Should businesses pay more for public education?

Oakland teachers hung two signs from a 35th Avenue/ I-580 overpass on Friday, the first day of summer vacation for kids (and the last day of work for teachers).

“We heard a steady stream of honks as cars approached the overpass,” said Craig Gordon, a teacher at Paul Robeson high school who serves on the union’s executive board. “The goal of this action was to send a simple message to the public: Oakland teachers end the school year still fighting for a new contract to defend quality public education as a civil right.”

The salary schedule for Oakland teachers has barely budged since the 2003 state takeover; teachers start at below $40,000 a year, plus health benefits. The district’s chief services officer, Laura Moran, noted in a report at last week’s board meeting that the pay wasn’t competitive enough.

But where should the money come from? Would Oaklanders rally behind a local education tax from the Port of Oakland — one of the solutions the teacher’s union has proposed — or should matters of funding be worked out at the state level? In either case, do you agree that the state deficit should be resolved by taxing businesses more than they are now?

Note: Troy Christmas, director of Labor Relations for OUSD, tells me that district contributions to employee health benefits has risen by more than 60 percent between 2002-03 and now, and that the salary schedule increased by 2.3 percent during that time.

photos courtesy of Craig Gordon

Katy Murphy

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

  • Katy Murphy

    The comment function was turned off for this post earlier today. Sorry about that — I don’t know why.

    In any case, it’s working now.

  • Nextset

    If Oakland or any other municipality raises taxes beyond competeting areas, their business tax base will pack up and leave. And they are very mobile nowadays. Anybody notice what happened when the black dominated Philadelphia City Council decided to impose a payroll tax on company employees working in the City? Boom time for Blue Bell PA and all the suburbs… Death Spiral for the inner city treasury. Empty Office buildings downtown.

    Economics does not permit some legislative body ordering water to run uphill. That holds for any “soak the rich” scheme. Somethings you can get away with and some things you cannot.

    Besides, throwing money never improves education. And one can say that for the miserable product the failure factories of OUSD produces, the staff are paid too much already. Teacher salaries are a measure of the perceived value the students have in the marketplace. That’s why various schools pay various rates for various instructors.

    That should put OUSD staff on the very bottom of the State pay scales.

    If this is to change OUSD needs to change and end the failure factory behavior – at least in half of it’s schools. The other half can be a dumping ground for students who won’t get with the new program.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I don’t agree with much of what Nextset is saying other than to be careful. Oakland has a relative dearth of businesses (given its population) and is losing them on a regular basis. We are headed or in a recession. Maybe the port can’t leave, but it has to remain competitive as well. The city is broke and will be looking for money to plug its own holes.

    It is best to craft such solutions on a region-wide or statewide basis to prevent businesses from packing up and opening in Emeryville or San Leandro as many have already done.

    Education needs more funding, but funding isn’t the only thing it needs.

  • Tax Payer

    Money is definitely the problem in education. Taxpaers must pay taxes for a crappy school system and then pay tutiton for private schools. And now as a busniess ownwer, I should pay more? I have read the comments on this blog over the past year, and I now find myself asking, why do I still live in this upside dysfunctional city?

    Thank you Katy and all of the bloggers for making me wake up and smell the reality- for the sake of my five, I will sell my house and get the hell out of dodge.
    You should write a story about the taxes that leave this city due to schools and soryy a** teachewrs, administrators and district.

  • Craig Gordon

    First a response to Troy Christmas’s point about the district’s contribution to employee benefits rising by 60% since 2002-03: The district actually used this figure in a public presentation (opening the current teacher contract negotiations) to claim that our compensation had risen by more than 60% during that period!

    OEA has called on Kaiser and Health Net to freeze their skyrocketing rates to the district that the State Administration proposes to pass on to its workers. Locally based Kaiser is one of the major corporations claiming to be noble benefactors of public education, tossing us some spare change (and getting a tax break for it)to fund “Expect Success.” Expect Success is a corporate initiative that has flooded the distict with charters and imposed “Results Based Budgeting,” which requires each school to cut costs and raise revenues, or die. We have called on the district to join us in demanding that big corporations — not small businesses — fund public education unconditionally, not with its piecemeal pet projects that substitute corporate agendas for the judgement of experienced educators.

