JROTC Bills Stall in Sacramento; Dirty Tricks in San Francisco

by Marc Norton on April 23, 2009

Late on Tuesday, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) pulled the plug on the scheduled Wednesday hearing for her controversial “urgency” bill aimed at requiring San Francisco to retain JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). Another pro-JROTC bill, which would restore PE credit for JROTC cadets, also appears to be languishing in the Assembly.

Ma has not publicly revealed the reason for withdrawing her bill from consideration before yesterday’s Assembly Appropriations Committee. Her withdrawal seems at odds with her demand that this bill be given “urgency” status. Her move suggests that she does not have the votes to get the bill out of committee.

A San Francisco Examiner article Wednesday stated that Ma “expects her bill to reach the assembly floor in the next few weeks.” San Francisco’s JROTC program is scheduled to end in “the next few weeks” — early June — making this timeline problematic for JROTC supporters. Even if Ma’s bill, AB 223, got to the Assembly floor in “the next few weeks,” it would still need to win the two-thirds floor vote required for an “urgency” bill, then gain a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and get the Governor’s signature, before it became law.

Even many JROTC supporters oppose Ma’s bill, given that it is an unprecedented violation of local control of education, and would make San Francisco the only school district in the nation required by law to have JROTC. Last week, the San Francisco school board voted 6-1 to oppose her bill, although the board is closely divided over the JROTC issue itself. The San Francisco Examiner also came out in opposition to Ma’s bill last Sunday, despite the fact that this Republican-oriented daily has campaigned extensively in favor of JROTC.

THE SALAS/MA/DUVALL BILL

Ma’s bill is not the only piece of pro-JROTC legislation that seems to have hit a rough patch in the state legislature. A parallel piece of legislation, AB 351, originally introduced by Assemblywoman Mary Salas (D-San Diego), and now co-sponsored by Ma and Republican Assemblyman Michael Duvall from Orange County, would allow JROTC cadets to get Physical Education (PE) credit.

The Salas/Ma/Duvall bill was passed by the Education Committee back on April 1, but still has not been brought to a vote on the Assembly floor. Like Ma’s bill, the Salas/Ma/Duvall legislation is classified an “urgency” bill, and would require a two-thirds vote. As with the Ma bill, it appears that the authors do not believe they yet have the necessary votes.

PE has historically been used as a recruiting tool for JROTC. But bipartisan efforts in Sacramento in recent years have tightened up PE standards and curriculum to counter the growing decline in physical fitness among our youth. These new PE standards led State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell to issue a statement last year declaring that “JROTC programs do not fulfill California Education Code requirements for physical education.” San Francisco stopped giving PE credit to JROTC cadets this school year. Enrollment in the program has dropped from a high of about 1,600 to 500 today.

Without PE credit, everybody knows that JROTC would be a ridiculous drain on the school budget for a minimal number of students. If JROTC were retained next year, but PE credit still withheld, the number of cadets would likely drop even further. Pro-JROTC San Francisco school board members Norman Yee and Rachel Norton have both said that they would not favor restoration of the program without PE credit.

That is why Rachel Norton (no relation to this author) has stated on her blog that AB 351 “paves the way for us to reinstate JROTC.”

But that is only if it passes both houses and gets signed into law, a fact not yet in evidence.

DIRTY TRICK #1

In a notable sleight-of-hand, Ma amended her bill after it squeaked out of the Education Committee with a minimum six votes from the eleven members. The bill originally acknowledged that it would “create a state-mandated local program.” This means that the state would likely be required to pay the one million dollars a year that it costs San Francisco school district taxpayers. That is why the bill has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which must rule on bills that cost the state money.

However, Ma amended her bill last week and took out all references to a state mandate. There was some speculation that she was trying to avoid a hearing before the Appropriations Committee. Nevertheless, Appropriations Committee staff issued a report on Monday stating that although the bill is now “keyed non-fiscal,” it still “creates the potential for reimbursable state mandated costs” to the San Francisco school district. If the bill had gone before the Appropriations Committee Wednesday as scheduled, she would have had to do some fast talking to explain this maneuver. And this issue won’t go away if and when she does bring the bill to the committee in the future.

