Teacher’s union shoots for the moon

moon2.jpgIt seems like just yesterday that the Oakland school district settled on a teacher contract on the eve of a planned one-day strike…

Lest you grow all misty eyed about the small patch of common ground found at the last minute, I’m here to tell you that the next round of negotiations is about to begin. The hard-fought contract expires in June.

I met today with OEA president Betty Olson-Jones and executive board member Jack Gerson to discuss the union’s opening proposals, which will be divulged at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

“How are we going to recruit and retain teachers without making dramatic changes?” Gerson asked. “If we keep the status quo, where will we be? Where’s the city going to be? Who’s going to want to walk out on the street?”

I promised not to `scoop’ them by blabbing the details, but I can tell you this: The next few months (hopefully, not longer) should be very interesting.

image from aloshbennett’s Web site at flickr.com

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    Katy, that’s a great moon shot! I hope it doesn’t become a pie in the sky that ends up on a lot of OEA faces.

    The face of a recession and state funding crisis with the possible freezing of California’s mandated formula for funding education might be pretty hard for a dramatic union demand bolstered by a long teachers’ strike to face down.

    However, I’ve been to enough teacher union meetings to know nothing seems impossible in the OEA Land of Oz. I look unforward to what I anticipate could well be several months of dejavu all over again.

    For the sake of hard working OEA dues paying rank and file teachers, and subjects of the Land of Oz, I sincerely hope not.

  • Sue

    Goodness, time flies! I just noticed that our “I Support Oakland Teachers” sign in our livingroom window has faded. Guess we’ll be replacing it soon.

  • Marijke Conklin

    I have a question about the title of this post. Could you be more specific about why you think OEA is “shooting for the moon”?

    Personally, I have very high expectations all around: for myself, my students and the leaders in Oakland and California schools.

    Our administrators and state leaders will have to work to get the money required. They will have to advocate really hard. The Oakland folks may have to go to Sacramento, and the Sacramento folks may have to go to Washington. They may have to lobby. But really, as leaders, that is their job. That is why they were elected. That is why they have law degrees and why they get paid more than us. Fortunately, it isn’t like wringing water from a rock. The money is there. It is there in corporate taxes, in military spending and in spending on prisons.

    I think that our leaders are smart and tough enough to get the money. I think they can commit to providing Oakland students and teachers the safe and enriching learning conditions we are proposing.

    So, I don’t think OEA is “shooting for the moon.” We are, in fact, “shooting for the basics,” as in the basic human rights. With this proposal, we are giving our colleagues in politics and administration a head’s up: “hey, students and teachers need some help here, things on the ground are pretty tough. We need things like smaller class sizes, nurses, music, art, libraries, appropriate sewage systems, hot water, soap.”

    In one of the wealthiest economies in the world, are those things really “the moon?”


  • Katy Murphy

    Those things shouldn’t be “the moon,” you’re right, Marijke. But the solutions proposed by OEA require finding tens of millions of dollars as the district is talking about cuts.

    Betty Olson-Jones, herself, describes the proposals as “bold and far-reaching,” and she joked today that “Shooting for the Moon” should be the new campaign slogan.

    How you frame this proposal, I guess, depends on whether you’re talking about needs or constraints. I’ll blog on it soon. But your point is well taken.

  • Raleigh McLemore

    It would be more accurate to think that taking an administrative blunt axe to education, increasing class sizes, reducing student curriculum to mindless dribble, cutting teacher health care and wages and then saying “Expect Success” is “shooting for the moon”. It might help if the administrators, O’Connell included, had even a vague notion of what teachers are doing, but I think that might be “shooting for the moon”.

    I am a San Leandro teacher and a local board member of ACORN. ACORN fully supports the OEA’s attempt to improve teacher retention and recruitment.


  • Craig Gordon

    Workers demanding unemployment insurance, jobs programs, social security, and more during much harder times than these, the 1930s, were similarly derided as being “unrealistic” and worse.

    Indeed it is unrealistic to think that we’ll get any of this without a huge fight. We’ll need not just smart leaders, but the sustained and very active involvement of thousands teachers, students, parents, and community members to force politicians to make corporations pay their fair share toward public services. If we succeed in any significant measure, we will move forward with real educational reform as opposed to the phony test-and-punish and do-more-with-less incantations that have passed for reform up to now.