    I agree with “The TruthHurts” in noting that it would be better to tax corporations on statewide basis. Federal taxation would be even better. But we’re starting where we can, hoping to get people in other areas to join us.

    Despite the ugly, reactionary nature of almost all of “Nextset”‘s comments, I agree that it’s very hard to “soak the rich.” Until we mobilize to constrain the easy mobility of capital, the rich will “soak” workers and poor people. Redistruting wealth is not making “water run uphill.” There’s nothing natural about 1% of the population controlling more than half the nation’s wealth. The District could publicly call on Kaiser and Health Net to stop soaking public schools. But since Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and other corporate executives are calling the shots, the district opts to make school workers pay whatever the HMOs demand.

    And so it goes until we wake up and say enough is enough. It’s true that funding isn’t the only thing education needs in order to improve, but it’s a prerequisite to any significant, sustained improvement.

  • John

    Craig: Who at OEA “called on Kaiser and Health Net to freeze their skyrocketing rates to the district?” Who answered the phone at Kaiser?

    Since it’s “Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and other corporate executives” who “are calling the shots,” causing “the district to opt to make school workers pay whatever the HMOs demand” SHOULD NOT OEA BE CALLING THESE GUYS FIRST!!!!!?

    This matter is too serious to allow for mistakes. Are you sure OEA has already called Kaiser? If not, it’s still not too late to put the horse before the cart.

  • Mary Prophet

    This freeway bannering is just the first. Look for more events by Oakland teachers designed to get information to the citizens of Oakland. With the renegotiation of the contract, there are many, many distortions put out by the school district which Oakland’s teachers are working to correct.
    Thank you to Craig Gordon for doing such a good job of organizing the event.

  • Nextset

    Craig: You think I’m ugly and reactionary? Wait till you see this economy next summer.. Truth hurts, I don’t sugarcoat it. We are about to experience Great Depression II. You might start studying the first one. Can we see Obama as Herbert Hoover?

    And good luck trying to redistribute wealth. You may get your wish just like the Germans after the Weimar republic. I have no doubt it’s coming.

    Actually, I would have no problem with tax policy to finally make sure the “poor” are forced to pay their own way in this country instead of getting a free ride on the rest of us. And that’s reactionary I suppose.

    Just remember, you cannot have a welfare state and freedom. The two are mutually exclusionary.

    Back to this thread. You can’t effectively make businesses in Oakland pay more for your rotten schools than other California towns without killing the goose. Try all you want. It would be a better use of energy to fix the rotten schools within the budget you have.

  • John

    Mary Mary quite contrary, how does the freeway flow? With banners bright slowing traffic nights – making it move real slooooooooooooow. Well I at least its something for teachers to do and drivers to honk at.

    Tom Sawyer got it right when he got kids to pay to work. As you’ve stated, there will be “MORE events by Oakland teachers designed to get information to Oakland citizens” to counter the “many many distortions put out by the school district” BECAUSE it’s “renegotiation of teachers contract” time, and happy hands are busy hands.

    What are you getting for your mandatory OEA (CTA/NEA) dues? What is CTA/NEA getting and giving you back? But then I mustn’t be divisive must I. This is a time to be united, NOT divided! It’s contract renegotiation time dad gummit! It’s time once again to get busy being busy telling people about those penny pinching rascals at the OUSD district office.

    And PLEASE, don’t give a thought to those OEA dues grabbing CTA/NEA rascals who (at last count) skim off two thirds of your mandatory monthly OEA dues for other (non-OEA) purposes. When in the wake of the district’s fiscal shortfall requiring a state take-over you took a reduction in pay, did CTA/NEA take a reduction in how much they confiscate from your pay check?

    Here’s a math challenge: If you got a district pay raise equal to your annual OEA (CTA/NEA) dues, by what percentage would it increase your teacher’s pay?

    What would the percentage increase be if your raise was two thirds (CTA’s/NEA’s cut) of your annual dues?