DIRTY TRICK #2

While the Ma and Salas bills are being fought over in Sacramento, the Jill Wynns/Rachel Norton school board resolution that would restore JROTC is being fought over here in Baghdad by the Bay. The resolution is currently being discussed by three different school board committees — Budget, Personnel and Curriculum. Tuesday was the Budget Committee hearing.

Unlike other school board showdowns, the pro-JROTC forces did not mobilize any cadets. The pro-JROTC crowd was solely represented by several JROTC instructors, and by Republican Party operative Chris Bowman. The gobblydegook they presented in their comments was too thick to report on fully here.

But, Gerry Paratore, a Balboa High School JROTC instructor, delivered the most brazen deception of the evening, when he boldly stated that the state has declared that it is now legal to give PE credit to JROTC cadets. Oh yeah? Then just exactly why are Salas, Ma and Duvall pushing their “urgency” bill to allow PE credit? Maybe Paratore knows something the rest of the world doesn’t. Paratore needs to let Salas, Ma and Duvall know about this, not to mention State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

Then, again, maybe we should take Paratore’s comments as seriously as we do the claim that JROTC is not a military recruitment program.

DIRTY TRICK #3

There is a back story to the school board’s 6-1 vote against the Ma bill, not yet widely known.

The night before the April 1 Education Committee hearing on Ma’s bill, there was a meeting of the school board’s Rules Committee, which keeps close tabs on state legislation that concerns the district. This committee is chaired by none other than Rachel Norton. The other members are Jill Wynns and Kim-Shree Maufas. This gives a clear majority to the two most ardent pro-JROTC board members.

At the meeting in question, both AB 351 and AB 223 were discussed. Wynns and Norton clearly favored the Salas/Ma/Duval bill on PE credit, and urged a neutral stand on Ma’s bill. Okay, that’s their opinion. But, in addition, Wynns propounded the novel idea that the Rules Committee could set policy on legislation for the entire school board. Thus Wynns and Norton blithely instructed the district’s lobbyist in Sacramento, Vernon Billy, to support the PE credit bill, and stay neutral on Ma’s bill. When Maufas asked for a written copy of this alleged policy on state legislation, Wynns and Norton just sort of stared off into space.

Wynn’s claim that the Rules Committee could act as if it represents the whole board on a issue as controversial as either of these pieces of legislation is groundless. There simply is no such policy. Quite the contrary, the past practice has always been to bring controversial bills to the whole board, before any public position is taken. If this wasn’t the policy, any two members of the Rules Committee would be free to overrule the majority of the whole board.

I can attest to the fact that there were several late night conversations about this invented policy. The upshot was that Wynns and Norton’s directives were disregarded, and Mr. Billy sat silently through the Assembly Education Committee hearing the next day.

Ma famously said at that April 1 Education Committee hearing that “renegade school board members are playing games with the lives of our students.” Looks to me like the “renegades” are actually Wynns and Norton, who seem willing to invent and reinvent rules whenever it suits their fancy.

It was in the wake of this disgraceful maneuver that the rest of the school board, sans Wynns, decided to weigh in against Ma’s bill. Even Wynns’ protégé Norton voted against Ma, leaving Wynns all in her lonesome. It is too bad that Norton can’t figure out that following in Wynns trail on the JROTC issue itself is also the path to political oblivion in this city (whatever $200,000 can buy you for an advisory proposition).

NOT A DIRTY TRICK, JUST SOME NONSENSE

Before I get off Norton’s case, I have to pause to point out a glaring inconsistency in her political world view. As we all know, the JROTC crowd makes much of the buzzword “choice,” claiming all up and down that they aren’t necessarily in favor of the military in the schools, but that students should have the right to “choose” JROTC if they want to. I will set aside the blatant attempt to confuse the JROTC “choice” with a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Back to Norton, one of the campaigns she has involved herself in is what she calls on her blog the “taco truck smackdown.” It seems there is a taco truck not far away from John O’Connell High School, and that there is a city law that prohibits catering trucks from doing business too close to a school. Those tacos and burritos are bad for the students, or so the story goes. Therefore this truck has to go, despite the fact that this particular taco truck was purportedly where it is even before John O’Connell was rebuilt at its present location.

