When it comes to local control of school finances, the minority continues to rule in California.

Just take a look at this month's elections in two Bay Area school districts. New Haven in Union City and Pleasanton came within a hair's breadth of passing parcel taxes to rescue their budgets from red ink.

In any other election, winning 66.43 percent of the vote would be a landslide, but in New Haven's case, it was just shy of the 66.7 percent supermajority needed to pass a parcel tax. In Pleasanton, the tax measure lost with 65.31 percent of the vote.

So IA readers might like to know that state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is still trying to let Californians decide whether to lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds to 55 percent -- similar to the requirement for school bonds. His SCA-5 would place such a measure on the state ballot, and it's already passed one Senate committee on a partisan 6-3 vote.

But to get onto the ballot, it will need some GOP support. Ironically -- or perhaps illustrative of Sacramento gridlock -- to let the people of California lower the two-thirds threshold for parcel taxes, the measure needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

Pay attention, class! There (their? they're?) may be a pop quiz later

While we're talking about education: IA received a shocking news release from the California Teachers Association this past week.

The release called attention to the devastating cuts facing California schools if, the CTA argues, Gov. Jerry Brown can't get Republicans to agree to put a measure on the ballot extending some tax hikes.

But that wasn't what was shocking.

We were taken aback at how the writer of the release made two mistakes in just one sentence: "The Republican's (the apostrophe's in the wrong place) proposal from today shows they are clearly out of touch with what California students need, and is built of the same gimmicky principals (should be "principles") that have plagued California's budget process for years." The quote was attributed to David Sanchez, president of the CTA.

Come on, guys. You're a union that represents educators! Couldn't you have run the release by an elementary school teacher?

IA still recalls how in fourth grade, Mrs. Morrison told the class about a cool little trick for remembering when to use "principal" and when to use "principle."

"Remember," Mrs. Morrison said, "your principal is your pal."

IA thinks the writer of that news release should march right down to the principle's office (only kidding -- we just wanted to make sure you were paying attention) to pick up a detention slip.

So, Teresa, is the water district still hiring? Can you put in a good word?

Teresa Alvarado may have lost the race last year for Santa Clara County supervisor, but thanks to the Golden Spigot, she's doing better now than if she had won.

Alvarado, 46, was just named communications manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

As the new spokeswoman for the district, a government agency funded by water rates, she'll earn $143,062 a year, the same as her predecessor, Susan Siravo.

That's slightly better than the $143,031 she would have been paid as a county supervisor had she beaten Mike Wasserman in the June 2010 campaign to replace Supervisor Don Gage, who was termed-out.

But the benefits don't end there. Like other managers at the water district, whose bountiful pay and employee perks have been the subject of scrutiny for years, Alvarado also will receive a $450 monthly car allowance. The five county supervisors receive only a $400 monthly allowance.

And, like the other 30 or so executives with the Golden Spigot -- which is proposing to raise water rates 9.4 percent this year -- Alvarado also will enjoy seven weeks of paid vacation and leave, 13 paid holidays and 12 paid sick days every year, along with full medical and dental benefits paid by the district, ahem, the public.

Nice work if you can get it.

The county supes oversee a $4 billion annual budget, 13 times larger than the water district's $315 million annual budget.

No word yet on whether Wasserman is planning to resign his seat to get a better deal at the water district.

Shockingly (well, OK, not really), lawyers from opposing sides disagree

Not everyone is as optimistic as lead attorney Barbara Spector that her client -- the young woman at the center of the De Anza gang-rape civil case -- still stands a chance of wresting millions in damages from the insurance companies of two former baseball players.

Spector, who suffered a stinging defeat at trial in April, said last week after court documents were unsealed that she was confident about her client's chances of seeing green.

The documents revealed that the young woman, who claims she was sexually assaulted by a group of young men at a 2007 house party, obtained the right to sue the insurance companies of former baseball players Stephen Rebagliati and Luis Cardenas for $2.3 million each.

The men transferred to the young woman the right to sue their insurance companies for failing to defend them at trial, so they cannot be held personally liable for the damages.

One prominent San Jose attorney familiar with insurance-coverage issues apparently shares Spector's optimism. But one of the defendants' attorneys is convinced Spector will never see a dime.

"Those judgments are about as worthless as Confederate currency after the Civil War," attorney Rick Pedersen opined.

IA will stay on the case and report back whose crystal ball was more accurate.

There's a vacancy on the bench: All interested parties, please take a number

It may be awhile before Gov. Jerry Brown gets around to appointing new judges in California, but candidates are already emerging for spots on the San Jose-based 6th District Court of Appeal.

The state appeals court, which hears cases from Santa Clara, Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, has one current vacancy on its seven-member bench, with the retirement earlier this year of Justice Richard McAdams. And Justice Wendy Duffy has informed colleagues and staffers that she wants to leave in November, ensuring that the Brown administration will put its imprint on one of California's most conservative appeals courts.

The cast of contenders for these spots includes at least four Santa Clara County judges: Katherine Lucero, Patricia Lucas, Brian Walsh and Phil Pennypacker, as well as Monterey County Superior Court Judge Adrienne Grover, last year's presiding judge and a former county counsel.

For Brown, diversity will be an issue in sizing up the 6th District, which, with Duffy's departure, will be left with just one female judge, Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, and one judge from a minority group, Nathan Mihara.

Lucero, well-known for her work on dependency and foster-care issues, would be in line to be the first Latino in the court's history.

Brown, however, is moving slowly on getting his judicial appointments rolling. He's no doubt preoccupied with other matters, such as filling the state's multibillion-dollar budget gap.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Sharon Noguchi, Tracey Kaplan, Paul Rogers, Lisa Fernandez and Howard Mintz. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-920-5552.