  • John

    I remember when, before the OUSD state take over of 2004, the last board appointed superintendent suddenly discovered an OUSD short fall of eighty million plus dollars. A number of teachers at the OEA’s monthly site representative meeting made speeches and picket signs before marching and demanding money from Oakland’s RICH CORPORATIONS to replace the district’s fiscal (mismanagement) shortfall.

    These well intentioned OPS teachers marched and chanted in front of the Oakland Clorox corporate building and elsewhere. Although the corporate money march was as successful as a rain dance, the fiscal gap remained and a state bail out and district take over soon followed.

    Fast forward to the (above) OUSD teacher posting that takes exception to the article heading: “Teacher Union shoots for the moon.” The teacher asks for specifics as to why the reporter author would write that OEA is “shooting for the moon?” Never mind that the reporter clearly stated, in her related article, her promise to OEA President Betty Olson-Jones and executive board member Jack Gerson, that she “wouldn’t scoop them” by blabbing the details of their “shoot for the moon” (as she titled them) negotiation demands to the district they had disclosed to her.
    Apparently this teacher was simply responding to the articles title and wasn’t aware of its content or he would NOT have asked the reporter for specifics about something she promised not to disclose.
    It’s unfortunately not uncommon for some issue consumed, but not informed, members of the OEA Land of Oz to ignore details in constructing and making their statements and demands. As this OEA teacher of Oz constructs it (above): “Our administrators and state leaders will have to get the money required. Oakland folks may have to go to Sacramento, and the Sacramento folks may have to go to Washington…The money is there. It is there in corporate taxes, in military spending and in spending on prisons.”

    Such rhetoric is common in the Land of Oz, I heard it dripping and gushing from the mouths of many Ozians in advance of the inevitable (legally required) OUSD state take over. It was uttered by Ozies before, during, and after their walk around the Oakland Clorox building. Today I heard the OEA union president on the radio claiming that she had read something in the paper linking OEA demands to the “Land of Oz” followed by a declaration (chant) that OEA was going to “do the right thing” regardless!

    I am not opposed to shooting for the moon. However, before demanding the funds and scheduling a launch date it’s important to take a serious look at how things shape up down here on earth. Hard working teachers and students don’t benefit from a space shot fueled by good intentions and unrealistic demands that ignore, among other things, ominous economic realities. But then, as our teacher from the Land of Oz chants it: “Our leaders are smart and tough enough to get the money (and) the money is there.”

    Apparently he and others in the Land of Oz know something that the state budget analyst doesn’t.

  • Jack Gerson

    Last June 1, at the OEA-organized teach-in against the state takeover, Mayor Dellums said, “If we identify the size of the problem, the money needed will be there.” I agree wholeheartedly. And if ever the size of a problem has been identified, it’s the problem of public education in Oakland. And few will argue that much smaller class size and caseloads, competitive compensation and adequate resources would not make things a whole lot better, particularly in low-performing schools. So let’s all agree to go after the money, instead of snide remarks about “The Land of Oz”.
    The money is there. The state could bring in another $5 to $6 billion by restoring the vehicle license fee. It could bring in another $3 billion by restoring the tax on personal income in excess of $500,000 to 11%. It could bring in well over $4 billion by increasing taxes on corporate property. And much more money could be tapped by going after tax dodges like the ports and the redevelopment agencies.
    This won’t happen automatically. Powerful corporate and developer interests will fight this with all the means at their disposal. But it’s what we need.
    Imagine what the world would be like if there had been no fightback in the Great Depression–if people had said “Social Security? Jobs? Housing? Public works? Industrial unions? That’s the Land of Oz.”
    instead, they fought. And great social programs were erected. If the money was there in the worst of times–the Great Depression–then surely it’s there now. But only if we join together and fight for what we need.

  • John

    Jack Gerson: It is with the greatest of respect and appreciation for the jobs teachers do that I make my comments. LOCAL teachers need representation that is focused and realistic about the present economic environment.

