Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Important Release from Todd Mertz: Intelligent Opinion Piece on Governor "Cut Blanche"

Important Release from Todd Mertz: An Intelligent Opinion Piece on the Dangers of  Governor “Cut Blanche”

Friends and Colleagues:

Here is most of a well-written article sarcastically titled "Let's Kill Unions" by Steve Hochstadt, a professor of history at Illinois College in today's Journal-Courier:

"It’s been a bit more than 100 days since Republican Bruce Rauner became governor of Illinois. Despite our state’s enormous financial problems, he has yet to propose specific methods of dealing with our deficit and our debt. He has yet to propose any tax reform.

But he has been very active on one of his pet projects – killing unions.

Rauner claims that union-negotiated salaries have caused our state’s financial crisis. He accused unions that represent public employees, such as firefighters, police and teachers, of manipulating elections by contributing to campaigns of elected officials. In his State of the State speech in February, Rauner said the state should ban political contributions by public employee unions.

His most significant action thus far has been to stop the payment of union dues by workers who are not members, but who benefit from union contracts, so-called “fair share” payments. Rauner’s anti-union policies may not get very far. His proposal that communities be allowed to create local “right-to-work zones” conflicts with federal labor laws, which only allow states to pass such laws.

To those who believe that unions have too much power to influence government, here is a surprising statistic. For every dollar that labor unions and other public-interest groups spend on lobbying, large corporations and their associations spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 represent business. The largest companies now have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them. Lawmakers in Washington and in state capitals are besieged daily by lobbyists representing corporate America, not by union members.

The gains won by unions in wages and benefits over many decades raised the standard of living of all Americans. These gains also can raise costs. When teachers’ salaries go up, so do the costs of public schools. But paying teachers good salaries benefits our whole society by making this most important profession more attractive to the best students and by strengthening the middle class. Paying factory workers good salaries can raise the cost of automobiles and other goods, but the 20th-century gains in factory wages contributed to the strong American economy. As unions declined, workers’ wages stagnated, and the share of total income in the U.S. that goes to the middle class has fallen from 53 percent to 46 percent.

Unions are democracy in action, created by the working poor to speak with their voice. Capitalists and governments fought them everywhere they grew. If threats of jail and loss of job were not enough, armed violence with the overwhelming power of the state was employed. The celebration of labor that happens across the world every year on May 1 came about due to the Haymarket incident in Chicago in 1886, itself the result of police shooting striking workers. Every dictatorship of the left or right seeks to destroy the power of unions. Unions are much more democratic organizations than corporations, representing average Americans rather than wealthy stockholders and CEOs.

What is often said about democracy should also be said about unions: they are not the best we could imagine, but they are the best we have. For those who can’t afford to buy a seat at a party fundraiser, who can’t pay for a lobbyist, who can’t invite politicians out to eat or to play golf or fly a jet, no other form of collective power is more successful and more democratic.

The struggle between unions and business is about money and power: the boardroom or the workers. The essence of a democratic system, and its challenge, is to allow this struggle to take place peacefully, to insure that both sides follow the laws, to allow corporations and unions the freedom to compete.

That’s not good enough for conservatives like Rauner, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and every other Republican Party prominence. They don’t want a fair competition. They see nothing positive about unions and never discuss a fair fight. Their desire to destroy unions has not diminished as unions have declined in power – it has grown.

Listen to Bruce Rauner. He has not positioned himself at the Republican extreme, like Walker, Cruz and many others. He must live with a Democratic legislature. But he hates unions like the CEO he used to be, who doesn’t want to hear what workers have to say and who is fighting them every day for money and power.

If he has his way, our whole democracy will suffer."

And one more cool thing--check out U.S Representative Bill Foster's 1 min. video on C-Span congratulating Naperville, Aurora, and Oswego for shutting down Rauner's union busting right-to-work (for less) proposal. 

--Todd Mertz

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HB 306 - Will It Survive Rules Committee?

HB306 – You Might Want to Opt Your Child Out of PARCC Testing, But The Bill to Do So Might Not Opt Out of Rules Committee

HB 306, the bill allowing students and parents to opt out of testing has been moved to the Rules Committee, where Barbara Flynn Currie (D – Chicago – 36 years incumbency) will take orders from Party Leadership to float or torpedo the proposal. 

Governor Rauner, fearing fiscal retaliation from the Feds opposes the bill. 

The IEA, fearing fiscal retaliation from the Feds, opposes the bill. 

Political charmers do indeed make strange bedfellows.

We’ll find out what Madigan wants Currie to do later.  Thy will be done. 

Meanwhile, most parents, teachers and many school boards support the bill.


