Anti-Apartheid Moves Affecting Educators Grow
The board of education of the nation's second-largest school district is expected this week to begin discussing a policy move that would show its opposition to apartheid--the South African government's increasingly controversial system of racial separation.
If the proposed policy is adopted, Los Angeles would join the at least two other school districts, eight states, 30 cities, and 50 colleges and universities that have already adopted official policies opposing apartheid.
In general, the policies call for the divestiture of stock in corporations that do business in South Africa--including millions of dollars in teacher-retirement funds invested in such stocks--and prohibitions against doing business with corporations that operate in South Africa.
The proposal before the Los Angeles Board of Education would separate school-district funds from the pool of funds controlled for investment purposes by the Los Angeles County Treasurer.
Under the plan, the district would create a separate investment pool by combining its investment funds with those of any other county school district or agency that would like to join it. Investments would be restricted to companies that do not conduct business in South Africa.
A full hearing on the proposal is expected in early September, prior to any final board action.
The Oakland, Calif., school district is believed to be the first to establish an anti-apartheid policy, according to Marian K. Magid, public-information director of the system. In August 1979, she said, the school board prohibited the district from "depositing any of its funds in insti-tutions which make loans to or invest in South Africa" or which lend money to other businesses that may directly or indirectly invest in South Africa.
Last spring, the Pittsburgh, Pa., school board approved and implemented a regulation requiring all school contractors to certify in writing that they provide "no goods or services to South Africa."
The requirement can be waived only by a vote of the school board if it is inconsistent with pre-established contractual obligations, if it poses an undue financial burden on the district, or if no other source of supply exists, the regulation stipulates.
According to Patricia Crawford, public-information officer for the district, the board also approved a $35.6-million bond issue for the renovation of three high schools that required financial institutions selling the bonds to comply with the district's anti-apartheid policy.
The eight states that have adopted anti-apartheid measures, accord-ing to the American Committee on Africa, a New York City group that organizes and promotes divestiture, are Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
In addition, one territory (the Virgin Islands), three counties (Rockland County, N.Y.; Multnomah County, Ore.; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio) have agreed to divest stock.
According to a college organizer for the committee, between April and mid-June, a dozen postsecondary institutions either totally or partially divested their funds. Last spring was "the most intense period of divestment since the issue first arose," he said.
City councils in Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New Haven, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., have also approved anti-apartheid resolutions, said Dumisani Kumalo, project director for the committee.
Effect on Pensions
In some states, where massive divestiture is taking place or being planned, teacher-retirement programs face a potential reduction in earnings--mainly because the stocks and bonds supporting the programs must be sold at present market rates and the sales involve brokerage fees.
Last week, for example, Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey announced that he would sign a bill to withdraw, over a period of three years, some $2 billion in state investments with corporations doing business to South Africa.
The Governor acknowledged that the move could cost the state millions of dollars from its $10-billion pension fund, which pays out to a number of retirement systems, including the Teacher Pension and Annuity Fund.
While some state officials estimate that as much as $100 million could be lost, a press aide in the Governor's office said there is "not much statistical evidence" to make any forecast on how much could be lost.
Nonetheless, Governor Kean said the anti-apartheid bill has the support of union leaders representing teachers, police, and other public employees.
According to some state officials, the New Jersey divestiture would be 20 times larger than that of Massachusetts, which in January 1983 passed a law mandating the largest divestiture at that time.
School officials said last week that efforts by municipalities to divest funds or limit contractual arrangements have less impact on schools and teachers than state initiatives, except where teachers are members of municipal-employee retirement systems.
New York and Chicago are the only major school districts that operate their pension systems through municipal programs, according to Byron Spice, teacher-retirement specialist with the National Education Association. About 80 percent of the nation's teachers are enrolled in state pension plans.
Of Purchasing and Pineapples
In Baltimore, students and parents last year protested the serving of South African pineapples in the school cafeteria, leading the district's superintendent to call on city officials to boycott such products.
But the city charter allows for few restrictions on purchasing, said S. Arthur Fournier, the city's purchasing agent. "We have no choice but to accept the lowest bid."
He added that it is nearly impossible to determine where goods originate. "We buy from distributors," he said. "Most of the time we don't know where material or components of products might originate."
And, according to Ms. Magid of Oakland, state education codes give districts little discretion in awarding or withholding contracts to businesses.
A Local Issue
Some educators anticipate that they will be compelled to consider the issue of whether or how school districts should be involved in countering apartheid as the national debate over the U.S. position on South Africa intensifies.
Milton Binns, senior associate for special projects and development for the Council of Great City Schools, predicted that in large urban school systems, which are predominantly minority, boards will inevitably begin to discuss ways to limit dealings with South Africa. But each city and district, he said, will have to devise its own policies.
According to Philip A. Smith, director of public information for the National School Boards Association, the issue of divestiture is one that the nsba "has not run across" and on which there is no official policy.
"It's really a matter for local decision," he said.
Vol. 04, Issue 42