Silent majority?

Teachers pack, then leave board meeting

EVERYWHERE A SIGN <br>Hundreds of teachers walked out of the May 16 meeting of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees, after two union members told trustees of their resolve to fight for a contract they believe is fair.

Hundreds of teachers walked out of the May 16 meeting of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees, after two union members told trustees of their resolve to fight for a contract they believe is fair.

Photo by Tom Angel

Liz Mosher, a fine-arts specialist who spoke on behalf of teachers’ union members, told CUSD trustees that if she were working for the Oroville Elementary School District instead, she’d be making $7,720 more a year with the same benefits.

Signs, shirts and a silent walkout spelled frustrated teachers last week.

About 350 teachers—nearly half the district’s total—showed up to the May 16 Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees’ meeting wearing union T-shirts and carrying blue-and-yellow signs demanding “Our Fair Share.”

Only two union members spoke: Liz Mosher, a fine-arts specialist, and Steven Oberlander, who teaches at Neal Dow Elementary School.

Mosher said teachers in other districts are getting paid much more than Chico teachers, who work lots of unpaid hours and take classes on their own time to better themselves. “Invest in their morale and pocketbook and give them a raise that says you deserve every penny and more,” she told trustees.

Then, Oberlander presented letters of resolve from 680 union members urging the board to reconsider its “totally offensive” offer of about a 4-percent raise. “[The district has] more than enough money available for a fair and honorable raise,” he said, and if it doesn’t honor teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors by passing some along, school halls will “sound like this.” At that, the teachers stood and quietly walked out of the room.

The walkout, though powerful in its silence and duration, was pre-choreographed. Teachers had gathered outside the City Council chambers before the meeting and listened to union leaders. A large sign read: “How many ways can you hide $6,000,000?” It was a reference to the new, unrestricted money the CUSD unexpectedly got from the state this year.

It’s important, CUTA President Dan Sours said, that trustees know teachers support the union’s bargaining team. Still, he added to applause, “our goal is to avoid a strike.” (District officials previously said they don’t believe that.)

The “CUTA—Working Hard for Kids” shirts were a different color from 1999’s gloomy black and white, but the message was the same.

Teachers were told to “pack” the meeting and leave on Oberlander’s cue.

As they walked out, board President Scott Schofield said, “I appreciate the dignity of your presentation. I hope we find something [money] that we don’t know about. … I haven’t seen it yet.”

The union members plan an informational picket outside the June 2 meeting of the fact-finding committee charged with reporting on the financial facts of the situation and offering a solution.Butte County Sheriff Scott Mackenzie this week laughed off a recent newspaper report that he wastefully rented helicopters and then didn’t know exactly what they were used for.

The story, reported by the Paradise Post, detailed that Mackenzie approved the $41,000 rental of two helicopters owned by a Yuba City company that is co-owned by one of his department’s employees and then said he didn’t remember why he needed them.

“It’s just the typical garbage,” Mackenzie complained about the story. “I know exactly what we needed those ships [helicopters] for. I just needed to look it up. I have a lot that I’m in charge of.”

What they were used for, Mackenzie said, was to fulfill long-standing agreements with the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to look for marijuana gardens growing in Butte County’s federal and state-owned lands. While the Sheriff’s Department has two in-house helicopters, state and federal regulations require that the helicopters used in these types of surveillance be “carded"—approved—specifically for the use, and Butte County’s helicopters, Mackenzie conceded, are not.

“It’s a very common practice,” Mackenzie said. “We just needed this kind of ship to fulfill our contracts.”

The rented helicopters are also used for training purposes, when the department’s “un-carded” helicopters can’t be, Mackenzie said.

County records show that the Sheriff’s Department spent $15,770 last year and $48,600 in 1999 for helicopter rentals. In 1997, the department spent upwards of $68,000 for helicopter rentals, records show, but didn’t spend any money in 1998 for helicopter rentals.

The department has rented its helicopters from P.J. Helicopters for “as long as I can remember,” Mackenzie said, noting that the county has rented from the company since before he became sheriff. He acknowledged that Ron Chaplain, a longtime Sheriff’s Department deputy who also works for P.J. Helicopters, made donations to his campaign but said that has nothing to do with the helicopter rentals.

“When you have this job, there’s a lot of people who come after you for no reason,” Mackenzie said. “That’s what this is.”

Linda Meilink, editor of the Paradise Post, said she was “shocked” to hear that Mackenzie denied the story.

“He and I prayed together at the jail once,” she said. “I’m shocked that a good Christian man would bear false witness against the Post like that.”

She noted that the paper contacted some of the agencies cited by Mackenzie as sharing use of the helicopters, and they said that marijuana gardens can’t easily be seen from the air during the spring months when the helicopters were rented.

“We stand by that story," Meilink said.