Saturday, July 12, 2003

The fight against better schools 

It's not just school vouchers that teachers unions are against:

The district has been trying to re-invent Sacramento High School, a troubled school in the city's largely minority Oak Park neighborhood, a few miles south of the state Capitol. The campus was officially on the list of the state's "low-performing" schools and participated in a state program targeting new resources at such failures. But Sacramento High didn't improve, and faced a possible state takeover.

Instead, the district school board voted earlier this year to close the campus and hand the grounds to a nonprofit corporation headed by former NBA basketball star Kevin Johnson, who graduated from Sacramento High before going on to lead the Phoenix Suns as an all-star point guard.

... Sacramento High would be a public charter school, meaning it would get its funding directly from the state and escape many of the rules and regulations that weigh down traditional public schools. It would be held accountable for its results rather than its processes - and the students would be expected to meet clear academic and behavioral standards. At least at the start, the teachers would not be members of the local union, the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

That's the problem. The union could not accept the loss of membership and control, and has done everything possible to stop the school's rebirth. The harassment started while the district was pondering the change, as teachers at the old Sacramento High frightened their students with horror stories about what would happen if the transition occurred. But the signatures of more than 1,000 parents on petitions supporting the proposal carried the day.
Naturally, without popular support, the union tries to shut the project down in court:

Once the school board voted narrowly to move ahead, the local union, with the backing of the California Teachers Association, took the district to court. The teachers' claim: The school was illegal because it wasn't really new but only a conversion of the old campus. State law, the union insisted, required the support of half the school's teachers for a conversion. If the school was closed and reopened, parental backing would be sufficient.

The first judge who heard the case rejected the union's request for an emergency order blocking the move and told the plaintiffs they had little chance of prevailing at trial. So the union used a legal maneuver to dump that judge for another.

The new jurist, Superior Court Judge Trena Burger-Plavan, issued a ruling blocking the school district from moving ahead. She didn't say the district could not close the school. Nor did she say the district could not close the school and reopen it later as a charter school. She simply said it had been done all too quickly. Her ruling, now under appeal, seemed to suggest that if the district left the campus shuttered for a year or so, all would be forgiven.
Of course, they're doing it only out of altruism:

One subtext to all of this is that the district's teachers are threatening to strike this fall over a new contract. If the new Sac High is allowed to proceed with non-union teachers, it could well stand as the only school in the city to open on schedule in September. That would give it tons of publicity and potentially weaken the union's position in negotiations with the district.
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