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A Legislative Mourning

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday June 01, 2002

Educators, administrators weigh demise of teacher’s textbook bill 


Local education leaders had mixed reactions to the death of state legislation that would have granted teachers more power over the selection of textbooks and curriculum. 

State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, author of AB 2160, withdrew the bill Thursday night when it became clear that it did not have enough support in the Legislature. This move effectively killed any possibility of its passage this session. 

Originally AB 2160 would have allowed teachers, who can only bargain for wages, benefits and salaries, to negotiate the processes for selecting textbooks and curriculum. 

Supporters said the measure was necessary to ensure a teacher’s voice in vital classroom issues. Opponents argued that these issues should not be discussed in the adversarial arena of contract negotiations and suggested that the bill, supported by the California Teachers Association, was simply a union power grab. 

In the face of strong opposition, Goldberg watered down the bill substantially, calling instead for “academic partnerships” between school districts and union representatives to discuss textbooks and curriculum and make recommendations to local school boards. Opponents said the bill still created an adversarial relationship. 

As she withdrew the legislation, Goldberg blasted opponents for distorting “the goals of AB 2160” and vowed to continue the fight in the future. 

“This is not over,” she said. “Teachers are professionals and must be leaders in academic reform.” 

Local reaction Berkeley Board of Education member Ted Schultz welcomed the demise of the bill. 

“I think that’s good,” he said. 

Schultz said the legislation in its final form was unnecessary in Berkeley because the district does a good job of incorporating teachers’ input. 

“In general teachers’ opinions are well-respected,” said Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. 

But Fike raised concerns about the board’s 3-2 vote two weeks ago to pass a resolution opposing AB 2160. 

“It raises some troubling questions,” Fike said, arguing that the vote sends a message to teachers that their voices may no longer be valued. 

The board majority refuted that notion at the school board meeting when it cast the vote. 

“We strongly believe teachers should be active participants in all these processes,” said board Vice President Joaquin Rivera, who spearheaded the May 22 resolution. “The issue is not teacher participation. The issue is what is the proper forum for participation.” 

Schultz said he opposed the bill in its original form because it would have added to the costs of contract negotiations and provided unions with another bargaining chip, delaying the process. 

Schultz echoed an argument made by board President Shirley Issel, who said during the May 22 board meeting that the Berkeley Federation of Teachers had held up negotiations over the school calendar and could be expected to do the same with the curriculum and textbook issues. 

“They could hold up textbook issues for a year, just to get a two-tenths of a percent wage increase or something,” Schultz said. “It’s ridiculous.” 

But Fike said unions would not hold up negotiations over an issue like textbooks because the tactic would only backfire. He also argued that it is, in fact, the Berkeley Unified School District that has held up school schedule negotiations in recent years. 

“This year we had our calendar proposal to the district and waited over two months for a response from them,” Fike said. 

Board member John Selawsky, who voted against the May 22 resolution, said he was disappointed in the death of AB 2160 in its latest form. 

“I think that it was a good compromise and workable,” he said. 

Fike said that the bill sparked an important conversation, even if it did not pass. 

“It’s gotten people’s attention that teachers’ voices are important,” he said.