November 2017 Advocate: Early history of Local 1493

EARLY HISTORY OF LOCAL 1493

When the game changed: How AFT Local 1493 became bargaining agent for SMCCCD – conclusion

by Rich Yurman, Skyline College professor emeritus

In the first two parts of my history of the early years of our Local, I laid out AFT 1493’s path from minor player in the District to sole bargaining agent, through the various twists and turns, plots and counter-plots and the series of elections that produced the victory. In part three, I’ll do what all good political detectives do: follow the money.

 

[Photo: Rich Yurman]

District finances: The money maze

Here’s where the historical narrative gives way to a tale worthy of Conan-Doyle or Agatha Christie. Even at the time pieces of the puzzle remained undiscovered and from this great remove much of what was known then has been lost. I will put down what I can recall, filling in the gaps with probabilities, but even more than in the first two parts, I appeal to Advocate readers to contact us with details they remember or, better still, documents they may still own.

Each year the District administration submitted a budget based on projected income, and each year the plea was that there was a shortfall so salaries and benefits could not be improved, part-time and evening faculty could not be given health coverage, and in fact there would have to be cutbacks and hiring freezes.

Joe McDonough [photo at left], for many years a negotiator for the union, left this trenchant summary of how it worked, “The District overestimated its expenditures and underestimated its income, resulting in large ending balances.” In fact, Joe became one of the Local’s best budget analysts, very adept at discovering the different areas of the budget where the administration temporarily hid monies in their efforts to claim none existed for decent faculty raises. He once got the CFO to admit that she had hidden over $1 million in a special account. She said she had just “parked” it there.

 

These analyses of the budget were enhanced when, as Pat Manning has noted, he “began work with Ken McDevitt (journalist & English teacher at Sequoia High, photo at left), who coached me on budget analysis of school districts.” As a result Pat and John Kirk could show how the administration hid those annual large ending balances until salary negotiations were over.

Once we had those analytical tools, the chapter was able to produce projections of income and expenses to counter those put out by the District Office. It became Pat’s practice to present our numbers at the Board meeting where the D.O. presented its projections. Then Pat began an annual side bet with District Chancellor/Superintendent Clifford Erickson on whose projections would prove closer to the actual numbers. Of course, the union won those bets every time but that did not change the District’s approach.

Where the money comes from

Community Colleges should be financed through progressive taxes at the county and state levels. Unfortunately this is not the case. A large portion of that funding comes from regressive property taxes. With the passage of Prop 13 freezing property taxes in 1978, financial support for community colleges was dramatically reduced. In the 1970s, with the opening of two new campuses, SMCCCD found itself in a financial crisis. The actual building of the campuses did not depend on property taxes but the upkeep of the sites, the hiring of new teachers and staff, the filling of libraries, and so on, did.

A temporary add-on to property taxes for the county was about to expire in 1973 so the District got the county Board of Supervisors to agree to a special election for a bond issue to cover the needed funds. That made for an odd time. We felt the incompetent administration should suffer for its failures but were forced, by threats from the Administration that if the bond failed one of the new campuses would have to be shut down, to join in promoting passage.

I remember participating in several public forums alongside Jim Wyatt (at that time I believe he was Vice President at Skyline) to push for yes votes. I never got along with Wyatt and the irony of sharing a stage with him and having to agree with his pitch still sticks in my craw. The bond was passed, funding assured for the near term and the threats to close down a campus ended.

One might have hoped that this would change relations with the District when it came to negotiations, but that hope proved naïve. Matt Fasanaro, the Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs and the District’s chief negotiator, remained an adamant champion of the on-going approach of over-estimating expenses, underestimating revenue, hiding the budget surpluses and generally playing hardball at every session, dragging out the process so that any raises finally granted had to be paid retroactively.

District’s chief of finances indicted

Then Fasanaro’s role in the District began to unravel. Excerpt of article from The Federalist, State Center AFT publication, December 1973:

“Matteo Fasanaro, the associate superintendent of the San Mateo College District, has been indicted by a county grand jury for bribery. Also included in the indictment, on a charge of bribery, theft, and conspiracy, were four officers of Litton’s Business Telephone Systems Division.”

Fasanaro was accused of accepting $10,000 to influence the awarding of a contract for $595,000 to Litton Industries to install a telephone system for the SMCCCD.

(Note: Despite the indictments, Litton kept the contract and installed a phone system we were stuck with for many years. It never worked correctly. It was easier to walk down the hall to talk to a colleague than to place a call. Of course calls to the District Office were not affected. But that is a whole other story.)
James Dennis of Redwood City, attorney for Fasanaro, stated in court and to the media that the college official had committed no crime. “He thought the money was for a political campaign he headed on behalf of the district (the bond election above). As soon as he learned the money was tainted, he returned it.”

The day after the news hit the press, Fasanaro was fired by the Superintendent and Board of Trustees for “internal” reasons. That is, Fasanaro was summarily sacked because he had spoiled the PR image the school district so assiduously had tried to cultivate.

Here is where my memory breaks down and I have not been able to find records to fill in the gaps. I recall that after Fasanaro was exonerated of any wrongdoing, he sued the District to get his job back. This must have worked because, once we became the bargaining agent, Fasanaro again led the District bargaining team and pushed the same old agenda. Expressly, his stance was that the bond moneys could only be used in defined ways that blocked any use for salaries, benefits, new hirings, etc. AFT countered that the uses the bond funds covered freed up other monies. And the merry-go-round went on.

However, our detective tale does not end there. Through our budget analysis, AFT discovered that not only had Fasanaro been an expert at hiding money from public view, he also became expert at hiding money from the District Office’s view. And apparently some of that hidden money had ended up in his personal bank accounts. The union brought this information to the attention of the Chancellor’s office.

In a deal his lawyers brokered with the District’s lawyers, Fasanaro agreed to forego any pension and severance pay he was owed in exchange for not being prosecuted; any record of his doings and of the agreement would be expunged. As a result he walked away from the disaster with an unblemished record and soon got a job at an east coast community college in an equivalent administrative position. (I have no information how that worked out for him or for that community college district.)

During this furor, Robert Tarver stepped down as President of the Board of Trustees and was replaced by Eleanor Nettle. An attorney, Tarver had been involved in some shady land deals and needed to devote himself to defending against those charges before the State Bar. Tarver had been openly hostile to the union and to collective bargaining in general during his tenure and so it seemed to be good news. Mrs. Nettle, the first woman President of the District Board, won much praise and public support. However, her approach to negotiations with faculty and staff, though less overtly hostile, remained fiscally extremely conservative and unyielding, based on the same bond revenue arguments developed by Fasanaro. (We thought of her as our own Margaret Thatcher.)

The District’s same fiscally conservative orientation to negotiations continued through the years and, despite an extremely healthy community-supported budget, it is still carried on in the administration’s current bargaining approach.

Author’s Note

With the conclusion of this narrative, I would like to add an editorial comment. I undertook this task so that current Local 1493 members would know the details of our battle and victory. My hope is that this will inspire the membership to take the lead in a statewide movement to return California Community Colleges to their mandate of providing access to free higher education for all residents of the state. At the same time, we need a return to allowing teachers to teach unburdened by onerous administrative duties that have been piled on year after year. Our creative energies are at stake, energies that need to be directed at achieving the best outcomes for our students, not a filling out of forms to satisfy state bureaucrats. These ought to be the principles on which our union operates.

I look forward to feedback from Advocate readers.

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