    Whether it is CTA or the AFT, school district union affiliates of these parent organizations are about collecting the dues from teacher pay checks to push for and sponsor efforts in the MACROSPHERE (state & national politics and political power). Individual teachers don’t get the representation they deserve and pay for. CTA is an incorporated BUSINESS that competes with AFT for teacher (dues) market share.

    I’ve known so many hard working teachers with serious work related issues requiring serious representation and/or contract enforcement that didn’t get the attention it deserved from OEA leaving them to handled it themselves or with the assistance of other teachers.

    I recently spoke with one teacher who was told by an OEA Executive Director (who works for & is paid by CTA not OEA) that although she had a case against the district in their wish to terminate (high seniority) teachers services – she would be on her own in a protracted legal fight with the district. So much for the promised legal coverage a teacher “gets” with OEA (CTA) membership! She couldn’t afford the cost of high attorney fees and was forced to leave her position without a fight. Full legal representation would have taken too big a bite from local CTA profits. Although, in fairness to CTA -depending on a number of factors some DO teachers get better representation than others.

    When it’s OEA/OUSD contract renewal (negotiation) time and the threat of a strike action looms CTA sends in (what I call) its revival preachers to join local CTA leaders to stir up the masses with a lot of emotional rhetoric and proclamations. Local CTA affiliate glee club (some OEA members) join in with their ‘AMENS’ and a lot of blabbering about getting money from rich corporations, rich tax payers, and undisclosed overflowing state and district coffers under lock and key. THE MONEYS THERE!

    The money’s THERE alright! It’s transferred from hard working teacher pay checks to CTA Inc. coffers and teachers realize little, if any, local benefit from their involuntary contribution. Welcome to the Land of Oz!

    I’m merely expressing a rich experientially based point of view, NOT trying to start a fight or be “snide.” Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and consider my perspective.

  • Marijke Conklin

    Hi John,

    I appreciate the energy you devote to discussing this issue. Lets talk about best strategies together.

    First, I see you have concerns about CTA. As a relatively new teacher, I am curious about CTA myself. Lets talk more about those concerns. I think it is a good point to discuss at the OEA rep council. I am interested to know more.

    Second, I do not teach in the “Land of Oz.” Please, could we lose the name calling? Second Step teaches that. I teach in Oakland in Special Education. No OZ where I am. In fact, teachers of special education in OUSD, “keep it real.” Just ask one how things are going. There is no OZ. No fantasy. You are welcome to visit any classroom to see for yourself.

    Third, What do you think needs to happen in Oakland Schools?

    Fourth, I am a she, not a he.

    Now down to the rest of it. I think my question about why Katy used that title is legitimate. I read the post. I wanted more information. She couldn’t divulge the information at the moment she wrote the post (it was embargoed), but she could have expressed her opinion when I posed the question (it was no longer embargoed).

    I understood that. I had just come from the press conference at Castlemont. I wanted to know, post-facto, what Katy found so far-reaching about the proposals. I respect and admire Katy. I wanted her honest opinion. She provides good insight to our concerns. She may bring up points we overlooked. Do you criticize students for asking questions of people they admire? I hope not.

    Your “Land of Oz” (where students and teachers get the things we need) does exist. It exists in white middle-class America. Read the NY Times. Do research. There are well-funded public schools. Why should ours be any different?

    “Land of Oz,” like “shooting for the moon,” are phrases better applied to a Federal administration giving billions of dollars to private companies supposedly looking for Osama Bin Laden in Iraq. They are terms better applied to a State administration spending billions of dollars incarcerating young people when prisons do not work.

    I was not educated in the “Land of Oz.” I graduated from District of Columbia Public Schools and Barnard College in New York City. I know what American wealth has. I know what American poverty gets.

    We are real schools which have real concerns: teacher turn over and lack of materials. Do you have a nurse at your school? I don’t. Do you have a security guard? I don’t. Do your students get music and art? Mine don’t. Unless I write grants for them. And, I do. A lot.

    How do we get those things John? What are YOUR ideas? Lets work together and get the best for our students and teachers.


  • John

    Hello Marijke:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think I made it clear that the “Land of Oz” is the OEA, not hard working teachers or what goes on in the classroom. As a new teacher perhaps you can question, and inspire your colleagues, to question WHAT YOU’RE GETTING FOR YOUR OEA (CTA) UNION DUES!? My comments about OEA (CTA) are about OEA (CTA) NOT poor communities.

