All Quiet In Sacramento

The New Haven Unified School District teachers’ strike has moved into its second week, surpassing the duration of the Oakland and Los Angeles teachers’ strikes earlier this year.

Teachers in New Haven are striking for the same reason teachers struck in Oakland and LA: Increases in tax rates and school district revenues are not translating into raises for them.

New Haven’s revenues this year are $15 million higher than five years ago. But spending on salaries for certificated teachers is lower. Perhaps that’s because New Haven’s pension spending grew more than 160 percent, eating up 80 percent of New Haven’s revenue increase.

Yet there’s silence in Sacramento. Legislators worried about the consequences of automation on public transit jobs apparently are not worried about the consequences of school district shutdowns on kids who are supposed to graduate next month and who must someday get jobs. Apparently they’re also not worried about the consequences of layoff notices to young teachers, who under a “LIFO” rule enacted by legislators requires school districts to lay off teachers in reverse seniority.

The explosion in pension spending this decade was caused by legislators afraid of powerful special interests last decade. All they had to do then was require marginally higher employee and employer pension contributions. Had they done so there would be no pension crisis now. But they took the politically easy route, and because of accretion, pension contributions from school districts today are multiples of those required a decade ago. Even a 30 percent income tax increase and ten years of bull markets hasn’t overcome the consequences, which, in the absence of reform, will worsen.

Because legislators last decade took the easy route, legislators this decade will have to take the harder route of suspending automatic pension benefit increases for retirees and reducing unearned future pension benefits for employees who — just like the taxpayers paying more but getting less, the teachers not getting raises, and the students not getting classes — did nothing wrong. Those are the consequences when legislators govern for special interests.

K12 in California is a state-run $100 billion per year enterprise serving six million kids. Despite a 60 percent increase in state spending on schools since 2010 and annual spending now exceeding $17,000 per student, teachers are striking and student performance hasn’t improved. If the state was Apple Inc, K12’s failure to operate successfully would be the equivalent of the iPhone failing to operate successfully. Yet the legislature is silent. They should act.

At some point New Haven’s strike will be settled, just as LA and Oakland settled their strikes. But in the absence of reforms to retirement spending, just as in LA and Oakland the New Haven settlement will be temporary.

Govern For California supports lawmakers who legislate in the general interest.

Originally appeared on Medium, 5/30/19.