    But please, don’t let me keep you OEA dues payers from your unpaid OEA ‘get involved get busy work.’ It’s time to make those (occupational therapy?) banners and picket signs and tell people to honk if they support you. Let’s have a parade. I just love a parade, don’t you?


  • TheTruthHurts

    As usual, I guess I’ll be trying to extract the ‘kernel’ of “truth” in Nextset’s post. Our economy is heading down fast and any attempt at voluntary taxation will be challenging at best.

    The “golden” goose in Oakland is relatively tarnished already compared to other cities in our area. Once auto row is gone (it’s happening now), tax revenues will take a severe hit. Further, our city needs the tax dollars to deal with other concerns that have gone begging, not the least of which is crime. Sure, we know education can address crime, but that’s not very comforting when your car is stolen or you’re getting shot at.

    I personally applaud efforts to get more revenue in to the schools. My question as a taxpayer would be, what are you doing with what you already have? I assume there were reasons the District went bankrupt before and it couldn’t have had anything to do with Expect Success or State Administration, since they didn’t exist. Unless the their house is more in order than it was then, why would voters, taxpayers or anyone else put in one more dime?

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset says you can’t/shouldn’t tax corporations locally or have progressive taxation.

    Nextset says in his day — the 50’s and 60’s — schools knew how to operate.

    Yet: In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States peaked in terms of overall revenue generated from corporation taxes, as well as in federal and state funding of institutions like schools. Both have been steadily declining every single decades since. Today corporations pay less than half of what they did in the 50s in taxes, as a percentage of overall revenue.

    Hmmm. Anybody else think Nextset needs to review his history?

    I recommend this book by two veteran reporters:


    It’s 14 years old, but nothing has really changed — Clinton pretty much kept the status quo left him by Reagan/Bush I, while Bush II’s tax cuts on the rich again shifted the percentages of revenue onto the backs of the middle class.

  • cranky teacher

    John: Are you a) against this union or b) all unions?

    If it’s a), what is your particular beef(s)?

  • John

    Cranky: Actually READ #8, followed by #12’s a & b.

    What’s the beef(s)?

    Where’s the rancid beef(s)?

    Mental gastrointestinal systems sure have an amazing capacity for injesting without rejecting magot infested mental meat.

    ‘HONK’ if you support unsupported teachers unquestioningly supporting BIG union BUSINESS with involuntary pay check deductions.

    But please don’t give it another thought. It’s too divisive! Get involved. Make a picket sign. Go on strike and march march march, everybody marching.

    Pleeeeeease honk for us! Pretty pretty please.

  • Nextset

    Truth Hurts: “Crime” is an understatement. Oakland is a city on top of an anthill – or a nest of rattlesnakes. Oakland maintains and grows a population of psychopathic parasites that unfortunately reproduces at a brisk rate. All that is required is a disaster and you have another Katrina, complete with Rape Gangs and Bands of Looters. You won’t see the same if there were a disaster in Iowa or Idaho, there the population would respond in a pro-social way to an earthquake or general disaster.

    Thowing more funds at “crime” won’t get relief. No more than throwing money at “education” in Oakland – it just gets you more illiterates.

    This issue is a very old one, Banfield’s “The Unheavenly City” covers the problem well, I had to read it at UC Berkeley which was interesting since that book is in no way politically correct.

    If you want to get rid of crime you get rid of the criminals. You remove anything that keeps them alive or attracts them to the city. No different that exterminating any other vermin. Oh, you might introduce natural predators also.

    So I for one see talk of raising taxes for more police as being similar to raising takes to make the kids learn to read. Wrong.

    How about cutting taxes and cutting and eliminating social services? How about following the Utah model and giving one way bus tickets out of town/state? Shut down the drug rehabs, Reduce welfare to nothing, Route all emergency aid to Salvation Army complete with madatory singing and sermons. How about fixing the county jail to make things as unpleasant as legally possible ala Maricopa County/Phoenix AZ? And doing it overtly and with fanfare.

    No more tax increases on business, tax cuts and the way to go and ultimately tax cuts in the sales tax, the most regressive one of all. You cannot spend your way out of problems created by bad social/educational policy. You have to change the bad policy.