to the Great Budget Appeasement of 2011 was trying to save jobs. (Ok, some, but not all, irony aside.) That is how the union leadership presented its case for the negotiation, as a conciliatory gesture of mature sacrifice to ward off a greater evil, and so it was on that basis that educators gave their approval. 2 to 1.
Except at Montgomery, where I hear it was a 2 to 1 majority against the new calendar. Are we Vikings on something called Charlie Sheen, or do we have a point about staking out a strong position and refusing to yield prematurely? I do not wish to sow seeds of rancor between teachers over a vote that is now a fait accompli. Teachers must stick together, and in all seriousness I respect the rationale of others who made a different calculation on the recent vote. However, I wish we had stuck together with our librarians who perform an essential service to students and our schools. They, and we, lost those valuable positions, and the losses in this state are only slated to escalate. We are heading for a financial bloodbath and I fear, at best, that the calendar vote was our last bandaid before the wounds are opened for good. At worst, it was a signal to our enemies that we are willing to bleed slowly in the shadows until they deliver the coup de grace.
To appease means "to buy off an aggressor with concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles." As I see it, the big conundrum in our district is whether we are at the mercy of an actual aggressor or simply an act of Economy. Michael Brenner, a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, dares to probe into the obscure workings of this god and reports back to us in his recent Counterpunch article. It turns out there are mere mortals behind the curtain of our fearsome Economy, but mortals can be pretty scary in their own right, especially those who are bent on abusing power and engorging themselves with resources that should rightly belong to the earth and all of its dwellers.
With so much urgency surrounding the passage of Jerry Brown's tax extensions on income, sales and vehicle registration, and his push to get it on the ballot for June, consider the following undisputed tax rates:
CA Income Tax Brackets
Tax Bracket (yearly earnings) Tax Rate (%)
That's one giant step from 47k to 999k. You heard right. If you make 50k you pay the same rate as the guy behind the gates with six cars, three homes and a yacht. This seems unfair, aggressively so, and I want to know why reversing that injustice isn't on the table to save our schools, our healthcare, our fundamental human rights. Do we really think the 999k yachtsman is creating tons of jobs? Can we check? I'm mindful of the danger of using overheated rhetoric in these times. Words like "enemy" should not be applied lightly and liberally to anyone with whom we disagree. But when I read about the implications of Brown's spending cuts that he and the Democrats in the legislature are pushing alongside the call for more tax revenue, I can't help but feel that there is an enemy among us, and I know that enemy by the name of Greed and Cowardice. Okay, two enemies.
Leave it to an English teacher to use personification to avoid blaming people. I'm not comfortable assigning individual blame. I'm too self-deprecating and steeped in my own flaws to point the finger at another. But I gotta tell you, there are some very, very, greedy people in our midst who have absolutely no compunction about hurting the neediest among us. With apologies to Jon Stewart (who earns my highest esteem for his hilarious takedown of Wall Street ideology,) Stephen Colbert, and their Rally For Sanity, evil does exist. You know it, I know it, and J.K. Rowling knows it. Sure, sure, liberals don't want to sound like Bush when he made his axis of evil speech. I get it! But sometimes, sanity lies in calling your enemy by its true name.
Furlough day sounds way too comfortable, like a glass of red wine or a warm, expensive coat. It comes from the Dutch verlof, or, permission. Really? Not too well paid to begin with, we are being granted permission to lose our much needed earnings, and we are even invited to lose them at sporadic times during the year so that we cannot easily recoup our losses at a time like, say, the start of summer? Our students are allowed to lose important learning time when too many of the days that remain are hijacked by meaningless tests? And these same tests cost money that is not going into the retention of actual human beings who have a real relationship with our kids, unlike a multiple choice exam which can't listen or talk or care? Seriously? People, we need a new name for these FDs, and fast.
Another thing we need to do is consider whether Jerry Brown has essentially hemmed himself into the position of selling out our union in order to pass the tax extension we are being told is our only hope. (I'm still wistful over the potential to tax a yachtsman, or a hundred.) He didn't even have to put this tax extension to the voters. It's almost like he doesn't want the final decision on his shoulders. He could have MADE THE CASE for why extending the tax hikes for five years is vital to the well-being of our state and its people, and he could have tried to get this passed the straightforward way. Did anyone hear him make a passionate case for this? I guess it's hard to make a passionate case for a budget that already has something like $14 billion in cuts stinking it up. And please don't tell me that austerity here is about taking the high road, the mature and practical road, or I will reintroduce you to the yachtsman.
Just go for it, Governor Brown! Let's tell him! You don't have to make all these sleazy deals and cuts. You can fight for what's right. Remember Bobby Kennedy? Yes, I realize it was the times, and yes, Jerry Brown is about as much like Bobby Kennedy as a furlough day is like a vacation, but come ON. Show a little passion, a little verve, a little moral gravitas. These times are as electric as the sixties, and our elected officials need to start acting like it.
Admittedly, for the tax extensions themselves, (as opposed to an agreement to put them on the ballot), to go through the legislature, Brown still would have needed a two thirds vote, and yes, the Republican lawmakers would still have refused to budge. But when you stake out a strong and principled (feigned or not) position, negotiations tend to go in your favor. Just ask our State Republicans who are sitting pretty on an awful lot of leverage. The path to hell is paved with too many concessions.
If you build it, they will come. It applies to the leaders who need to craft the moral appeal, as well as to the people; we need to make them remember there is still a moral imperative, and we will toss them out of office if they can't dig it. Remember, Wisconsin teachers didn't start fighting the good fight because their union leadership gave them the go ahead. Teachers and their students had finally had enough, and they took to the streets. How is the public going to see us for who we are if we can't make our case directly? Negotiations behind closed doors have their place, but it may be time to open a few windows and let in the light. We all could decide it feels good to step outside.
Analysis + Music + Satire = Action
- My Huffington Post
- Occupy Santa Rosa
- Brilliant Salon Article on the Bait and Switch of School Reform
- Santa Rosa's Teachers Association
- Henry Giroux's Online Articles
- Why the United States is Destroying its Education System
- Jonathan Kozol in Harper's
- A Letter to Arne Duncan
- Paul Krugman's "Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession"
- Competitiveness Vs. Excellence in Education
- Lawrence O'Donnell on Teachers w/ Matt Damon Footage
- Why States Should Refuse NCLB Waivers
- Valerie Strauss' Interview w/Alfie Kohn
- Garret Keizer's Harper's Essay "Getting Schooled: The Re-education of an American Teacher
- Diane Ravitch and Brian Jones on Democracy Now
- The Flawed Business Model of Education
- Education Radio w/Barbara Madeloni: "We are the 99%, Fighting for the 'Public' in Education"
- "Race To Nowhere" Film and Movement
- The N.E.A. Succumbs to Testing Pressures