    Think of OEA (CTA) “services” to individual teachers as a consumer would, and should, think of them. Ask yourself, “What am I and my colleagues getting for those involuntary monthly confiscations from our pay checks? Thinking about your teacher union membership in this manner is a reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, seriously questioning the union’s agenda and the quality of services received for your monthly union dues can ironically earn you the kind of retribution generally reserved for those who have the audacity to question the doctrinal hard line of a bunch of hard core religious fundamentalists with zero tolerance for opposition,

    You express your wish for me NOT to engage in “name calling” in my reference to the ‘Land of Oz,’ yet you happily apply the same term to “white middle-class America.”

    You make reference to “well-funded public schools elsewhere” and question, “Why should ours be any different?” I would admonish you to do as you as you have admonished me. Do some research (that only partially takes into account wisdom gleaned at the feet of OEA (CTA) executive staff).

    Making comparisons (or dividing and conquering) is a favorite tactic in the OEA (CTA) ‘Land of Oz.. It’s the ‘opiate of the dissatisfied’ to have comparisons made for them (i.e., low a SES school district with the suburbs, rich corporations, and public monies that go elsewhere). In the Land of Oz being dissatisfied with EVERYTHING is good as long as it’s not with OEA’s/CTA’s agenda or profit motif.

    HOW ABOUT THOSE TEACHER UNION DUES GOING (LARGELY) INTO CTA COFFERS!? Does it LARGELY come “back to the community” of hard working teachers with work related issues and contract ENFORCEMENT NEEDS!? DO SOME RESEARCH my friend.


    P.S. I also respect and admire Katy. I especially appreciate her giving us this forum for having some open and honest discussion.

  • Craig Gordon

    I’d like to get back to the main topic of discussion here, after a brief word on one that’s diverted us: To suggest that OEA activists — especially those most active in formulating and pushing forward this contract proposal — uncritically worship CTA and NEA is approximately 180 degrees from reality. So is any suggestion that this contract proposal comes from our state or national organizations. (I only wish they were so visionary and bold!)

    In-depth discussion of our state and national organizations, including whether they have fought privatization and No Child Left Behind aggressively enough, is legitimate and necessary. But in the context of an attempt to begin discussion about our just-released contract proposal, the barrage of criticisms here about OEA/CTA/NEA amount to an attack on the messenger instead of a focus on the message itself.

    So can we refocus on the main issues at hand? Our proposal and upcoming contract campaign will bear on these questions:
    1. What conditions MUST students and teachers have in order to achieve educational equality for all?
    2. How can we obtain the funding to create these conditions?

    OEA has been working hard to answer these questions for several years. Our efforts include a campaign to pressure Oakland’s large corporations and $34-billion-a-year Port to pay their fair share to support public services. And we have put forward a vision for education that is the framework for this contract proposal. I invite readers to check the vision out at http://oaklandea.com/wp-content/uploads/documents/OEAvision.pdf

    Please, at this critical moment, let’s focus our discussion on the most timely issue of what it will take to provide high quality education for communities who have been denied it forever. Let’s not be diverted.

  • John

    Craig: Thanks for your comments and affirmations of the Land of Oz:

    In response:

    I never made any reference to an “uncritical worship of CTA and NEA.” However, you did in your “180 degrees from reality” misrepresentation to the contrary.

    Your assertion that I’m somehow claiming that “this contract proposal comes from (y)our state or national organizations (CTA & NEA)” is seemingly more a kin to your comment that, “…an attempt to begin discussion about the just-released contract proposal, (and) the barrage of criticisms here about OEA/CTA/NEA amount to an attack on the messenger instead of a focus on the message itself.”

    The “message” being the “contract proposal” and the “messenger” being “OEA/[&] NEA/CTA!?”

