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Enough is enough. It’s time for good people to stand up to Sacramento teacher union’s bullying

If you are Jorge Aguilar, superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, you have someone intimating that you are deceitful or incompetent just about every week on social media, at school board meetings or in your face. The same is true if you are Jessie Ryan, president of the Sac City school board.

The people behind this are a propaganda machine called the Sacramento City Teachers Association. They don’t let up and they will show up in your neighborhood to pass out leaflets to your friends to discredit you. They’ll even crash a neighborhood block party and canvass the area with leaflets that suggest you hate teachers. That you are anti-union.

Ryan was the recipient of this treatment recently. One of her kids found the SCTA flier in the mail, she said.

That left Ryan to explain to her kid why some teachers punish students for bullying but then turn around and bully people themselves when driven by their own self interest.

Look it up boys and girls. That’s what you call hypocrisy: The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.

Oh, and the SCTA leaflets that were publicly distributed included Ryan’s private cell phone number. Isn’t that nice?

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Mind you, Ryan is also an SCUSD parent. Both her kids are African American. Her husband is Latino. She is intimately involved in efforts to lift the Oak Park community. She is the kind of grassroots leader we need in Sacramento.

Meanwhile, Aguilar also has kids enrolled in Sac City schools. He has a very close relationship with his Mexican immigrant parents in Fresno but left them behind so he could move to Sacramento and try to turn around Sacramento’s long-suffering schools.

They deny it, but SCTA seems to have a goal: To make things so unpleasant for Ryan and Aguilar that they will quit so that SCTA can get district leaders more to their liking.

This is the way it’s been for at least 20 years. Sacramento’s schools have had a revolving door of superintendents, which means a lack of stability, fiscal disorder and focusing more on issues relating to adults than kids.

Many past school board members have used their seats as a entree to higher office. And yes, part of the bargain sometimes required making deals that the district shouldn’t have made with SCTA.

After capitulating to a threatened teachers strike threat in 2017, Ryan and her board have refused to continue capitulating.

They are trying to hold firm to a simple ideal: ceasing to spend money that the district doesn’t have. After previous school boards ignored repeated warnings from County Superintendent Dave Gordon, the school board that Ryan leads went a different way. They began trying to rein in its runaway medical benefit costs while also addressing its more than $700 million unfunded liability in post-employment obligations.

The district long ago granted its employees lifetime benefits but has not been setting aside nearly enough money to pay for them over the long haul. Gordon has been warning the district of this for more than 14 years.

SCTA has used its communication to intimate that the district’s fiscal crisis really isn’t that bad, which creates a narrative in the minds of teachers that they can’t trust Aguilar and Ryan - or Gordon, for that matter. Based on their public comments and Facebook posts, there are teachers in Sacramento who actually seem to doubt that the district is up against it financially.

Just last week, the Sacramento County Board of Education rejected the district’s budget again. As The Bee’s Sawsan Morrar reported: “Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon said that while the district will meet its minimum reserve requirements in the next two years, it will fall short by $27 million in the 2021-2022 budget year. The district will be in a negative fund balance of $14.8 million by June 30, 2022, according to the county’s letter to the district.”

In a healthy school district, all involved parties would heed this warning and negotiate a way out of a looming problem. It happens just down the road at the San Juan Unified School District in the Sacramento suburbs.

“It takes a commitment of time, it takes a commitment of effort,” Kent Kern, superintendent at San Juan, said during a school funding panel held by the Public Policy Institute of California over the summer. Of Bill Simmons, the leader of San Juan’s teachers union, Kern said: “We have breakfast; we have lunch. Our meetings can be between two and three hours. We talk about everything.”

That’s not what’s happening in Sacramento. Quite the opposite in fact. SCTA seemingly will do anything to avoid addressing or negotiating runaway health benefits costs or the post-employment benefits liability.

To their credit, the board has stayed united - for now. “I don’t think (Ryan) should be condemned for speaking the truth,” said board member Michael Minnick. Little discussed but significant is how the four other labor unions working with the district have lined up by Aguilar and are ready to negotiate while SCTA attacks.

“If four labor partners are working collectively with our administration and our board, I think that’s telling. It speaks to the commitment that this board has toward its employees,” Minnick said.

More parents are asking questions about SCTA tactics.

“If you come at it from the perspective that (the district) is deceitful, then you aren’t going to learn anything,” said Scott Graves, a district parent. “All you are doing is pushing your opinion. The district has tried to explain its fiscal position in recent budget iterations. They’ve acknowledged the problem is getting smaller because they are doing things to address it. I mean, it’s not like they are sitting on their hands. They’ve changed the trajectory of the budget because of cuts and better budgeting practices.”

True enough, but here is a prediction: The SCTA attacks will continue and widen. Don’t be surprised if other board members feel the heat or if SCTA lashes out at some parents, at me and anyone else who questions them.

When you see the first school board member start to crack, you’ll know SCTA is making inroads.

Here is another prediction: Nothing in the way of negotiating will happen until the district is at a fiscal cliff again in a year or two.

Meanwhile, good people in Sacramento stay quiet.

I’ve heard from teachers who say they are fed up with SCTA tactics, but they don’t speak up. Local elected officials could step in and ask SCTA to negotiate, or rally parents and teachers to push for productive negotiations.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg knows the issue. So does Councilman Jay Schenirer.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, commissioned a state audit of the district, which is funny because the district has been continuously audited for years. Whatever said audit shows, there’s no doubt SCTA will seize on points they can exploit to continue their attacks. If that happens, all of us would be justified in questioning whether that was the whole point of McCarty’s audit in the first place.

It’s ironic that as Aguilar and Ryan are trying to implement Gordon’s budget requirements, he remains publicly silent as they get crushed for their troubles.

Parents are either unaware of all this or are leery about speaking up.

Until all interested parties do speak up, the foul tactics will continue, the district will be dysfunctional and good people trying to do right by kids will be chased off.

If that happens, please don’t say you were surprised. Because if it happens, it will probably be a result of good people doing nothing when this situation calls for a public declaration: Enough.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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