For IEA delegates like Conrad. Floeter, the answer is clear.  PARCC and other high stakes tests are just another weapon in their (corporations) arsenal to label teachers and schools as failing, paving the way for privatization through charter schools and dismantling our union. The opt out parents are the best allies we have right now and we need to build on that.”

During the recent Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly, delegates Conrad Floeter and Region Chair Marsha Griffin offered a New Business Item calling for the IEA to organize anti-testing partner ships with parents; it was shot down.  Nobody from Leadership spoke in support.

According to Mr. Floeter, “We got our answer Saturday morning when our President, Cinda Klickna, told us that she had heard those questions and that our legislative platform amendment did not support any specific legislation (like HB306). That opting out students could put us at risk of losing funding and that members were vulnerable if they spoke to parents about their opt out rights. So what exactly does our support of opt out mean?”
In response, Fred Klonsky noted, “The answer is that their claim of support for parents and teachers means nothing.”

 See Klonsky’s full post: 

Meanwhile, in classrooms from Maine to California, educators are witnessing the brutality exacted on children taking these tests and the injury for even those who opted out. 

I remember a time when my students built learning calendars on the walls of our classroom through out the year, leaving mementos and descriptions of events, projects and learning encountered and accomplished through the year.  We used to walk along the walls at the end of the year ,looking back at our growth and achievements. Now, I imagine a swath of black construction paper during the weeks we might have suffered through such mandated testing.

From New York: see R.Ratto’s observations of what has happened this spring in his classroom.

“Over the past two weeks, I was ordered to administer New York States Common Core assessments to 44% of my 5th grade class, while 56% of my students refused to take the test. They were all in the same room during the assessments, so I designed a quiet independent Language Arts activity for those not taking the test. I didn’t want to waste any potential ‘learning time’ for any of my students. They worked silently, without disturbing those struggling with the test, and afterwords they reported to me that they enjoyed the assignment and they were excited to share what they learned.
A parent complained and I was advised, after the first portion of the test,  to not have the other students working on anything else because it may be a violation of testing rules and that the Superintendent stated we couldn't. So, for the last 4.5 hours 56% of my class was told that they can only read silently from their own novel while the others in the room struggled with the assessment. Under these conditions, I observed many of the students had a difficult time remaining silent and often disturbed those struggling with the tests.
Those children, who I had to order to sit quietly for 9 hours the past week while their peers struggled with their purposely confusing questions, were basically under arrest. Metaphorically handcuffing them to their desks, they were forced to sit quietly for an extremely long time (even those with attention deficit issues or hyperactivity issues). How many adults would subject themselves to that nonsense?
Those taking the test struggled with questions, day after day, that were unfair assessments of their capabilities. The Language Arts section of the tests consisted of way too many boring reading selections and were above a typical 5th grader’s reading level. The questions focused on minutia, lacked clarity, and played with the nuances of plausibility.
Over the past several years the Language Arts portion of the assessments always had poetry included in them. Often poems that were difficult and could be interpreted in many different ways were part of every assessment. Poetry has always been an integral part of my Language Arts curriculum.  I thought I met the challenge and that my students were well prepared to analyze just about any poem place in front of them. After all, that is part of our curriculum.  I was shocked to see that this year’s 5th grade assessments had no poetry in it. Why?
My students were prepared, but the evidence is mounting that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning. There is a more sinister reason coming into focus.
The Math portion of the tests included multi- step problems that were beyond the capability of most 5th grade students. My students are capable of doing a typical 5th grade multi-step problem, but these questions were purposely misleading, often included a misdirecting clause and were often nonsensical and unrealistic.
We know that a student needs to use some background knowledge to understand a word problem.  I wonder how many students were confused when the star of a softball team hit the softball  a towering 2 yards and the others measured their distances against his.  Realistic? Hardly!  I wondered if my students really thought that knowing the fraction of the volume of a cubby used to store a teachers’ papers was a really something adults calculate.
A typical 5th grade math word problem in Pearson’s own Common Core aligned textbook has 3 or 4 steps that must be completed to solve. This year’s Pearson’s tests blew the lid off that. Students had to complete many more steps to solve these test questions. About as far from fair as you can get.
More evidence that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning, that a sinister reason is coming unto focus.
I have been shouting that these tests are institutional child abuse and this week Cuomo confirmed my declaration that yes, the New York is using our children in a sinister way.
Read these excerpts from a Times Union Article:
“The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo said in a brief press gaggle following an Association for a Better New York breakfast event in New York City.
“Cuomo said he believes they haven’t done a good job of publicizing the fact that the tests, for at least the next five years, won’t count at all for the students.”
“They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”
Meaningless? Children subjected to headaches, anxiety, upset stomachs, a feeling of failure for meaningless tests!
Cuomo also says these tests are supposed to be used to evaluate teachers. That is using 9 hours of a child’s labor to do an adult’s job. Let’s not forget the imbedded field test items that Pearson sneaks in there to help them boost their corporate profits.
The evidence is overwhelming. The New York State Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo are guilty of abusing their authority and the children of our state.”
For the entire illuminating post, please go to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Naperville Turns Away from Rauner's Turnaround…For Now

Naperville Turns Away from Rauner’s Turnaround.  For Now.

