Is John Chiang a CTA-spiting kamikaze? Or a slick posturer?

by Chris Reed | February 7, 2014 6:15 am

chiang.lcokyerCalifornia politics tend only to surprise with the extremes[1] to which unions will go in flexing their power. Protect classroom sexual predators? No problem. Openly subvert direct democracy? Sure. Argue that only union nurses should be allowed to administer life-saving treatment to a student suffering an epileptic attack? No biggie.

But when a second-tier statewide elected official who wants to continue to be a statewide elected official crosses the most powerful unions of all, that’s pretty remarkable. Yet that’s just what Controller John Chiang  did — or appeared to do — on Monday in calling for a public database[2] of the pay of all teachers.

“Chiang [is] requesting that every public school district in California shares with the public all salary and benefits information of all teachers online. …

“‘When public pay information is transparent and easy accessible, citizens have the power to hold their local governments more accountable,’ said Chiang.

“Chiang mailed a letter on Monday to nearly 1,000 school districts requesting the information within 90 days.

“Most community colleges and the University of California system agreed to the plan, but Chiang says he needs K-12 schools and the courts represented.”

Did CTA, CFT see writing on wall? Or is something else going on?

Now it’s already established that teacher pay is by law a matter of public record, and some newspapers already have databases of local individual teacher salaries, such as the Orange County Register[3]. But it’s not the norm, and teachers want to keep it that way. They have the same privacy objections — and their unions the same goal of secrecy — as other public employees.

But their unions are way more powerful. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers and their half-million members are first among equals in the Democratic establishment.

brochure04_MyCTAChiang hasn’t remotely the stature of Jerry Brown or the glamor of future Dem gubernatorial candidates Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom. For him to suddenly pipe up and endorse something members of the CTA and CFT don’t like is highly odd. For him to do so just before the CTA voted to endorse him[4] to succeed Bill Lockyer this year as state treasurer, well, that’s hard to fathom. To the public, it makes him look like an open-government crusader, but to insiders who know how Democratic politics work in the Golden State, it makes him seem like a political kamikaze.

Unless the teacher unions see the writing on the wall and know that state law offers districts no way of ducking compliance.

Or unless Chiang has no intention of making this a crusade, and has told the CTA this. The controller is only “requesting” the information. His tone is mild.

Why? Because they’re playing chess, not tic-tac-toe. Chiang and the CTA know that most local districts with union-dominated school boards will drag their feet on setting up databases for years — until they’re forced to by court order.

The California way

So is Chiang a kamikaze? Or is he slickly posturing on the need for complete statewide openness about teacher pay without any real intention of following through with threats and lawsuits?

I’ll be shocked if it’s not the latter. It’s the California way.

  1. extremes:
  2. public database:
  3. Orange County Register:
  4. voted to endorse him:

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