Senate Ed committee balances school needs, parents, unions and worms

by Katy Grimes | January 17, 2014 10:03 am

At a meeting of the Senate Education Committee[1] on Wednesday, a dirty little secret about the Capitol came out. There are apparently worms in the drinking fountains.

SB 687[2] was on the agenda in the education committee. The bill would allow school districts to permit adults to volunteer time or resources for maintenance or improvement of a school, volunteer time in the classroom or help during the lunch period.

And the bill would prohibit a collective bargaining agreement from prohibiting a school district from using volunteers.

Needless to say, SB 687[2], authored by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, but presented by Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, elicited a great deal of discussion and plenty of union pushback.

Despite the need for maintenance at so many of California’s public schools, most of the committee concern seemed to center around the displacement of union employees with volunteers and “faulty work.” The bill analysis[3] by the committee staff said volunteers “may not have the proper qualifications and training to perform capital projects.”

Committee members cited several school volunteer projects that went awry, including a heating and air conditioning replacement and a broken drinking fountain. “It puts the safety of kids in jeopardy,” said Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego.

Torres’ comment draws guffaws

“There nothing in the current law preventing parents from volunteering in schools,” said Sen. Norma Torres, D-Chino, who noted that parents and volunteers do community beautification projects at school campuses in her district once a year. “And they are always done side by side with the classified employees, to plant flowers, remove graffiti, to do small things that improve the quality of life of that student while they are there,” she said.

“I am concerned about infrastructure improvements,” Torres said. “I don’t know — I am very concerned that everybody is talking about a water fountain as if it was no big deal. But some of our water fountains here in the Capitol had been infected with worms.”

Her comment prompted some guffaws and giggles.

“I don’t think that’s funny,” Torres said. “Our children deserve better than that. There’s asbestosis — some child may not know until 30 years from now that they got asbestosis from some parent cracking a wall and tapping into those types of contaminates.”

Torres continued: “Lead poisoning — we tried to do a painting project that included painting fences around the school, unknowingly that there was lead. Thank goodness that the classified employees, the people in the building trades that were assigned to work with the parents that day, understood what the volunteers did not understand.”

“I think this is a slippery slope and going down the …  um … wrong tube here with this proposal, and I’m not supporting it.”

Long list of unions oppose bill

After testimony in opposition of the bill by the California Teachers Association, California School Employees Association, California Federation of Teachers, and California Labor Federation – all labor unions or groups — Committee Chairwoman Sen. Carol Liu, D–La Cañada Flintridge, said she would keep the bill in the committee to allow Anderson to make changes to it.

Bill Lucia with Ed Voice, offered support for SB 687, saying it should be a local control, district by district issue, particularly to deal with irregular maintenance in schools.

But don’t expect to see parent volunteers at schools doing anything but planting flowers.

  1. Senate Education Committee:
  2. SB 687:
  3. bill analysis:

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