In April 2013, a few months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adult staff members, the board of California State Teachers’ Retirement System voted to divest from firms making weapons that are illegal to own in California. More than two years later, that hasn’t happened, and Joshua Pechthalt, president of the CFT, wants to make sure it does. Soon.

Pechthalt brought it up in his State of the Union speech at this year’s Convention, and showed a short video, Gun-Free Retirement. The CFT partnered with acclaimed documentary filmmaker Brave New Films to make the video, which features teachers talking about the impact of gun violence on their students.

This April, at the CalSTRS Board meeting in Sacramento, protestors showed the video as part of a teach-in on divestment, pension obligations, and school gun violence. Protest leaders read a letter from seven families of Sandy Hook victims supporting CFT’s call for CalSTRS to divest $375 million from Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Freedom Group, the manufacturer of the rifle used at Sandy Hook.

In the months following the vote to divest in 2013, the CalSTRS Board sold $3 million worth of shares in two publicly traded gun makers. But divesting from a private equity firm like Cerberus gets much more complicated, they say, and they can’t take unilateral action.

CalSTRS Board Member Sharon Hendricks, a member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, who chairs the retirement system’s investment committee, says board members make every effort to be transparent, but some of the information they discuss about investments can’t be made public.  

“I think it’s right for teachers to be frustrated that it’s taken us longer to get our money out of this investment, but the board is making a concerted effort,” she said. “I agree two years is too long, and I understand our members’ patience is wearing thin.”

Two years does seem too long for Kimberly Claytor, president of Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers and a CFT vice president, who is featured in Gun-Free Retirement.

“My involvement is mainly about not wanting to have my retirement funded in any way shape or form by illegal guns or assault weapons,” she said. “I did lose my son to gun violence, so I do know the tragedy of losing a child. It breaks my heart to think about families in Sandy Hook that lost their children in that massacre.”

Robert Greenwald, the head of Brave New Films, is working on a full-length film about gun violence, The Real NRA: Making a Killing. He approached the CFT when he heard about the divestment issue.  

“I reached out to Joshua, and he was very responsive and committed,” Greenwald said. “Two years is more than enough time.What’s very clear is that teacher’s money is being used in the making of guns.”

Greenwald wanted to feature teachers in the video because of their positive influence on him, and he thinks their voices can make a difference.

“Despite some attacks on them, they’re still incredibly well respected and should be,” he said. “Teachers want to divest and they can set a model for the rest of the country and for other unions who can take this sort of action.”

Hendricks says there will be another board meeting in June and CalSTRS will continue to communicate to members what’s going on.  

“We’re doing everything we can to get our money out of Cerberus, and we’re trying to do it as quickly and thoughtfully as we can,” she said.  “It’s a challenging area, but we’re committed to getting it done.”

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

>Sign the CFT petition to support gun divestment.

Watch Gun-Free Retirement on Youtube.

Hendricks reelected to CalSTRS Board

On April 14, Sharon Hendricks was reelected representative of community college teachers on the CalSTRS Board, which sets policy and regulations for the largest educator-only pension fund in the world.

Hendricks, a communications studies instructor and member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT Local 1521, was first elected to the board in 2011 with support from the CFT. She now serves as vice chair.

The two board members representing PreK-12 teachers were also reelected: Dana Dillon, a middle school teacher from Weed, and Board Chair Harry M. Keiley, a high school teacher from Santa Monica.

The educator members will serve four-year terms, which begin January 1. The 12-member board also includes gubernatorial appointees representing the public, school boards, and retired members as well as four ex officio members — the state Controller, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Treasurer, and Director of Finance.

The CalSTRS portfolio is valued at $190.8 billion.