There’s nothing I like better than an unhealthy relationship. That ex-girlfriend who tried to burn down the house after I chose lemon meringue pie over our love? She’s the first person I call when I’m stumbling home drunk from McCarthy’s. Or, for that matter, the lemon meringue pie that goes straight to my corpulent thighs? I’ve already lost two toes to that frothy mélange of whipped egg white goodness and—God help me—I’ll lose eight more before I’m through.
Fortunately for me, unhealthy relationships are to humans what the golden ratio is to nature: They’re everywhere, wrecking lives and organizations and governments like sloppy, embittered tornadoes that cyclone in and out of your life, departing with all your good DVDs.
Just as the Great Pyramid of Giza is a near-perfect example of the golden ratio, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District and the Paso Robles Public Educators Union exemplify dysfunctional relationships almost as effectively as the drunk couples who break up every Friday night at closing time—maybe better, since the inebriated lovebirds at least have the good sense to sling barely intelligible barbs and accusations in front of a select group of people while the school district and union are determined to make their dissatisfaction with the relationship as public as possible.
It’s not very often you hope a school district’s literacy rates are low, but in this case it’s probably better for the students not to have to read detailed accounts of the squabbles between their educators and administrators. Then again, if we wait to teach kids to read until the public education system is fiscally hale, we might be tugging them out of their cryonic capsules in the year 2330 and shoving a copy of Dr. Seuss into their newly warmed hands.
It started, as so many relationship woes do, with money. Specifically, the fact that the school district doesn’t have enough of it. Which isn’t really anything new. A 2011-2012 grand jury report said that the school district characterized its financial situation as “negative.” We all know what happened next. Furloughs. Pay cuts. Disagreements about where and how to shift the burden of the financial deficit. We all know, because for the past four years our collective conversation about public education has become a broken record skipping back again and again to those words. Furlough. Pay cut. Pay cut. Furlough. If someone could throw in a good beat, we could replace the antiquated Schoolhouse Rock hits with educational songs that are a little more realistic given the economic climate. Kids don’t need to know about conjunction junctions when the function of education has become incapacitated by our collective inability to manage our money wisely.
In early February, after teachers learned that the next year’s budget called for nine furlough days, marking the third consecutive year of pay cuts, they issued a no-confidence vote for Superintendent Kathleen McNamara. Don’t feel too bad for her, though. McNamara has received a $20,000 pay increase since assuming the reins in 2007, while teacher pay has decreased around 6.4 percent.
The school district’s response to the no-confidence vote and the union’s refusal to accept additional furlough days was a “Last, Best, and Final Offer” agreeing to eliminate furloughs if the teachers would accept a 4.86 percent pay cut. Which is essentially asking teachers to fall on the fiscal sword because the pay cuts don’t apply to the administrators, whereas the furloughs apply to both administrators and teachers. I don’t know where the district picked up its haggling strategy, but it seems they’re responding to the union’s complaints by increasing rather than decreasing the burden on the teachers. Of course, the district released its so-called last, best, and final offer to the press to ensure we have box seats as the squabble drags on at the pace of a Terrence Malick film. Although if they want to maintain their death grip on my attention, they’re probably going to have to take a page from the drunk couples downtown and throw some tequila into the equation. Especially given the fact that—like the booze-fueled downtown break-ups and make-ups—we already know how this particular show ends.
They’re going to reach an agreement, which will please neither side. Then, in a few months, they’re going to do it all over again.
And you wonder why I slather my professional woes in meringue shelved neatly between a graham cracker crust.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the state government’s spirit of bi-partisan cooperation and willingness to braid hair across political lines, I’d probably have to abandon my Shred post and chase rainbows across My Little Pony Land. That happens right? The Democrats and Republicans set aside their differences and vote with their conscience and heart? Right?
OK, I can’t maintain that pretense for very long. However, Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian boldly broke the partisan stand-off on Thursday, March 7, when he voted with Democrats to pass a measure that would expand public health-care coverage for low-income residents. Completely disregarding anyone’s personal feelings about public health care, Katcho’s willingness to vote against his party—he was the only Republican to do so—affords a small glimmer of hope that personal beliefs can occasionally triumph over party allegiance, and that the unhealthy relationship pattern of bickering, name-calling, scapegoating, and just plain dumbassing created by our two-party system is not an insurmountable obstacle to progress.
So Katcho is receiving the first ever Shredder-issued Rainbow Medal of Partisan Heroism. Which doesn’t really exist. But it should. Maybe I’ll just send him a slice of lemon meringue pie and we can be DFF—Diabetes Friends Forever.
Shredder’s operating two toes short of a full set. Send prosthetics to firstname.lastname@example.org.