    I do share in your “wish that they (CTA/NEA) were visionary and bold,” assuming such vision pertains to serving the day to day needs of individual teachers (one at a time) and, consistent with this, insuring proper OUSD compliance with OEA negotiated contracts. It would seem, from what I’ve observed over 25 years, that such vision on the part of CTA/NEA is seriously compromised by a blind eye or perhaps some good self serving CTA/NEA business sense. After all, it would be a lot more expensive for CTA/NEA to seriously and properly respond to, and pay for, accommodating the legitimate day to day employment issues of dues paying teacher members. Maybe there needs to be a lot of discussion about ‘(paid)OEA SERVICE PROVIDER / TEACHER RATIOS!?’

    I never stated, as you have, that an “in-depth discussion of our state and national organizations, including whether they have fought privatization and No Child Left Behind aggressively enough, is not legitimate and necessary.” However, it’s a lot easier engaging in dialogue on MACRO issues than responding to the day to day micro issues affecting teachers.

    How many rank and file teachers have made that desperate phone call to the OEA (CTA/NEA affiliate) office without getting a call back or their problem(s) addressed. I know many, very many! (Although, I suspect I’ll be hearing a thing or two from the exceptions).

    Craig, you ask us to “refocus on the main issues of the upcoming contract campaign” which are (as you articulate them):

    1. What conditions MUST students and teachers have in order to achieve educational equality for all?

    2. How can we obtain the funding to create these conditions?

    OK Craig. I’m refocusing on “educational equality for all.” I’m sitting here focusing on, and chanting about, “educational equality for all.” I’m also thinking about, how we can obtain the funding to create “educational equality for all.”

    I know! We’ll put pressure on “large corporations and the $34-billion-a-year Port to pay their fair share to support public services, along with “a vision for education that is the framework for this contract proposal.”

    And by all means, let us also (as you creatively phrase it) “focus our discussion on the most timely issue of what it will take to provide high quality education for communities who have been denied it forever.”

    Let us therefore bring an END to “FOREVER,” if not in the real world at least in the Land of Oz, where all things are seemingly possible forever and ever and ever.

    P.S. Don’t forget to put some “pressure” on the Clorox Corporation! They’ve already been ‘pressure softened’ by some OEA folk back in 2004 when they marched around and around their Oakland office with signs and chants, demanding that this corporation help bail out the district’s fiscal mega mismanagement crisis AND help avoid an inevitable state take over, which is one MACRO issue CTA/NEA Inc. didn’t get distracted by!

    IN CASE YOUR NOT TOO BORED OR TOO ANNOYED TO READ FURTHER: A good analogy for union membership is the story about the painting of Tom Sawyer’s fence! Tom not only gets people to do the work (painting) for him, he also gets them to pay him for the privilege of doing so. So it would seem is the case with teacher unions. Dues paying teachers are recruited to “get involved” and lick stamps, stuff envelopes, or get elected as a school site representative or to a district wide teacher union office. In their sought after elected position they (with the exception of the OEA President who is paid by the district) works for FREE, while continuing to (involuntary) have their monthly dues confiscated from their checks. Their union volunteerism sustains the local CTA/NEA affiliate (OEA), while their dues contribute to the high salaries and political agendas of CTA/NEA “executives” at the local, state, and national level. If you don’t believe this I’ve got another fence I want you to paint FOR FREE.

    Oh I know, in these challenging times there needs to be a united front. Consequently, there’s no room for criticism of OEA. If you believe this please disregard this posting.

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com Former Oakland Teacher

    This is rough, because I understand that even now, the governor wants to cut tons of money from education.

    However, OUSD seems to repeat over and over “We don’t know why our good teachers leave!”

    Hello? It’s pretty obvious. When they’re treated like dirt, why wouldn’t you leave? I could tell you story after story about teachers who have left and others who should have.

    The difficult thing about this district is that there’s no one person to blame. It seems that the incompetence and misery has trickled down from the highest levels to the point where almost everyone you speak to in administration is rude and dismissive. The district in general doesn’t seem to realize that we have many other districts to go to. They chase people out.

    And I haven’t found a lot of support from OEA either. They have certain issues they care about but aren’t too supportive of teachers in general.

    Sadly – because there are incredible students in OUSD – I would not recommend to anyone that they take a job in the district. And I’m speaking as a tenured teacher who had the most seniority in my school and loved the children.

  • John Comly

    I agree with Jack. Most statements about ‘there is no money’ are designed to distract from what the money would buy.