Public employee pensions and salaries have taken political heat, and a swarm of press has focused on ineffective educators and recently, abusive teachers.
But a local advocate for public employees, is on a mission to change public perception.
Recently elected as the state first vice president for the California School Employees Association, Glendora native Michael Bilbrey, 45, works with 210,000 employees across 750 school districts on issues such as job security and retirement. Bilbrey also serves on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration and is the co-chair of Labor United for Universal Healthcare.
Bilbrey, who is also the bookstore operations coordinator at Citrus College, took aim at what he believes is a negative political agenda against public employees and teachers.
“I don’t know why people have so much against public workers who are just working people trying to make a sustainable wage and get by,” said Bilbrey. “They’re not all making these excessive salaries and pensions that people say they are.”
According to Bilbrey, school employees make up about a quarter of the CalPERS system, and their average pension is a modest $1,200 a month.
Although the a year, Bilbrey says that not all teachers are well-paid. He said each district negotiates their own contracts, and each vary.
“Northern California contracts are very different than southern California contracts. Some in the LA region and South Bay area may have good salaries, while others way up north probably have way less salaries than what they do here,” said Bilbrey.
While some districts may pay their teachers well, Bilbrey notes a high rate of layoffs among new teachers and the increasing number of furlough days.
And given the amount of education and certification teachers must attain for their positions, Bilbrey believes most teachers deserve the “well-paid” salaries.
“A vast majority of teachers are making a difference,” said Bilbrey. “In my opinion, we’re investing in our future, and many people don’t see it that way, and that’s unfortunate. We’re almost at the lowest – and we used to be at the top – in per pupil spending in education.”
But Bilbrey said there is still some reason to be optimistic despite the state’s financial woes and a “terrible” economy.
“We are now at $230 billion in the CalPers fund,” said Bilbrey. “That’s almost $70 billion more than when it was at its low point in 2009. We are also starting to be more jobs. So things are slowly improving.”
But as the fight over limited federal dollars continue to be waged during a state budget crisis, CSEA is trying to keep their political influence intact.
A new initiative led by Orange County Republicans has qualified for the November 2012 ballot and aims to ban both corporate and labor union contributions to candidates.
The measure intends to minimize influence of special interest groups “so politicians will pay attention to the voters that they are elected to represent.”
Bilbrey said the voluntary donations CSEA members make go toward local school board and bond elections, as well as legislative and initiative elections.
“We're just trying to have a voice in the political system,” said Bilbrey.