At nearly ten o’clock this evening and after listening to well over 30 outraged Naperville residents, one exasperated and tired Council member reluctantly agreed that even the passage of their paired-down version of Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda would be all too symbolic of a victory for Rauner’s entire agenda, one which includes a direct attack on unions and collective bargaining.

The Naperville version had carefully expunged the “whereas” positions regarding collective bargaining and unfunded liabilities, but enough of the old language remained to aggravate a strongly union audience, which made it clear through various speakers their opposition to any of it. 

“Empowerment zones,” speaker Dave Madsen cited, “are described by Rauner in his State of the State speech as regions in which fair share, collective bargaining, and unions can be avoided. Your dropping of the term ‘collective bargaining’ does not drop the intent in the governor’s own stated definition.”  He went on to quote those sections of the Governor's speech listing the effects of such zones.  The entire speech by Dave Madsen can be found at Glen Brown's blog.

In fact, most if not all of the Council members in Naperville seemed strangely unclear about any of the language in their own proposed, remaining ten position points.    When asked about what empowerment zones were, they instead threw questions back to the speakers. 

Various speakers, some still wearing their work clothes, proudly walked to the podium tutored them and the audience.

One council member asked if “anyone could tell me what the 280 unfunded mandates are?”  People in the audience, realizing that the Council was looking at the adoption of a resolution without knowing what it meant, were concerned and understandably unsettled.

One articulate representative for union carpenters was asked if he knew what Prevailing Wage meant.  He walked the members of the Naperville Council through the levels of pay, which are set in Springfield, not local entities.  He explained why various states had different levels of Prevailing Wages.  He educated the Council on the arduous but necessary path to a level considered a qualified professional carpentry.  His answer seemed illuminating for them.

In fact, his explanation was so lucid and comprehensible; they even asked him to explain Illinois compensation for workers.  (Again, these questions from a panel of a City Council about to move a resolution regarding these terms, concepts, and understandings – all of which could have significant impact on the people before them and the citizens not in attendance.) 

He explained the complicated but necessary determinations of costs given for a loss of a finger, an arm (right vs. left), and an eye.  He also explained what a traveling injury might look like from the perspective of a worker asked to go to another job site. Like an earlier lady at the podium, he reminded the Council these thresholds are set in Springfield, not on the local level.  Many people urged the Council to let Springfield handle these issues.

Still unembarrassed, they asked the carpenter representative if he knew what the 280 unfunded mandates were.  He threw his hands up and said, “Ask Rauner.  He’s got a couple million to find the answer.”  Applause.

Additional citizens appeared, warning the outgoing Mayor Pradel to avoid leaving this pathetic resolution as his legacy.  Others warned the incoming mayor the passage of such a resolution would besmirch his own leadership for his term in office.  Many more decried the continued attack by characters like Rauner on the middle class. 

“Why would you bring this forward as many of you prepare to leave the Council?  “Why this last minute push to put this resolution through as our Mayor and many of you prepare to retire from your positions?  "Is this some kind of lame-duck action about which you’ve given little if any thought?"

 After the open forum ended, two of the Council members described the phone messages they had received from Rauner.  The governor had called each of them and asked them to push forward his Turnaround Agenda in Naperville.  One was eager to describe how the Governor has no caller ID when he calls.  The other still had his message on his phone. 

“But now,” said one of them, “I can see that we cannot pass this without tacitly approving in appearance all of the agenda for Rauner.”

The incoming Mayor Chirico asked the resolution be tabled indefinitely, but he added that he was looking forward to “helping the Governor in some way to make Illinois great again.”  Promises to review the Turnaround Agenda at a later date were proposed by many of the Council members.  Chirico added, “We might all have to sacrifice.” 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Who's Got Your Back? IEA?

When I lost my bid to be an IEA – Retired Representative a few months ago, I wasn’t surprised.  My good friend and fellow blogger Glen Brown was successful in his bid, as was our friend Fred Klonsky.  Fred is more than a blogger; he’s a force for progressive reform on all fronts.  Glen has been a stalwart defender of our constitutional pension promises since the day he began retirement – no fishing, little traveling.  Just ongoing battle using his keen mind and a moral position. 