Uh, Norton, what about “choice?” If students should have the unrestricted right to choose to join one of the Pentagon’s primary military recruitment programs, shouldn’t they also have the right to choose to eat a taco?

Which is the bigger threat to the youth in our schools: tacos or the military? Why, tacos, of course, says Norton.

DIRTY TRICK #4

This one is a little personal. It seems that the Examiner has decided to censor my comments on their online articles.

Last week, April 15 to be exact, Examiner columnist Melissa Griffin published an article sympathetic to Ma’s bill. Griffin is the columnist with the come-hither picture on her page. She calls herself “Sweet Melissa.” In her column, she quoted Ma saying that “Prop. V garnered 180,000 votes, well more than any member of the board.”

So I attempted to post a comment which stated, and I quote: “No on V also got more votes than any member of the board. So what? There were 15 candidates for the Board of Education, and each voter had 4 votes. Norman Yee won the top spot with 16.65% of the votes. Comparing school board vote totals to the straight-up Yes/No vote on Prop V is ridiculous.” I also added some comments about the downtown money behind the Yes on V campaign which would probably not be news to most of my readers.

Well, for some reason, my post didn’t show up. I tried again, and again, and again. Now, online comments have practically become a cottage industry, so there is no rocket science involved here. But my comment just wouldn’t show up. So I tried to post a different comment, asking why my original comment wasn’t showing up. That didn’t show up either.

That is, until later on. When I checked back later, my comment about my missing comment was there, but my original comment was not. There was also a comment from some anonymous person named simply J, who said that my original comment was denied because I “probably said something inappropriate and wasteful of time, like you always do.”

Very cute, Mr. Examiner.

The next day, April 16 to be exact, Examiner’s right wing columnist Ken Garcia weighed in on JROTC. He also quoted Ma, this time saying that she’s pushing her bill “because of the board’s fiscal irresponsibility by rejecting $600,000 in federal funds…”

Not having learned my lesson the day before, I attempted to post a response to Ma’s new sound bite. To my astonishment, this comment was rejected as well.

Here is what I said:

“In fact, JROTC costs the school district one million dollars per year. The total cost of the program is $1.6 million. The Pentagon pays $600,000. The Department of Defense requires the school district to hire TWO instructors for each 150 JROTC cadets. The school district normally hires ONE physical education (PE) teacher for each 300 students. The average salary for JROTC instructors is $84,500, plus benefits, as mandated by the Department of Defense. This is far more than the average salary of other San Francisco teachers, even though the only educational requirement for JROTC instructors is a high school diploma or GED.”

It certainly would have brought the whole world down if that had gotten onto the Examiner’s website, don’t you think?

While all this was happening, I managed to communicate with Griffin on her website. I asked how she felt about the Examiner censoring comments to her article. She responded that this must be a mere “technical problem,” and even gave me the email address of the person at the Examiner I should discuss this with. I dutifully sent the requested email, but never heard back. I then asked Griffin if she was going to write about this censorship in one of her upcoming columns. I haven’t heard back about that either.

The Examiner has published a blizzard of pro-JROTC articles. But apparently the newspaper, and its columnists, can dish it out, but just can’t take it.

MAY 12 SMACKDOWN?

If you have read all of this, you might want to know that we expect the next school board JROTC smackdown, as distinguished from Norton’s taco truck smackdown, to take place at the board meeting on Tuesday, May 12, when they are expected to vote on the Wynns/Norton resolution to restore the Pentagon to its former place of glory in our schools.

Seriously, folks, this is for real. It sometimes seems like this is a comedy show, but the military is deadly serious, as they always are. And it’s about our youth, their future, and the growing militarism that is infecting every section of our society.

That’s no joke, and there is no punchline.


Copyright © 2009 by Marc Norton

Marc Norton is a bellman at a small hotel in downtown San Francisco. He has two sons who attended Alvarado Elementary, James Lick Middle and Lowell High schools. Contact him at nortonsf@ix.netcom.com, or through his website at www.MarcNorton.us. For more information about the JROTC campaign, see www.NoMilitaryRecruitmentInOurSchools.org.

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