Last month, at a summit on public education at UCLA, the then Governor-elect Jerry Brown heard from teacher union leaders, school superintendents and school board members from around the state about the dire shape of school funding.
The well-worn analogy of “cutting to the bone” had given way to talk of “amputations."
“We need to educate the public on the necessity for a tax increase,” opined one local district administrator.
“No,” was Brown’s response. “What we need is for the public to educate us."
The governor then went on to recall the amount of skepticism the public has with government (city of Bell, stories of excessive pensions) and noted confusing surveys that indicate while voters are opposed to tax hikes they also don't want anymore cuts to education.
The issue of school reform was never addressed. But changes in how public education operates in this state may be central to the governor’s campaign for tax hike extensions.
Such is the opinion of John Deasy, the newly elected Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Deasy, who for years worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, is an ally of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and is considered a serious player in the school reform movement.
On KNBC-TV’s “News Conference” program he advocated making it more difficult for a teacher to obtain lifetime tenure, is opposed to the current “last hired, first fired” seniority system, and wants to extend the probationary period for incoming teachers. He thinks that if the public is asked to fork over money for the same system they have grown to distrust, the tax measure will be doomed. Change must be part of the equation.
It might also get the governor the few Republican votes he needs to put the measure on the ballot.
Teacher unions will not be happy with anything that links money to changes in lifetime tenure or anything that alters the collective bargaining agreement. But reformers like Deasy may see a special election this year as an opportunity. I recall somebody in the White House once saying, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."