In a child’s education, who matters the most?

The “Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students” tax, as the name implies, would raise the wages of the school system’s more than 2,000 teachers — but not its custodians, its secretaries, its teachers’ aides, or its attendance clerks.

Which, of course, raises the question of equity: For the school system to improve, shouldn’t all school employees benefit equally?

Most of the speakers at last night’s hearing — which drew a decent sized crowd for Aug. 4 — seemed to think so. But Noel Gallo, the only school board member who supports OUSD’s latest parcel tax initiative, made an intersesting counterpoint.

Gallo said the board and the district have long acknowledged the importance of improving teaching quality in Oakland. If it’s truly a priority, he argued, the district should throw its resources behind it — and not spread its money too thin.

The Oakland school district is “too poor to be cheap,” he said.

If the parcel tax measure passes, some $10 million a year will be spent on teachers’ salaries, while the rest would go to charter schools. If all of the new compensation funding went to the district’s roughly 220 first-year teachers, for example, their starting pay would go from under $40,000 to $48,000, Superintendent Roberta Mayor said at the meeting.

If distributed across the pay scale, the money would bump the starting teacher’s salary to about $42,400, Mayor said, according to initial calculations. That amounts to about a 7 percent raise.

Given the funding limitations, does it make sense to funnel the funding into teacher pay, or is it short-sighted to neglect other employees? Which strategy stands the best chance of improving the education system, as a whole?

Of course, these discussions are contingent on the measure passing — possibly, without the support of the school board or the teachers.

image from nemo_434’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Sue

    Pay the teachers! There’s no other district staff that is spending the entire day with the students. So, no other district staff is having the same level of interaction and the same impact on the students’ education, generally.

    I do know of an exception – my Spec. Ed. kid has a one-to-one aide with him full time in every class (different aides in different classes, since he’s in high school) – and I wouldn’t have a problem with increasing the pay of Spec. Ed. aides.

    But that’s just my self-interest, and for the overall benefit of all Oakland students, teacher pay is where I believe the money should go.

  • hills parent

    I would ask why are teachers leaving OUSD? Is it money or a district office that is unresponsive to the parents and teachers? How much of the budget already goes to D.O. staff, that could be provided to the teachers.

    Katie: Has anyone done a % comparison of OUSD district office funding as compared to other school districts?

  • Steven Weinberg

    How does $10 million divided by 2,000 teachers equal a $2,000 raise. My calculator says it should be more like $5,000.

  • Katy Murphy

    Good point. I’ll get some more detail about the various pay scale scenarios and post it. Last year, I think there were closer to 2,500 teachers, but I’ll double check that too.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I am obviously biased, but I will say that starting at $38,000 in this area is pretty tough if you have children and didn’t inherit a home. And when comparing teachers’ salary to classified employees (janitors, secretaries) you have to remember that a lot of them actually work an 8-hour day where teachers who are trying to do the job right almost never do.

    Money isn’t the #1 problem for teachers, but it wouldn’t hurt to be paid like we are as important to society as everybody claims we are.

  • hills parent


    I would check to see how much of this $10 million is being kept by the D.O. under the guise of needing the staff to administer the funds, akin to a “shipping and handling” fee.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Figuring out who is most important in a system that breaks down without ALL its parts working is a false choice. See how many parents want to send their children to OUSD with no custodians? No security officers? No principals? Playing one off the other is a prescription for disaster. If we behave like crabs in a barrel, none of us will make it out of the barrel.

    I would argue that few in public education can make living if “a living” includes homeownership, raising kids and a retirement. That dream has been gone for a while.

  • Sue

    Um… seven years ago, we moved our younger son from our neighborhood school into a different one during his first month in kindergarten. The teacher was excellent, but the custodian and the principal left a LOT to be desired. (I’m trying to be polite here. Katy would have to remove my post if I said what I really think!)

    The campus was unsafe. DH was picking up broken glass from the playground every morning. Where was the custodian? Inside the school screaming at kids for no reason, and reducing them to tears… The principal backed the custodian when DH had a problem with the situation.

    We got our kid into a *safe* school, but I’ve always felt badly for the neighborhood kids we left behind.

    Yes, TruthHurts, everyone on a school site matters. But it’s a whole lot easier to find a custodian who’ll do the job (if that’s what the administration wanted), than to find a good teacher.

    My parents held jobs as school custodians while my father was in college. Neither of my parents was qualified to teach at the high school they cleaned, though. I’ve volunteered at a lot of my kids’ school events, and helped with keeping the kids safe (security officers), and with cleaning up after events (custodians).

    Parents, students, and the general public can do those things. If they were properly organized, they could replace those jobs – maybe not 100%, but good enough for the school to continue to function. But they can’t replace the teachers.

  • Katy Murphy

    Steven: I have some answers for you. If the new parcel tax money was distributed across the pay scale, Oakland’s roughly 2,000 teachers would each receive ~7 percent raises, not equal dollar amounts.

    Under that scenario, according to district calculations, the starting salary would go from $39,456 to $42,380.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Thanks Katy for the clarification. Those figures make more sense. By the way, have you ever been given the complete list of new administrators you said was promised for early July?

  • http://none Nancy

    Instead of sending funds to Charter schools, perhaps a multiparty panel from the bargaining organizations and the District should sit down and come up with a formula to get everyone working in the District closer to a living wage. This should include some kind of institutional research on elements and particulars of individuals like property ownership, access to non-working wealth, and the purchasing power of what a salary actually buys. If we consider these facts, we could get closer to realistic bargaining proposals and rewrite the language of this parcel tax initiative. A job title doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of needs. I have seen custodians driving Jaguar and Mercedes Benz vehicles to work, and bragging about how many homes and rental properties they own (based on capital inherited from share-cropper era and veteran/retired postal worker relatives in past decades) and the retirement they personally built during the recent-past decades where the value and purchasing power of their salaries afforded those rewards. Even the Justice Pays campaign, advertising $70K and good benefits will place a beginning police officer (without access to non-working wealth) in poverty and equivalent to non-working, struggling welfare people in an era where Oaklander’s lighting up the sky on the 4th of July out number both police and firefighters according to news reports. How to recruit and retain unless through other non-proper means and dirty little secrets? Again, I would be satisfied with rental, childcare, and in-kind vouchers at this point.