If you’ve read their blogs, you also know that their arguments include concerns for active teachers as well as future educators – not just those who got out before SB1/Rauner/SB2404/PARCC/Arne Duncan/Pat Quinn/Pearson/Charters/Tier 2/ forced 401K’s.…

When they confront something wrong-headed, they don’t sit back quietly.  You’d expect that, and you’d expect they’d attend the IEA assembly to represent all of us – retired and active and future.

But you might not expect the kind of equivocation and political slipperiness they’re both reporting this morning, after the IEA Representative Assembly this week. 

Under the rule of “if you see something (or smell something), say something," I offer the following blog from Glen Brown this morning.

An Initial Response from a Retired Delegate to the IEA-RA Representative Assembly

Re: IEA-NEA Proposed legislative Platform Amendment #2, April 17, 2015 

The Association also remains opposed to any unconstitutional changes to the laws governing retirement benefits that diminish or impair current members’ benefits. However, the Association supports any proposal that otherwise creates fair, practical, and constitutional solutions which sustain the long term viability of the pension systems. 

Proposed Language Changes to the above Decree: 

The Association opposes any diminishment or impairment of the pension benefits for current and future members.  

Rationale for the one sentence revision (submitted by ShiAnne Shively and seconded by Tim Allaire): 

Senate Bill 1 is currently in the courts and hopefully will be ruled as unconstitutional. This change removes any ambiguity and clarifies what the IEA will oppose.

Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the wording was struck down by the majority of delegates of the IEA-RA Assembly (and to the delight of the IEA president) without thorough discussion.

I agreed with the proposed changes to the language and spoke to the Representative Assembly, hoping the IEA leadership had a comprehensive plan already in place to address the next wave of attacks on our defined-benefit pension plan, regardless of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling:

We know Illinois politicians will continue to ignore legal and moral solutions for the state’s budget problems and pension debt, and they will continue their assaults on the Pension Protection Clause, no matter what the Illinois Supreme Court decides.

Never before has there been a need for dynamic leadership with a determination to build the rank-and-file’s collective capacity to resist then there is now.

I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 9, a constitutional amendment meant to subvert our only retirement plan. I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose any transferring of the normal costs to the pension system to local school districts (HB 429, SB 72). I urge the Association to be fully prepared to oppose a Tier III pension plan for new teachers (HB 134). I also urge the Association to be absolutely prepared to defend our pension benefits and rights without apologies, without concessions, and without compromise. 

I would have also said to the Representative Assembly:

Let us remember the flawed “Pension Ramp” (Public Act 88-0593) signed into law in 1995 that exacerbated the unfunded liability. Let us remember a previous IEA leadership supported Public Act 88-0593. 

Let us remember that the current IEA leadership “proudly supported” Senate Bill 7 that was signed into law in June 2011, the bill that ensured that teachers’ evaluations and their tenure were tied to the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (Public Act 96-0861), the bill that ensured a so-called “streamlined process for the dismissal of teacher tenure,” the bill that required an authorization of 75% for a strike vote in Chicago, to name just a few complications that confront today's teachers.

Let us remember the current IEA leadership proposed Senate Bill 2404 in May, 2013: “A unilateral reduction of pension rights [that might have been deemed] unconstitutional, even if coupled with equally unilateral benefits that the [Labor Coalition] imagines retired and active public employees might theoretically find desirable (4)…” (Gino L. DiVito, John M. Fitzgerald, and Katherine M. O’Brien of Tabet, DiVito & Rothstein LLC, Constitutional Issues Concerning Legislative Pension Reform Proposals).  

Let us remember the IEA leadership had agreed to diminish and impair current teachers’ and retirees’ constitutionally-guaranteed benefits that had been protected by previous Illinois Supreme Court rulings. (The IEA does not represent the majority of retirees). The IEA leadership believed SB 2404 would thwart any further attacks on our Pension Protection Clause.

Though forgetfulness is a cousin to naivety, it took a calculated political manipulation by a speaker against amendment #2, a forgetfulness of the aforementioned IEA supported agreements in the past, and an outright fabrication meant to instill fear and doubt to make sure the majority of the IEA delegates voted against the new unequivocal language that was proposed in amendment #2.

I am saddened that the IEA leadership has created such an acquiescent provincialism. I am saddened that the IEA leadership avoids challenges to their authority and critical discussion. I am saddened that current teachers have lost so much already in these past few years and will lose even more in the future.

There should never be any negotiation of our constitutionally guaranteed benefits with an Illinois General Assembly that has proven over and over again they will not negotiate to “create fair, practical, and constitutional solutions.” We already have the definitive “fair, practical, and constitutional solution” in place for us. It’s called the Pension Protection Clause, and it has always been and should remain non-negotiable.

From my friend, colleague and fellow retired delegate, Fred Klonsky: The Sad State of the IEA