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New teachers union leader calls on Gov. Brown to extend tax increases

March 24, 2011 |  3:39 pm

The newly elected head of the California Federation of Teachers called Thursday on Gov. Jerry Brown to extend tax increases but limit concessions to Republican lawmakers in exchange for supporting the extensions.

Joshua Pechthalt, 57, suggested hat Brown may need to pursue an unproven legal strategy to get the tax measures on the ballot without a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

Without the tax extensions, legislative leaders have talked of imposing additional cuts of about $5 billion to the K-12 education system. Higher education is likely to face an additional $1-billion cutback.

If Republicans are willing to let public education collapse, Pechthalt said, “Let’s have it out with those folks.”

Nor did he support simply waiting for November, when a petition drive could be used to put tax measures on the ballot.

“I think we can’t wait,” he said, citing the pending, potential layoff of 5,000 teachers in Los Angeles and the virtual elimination of already thin music and art programs.

He said the idea of losing the much-acclaimed music program at Hamilton High School, for example, is unthinkable. “We have to fight to keep those teachers in the classroom," he said.

Republican lawmakers have maintained that tax extensions or increases are bad for the economy and government programs need to be cut back—and made more efficient—in tough economic times.

Pechthalt was elected Saturday to a two-year term as president by delegates for federation locals who gathered in Manhattan Beach. He previously served as a vice president for United Teachers Los Angeles. He taught at Manual Arts High School for 21 years.

Also on the call was the union’s newly elected secretary-treasurer, Jeff Freitas, who took on the issue of whether teachers should be evaluated, at least in part, by the scores of their students on standardized tests.

“The current tests were not developed for the evaluation of teachers and should not be used,” Freitas said.

In general, evaluations should not be seen as a way to dismiss teachers but to target where they need to improve, he said.

Both Pechthalt and Freitas agreed the current teacher-evaluation process is woefully deficient.

Pechthalt also asserted that much of the current emphasis on teacher evaluation is part of a broader attack on teachers and teacher unions.

-- Howard Blume

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