Teachers: Does anyone support Measure N?

UPDATE: Some 100 union representatives voted overwhelmingly this evening to oppose the parcel tax. Only one person abstained from the vote; everyone else voted to campaign against it, Betty Olson-Jones (the union president) told me.


At first glance, you wouldn’t think a parcel tax to raise teacher’s salaries would be at all unpopular among teachers. But later this afternoon, roughly 100 union representatives decide whether to campaign against Measure N, the “Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students” tax.

In fact, it sounds like the real debate won’t be about whether the teachers should support the November tax measure, which would raise about $10 million a year for teacher pay. It will be whether to actively oppose it, or simply remain neutral.

Union President Betty Olson-Jones tells me that she hasn’t heard from a single teacher in favor of the state administration’s hastily-conceived parcel tax initiative that would give teachers more money.

Really? As imperfect as Measure N may be, I find it hard to believe that 2,000 employees would stand, on principle, against an effort to increase their (often paltry) paychecks. Olson-Jones said she was somewhat surprised, too, so I told her I’d try to solicit teachers’ opinions in this forum.

Here’s my question: Are there any teachers out there who secretly — or not-so-secretly — hope the controversial measure will pass so they will have a few thousand dollars more to support themselves and their families?

It’s not clear how exactly the $10 million would be handed out (if, in fact, the measure is approved by two-thirds of Oakland voters). If distributed evenly, the new tax money could provide 7 percent salary increases for the district’s teachers. The rest of the money — about 15 percent — would go to the district’s independently run, public charter schools.

Critics of the measure, including Olson-Jones, say it excludes non-teaching employees; that it will tax homeowners the same amount as large businesses; that it will encourage the proliferation of charter schools (which currently educate about 18 percent of Oakland’s public school children and are often blamed for the steep decline in non-charter enrollment); and, above all, that the tax was created during summer break, with little to no input from unions, the public, or even the Oakland school board (which voted against it, with the exception of Noel Gallo).

Still, there is some fear that if teachers turn the historically supportive Oakland voters against Measure N, it might poison future fundraising campaigns.

In your opinion, should the teacher’s union pour its energy and resources into defeating a tax that would benefit its members financially?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Sue

    I’m really surprised by this. But I haven’t actually read the Measure yet, so I don’t know what’s in it or what’s good or bad.

    I’ll do my research on it between now and Nov. I nearly always support anything that will provide more funding to schools and teachers, but there have been a few exceptions that were terribly written, or had other serious problems.

    Still, I hope the teacher’s union stays neutral, and I think we can trust to the struggling economy to kill this Measure if that’s the best outcome.

  • Katy Murphy

    Sue: If you click on the text “Measure N” at the beginning of the post, you’ll find the document with the parcel tax language. Just scroll to pages 5-8.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I’m a public school teacher in Oakland and don’t work for or send kids to the charters. However, I don’t live in Oakland, so I won’t be voting on it.

    If I were, I’m sure I could be convinced to vote against it. However, none of the arguments presented here are particularly convincing, and I was just reminded yesterday that my pay is the same as a teacher at the same pay grade in Oakland was getting seven years ago before the salary rollbacks: 39K.

    If the law is some trojan horse or just badly written, then its approval might end up being a block to future fundraising efforts.

    However, I bet the real issue is the obvious one: The school unions stick together as a bargaining unit and it would undermine solidarity if the teachers endorsed this end run.

  • John

    How about a tax initiative that reads, “OUTSTANDING PARENTS AND STUDENTS FOR ALL OAKLAND TEACHERS TAX.” The teachers in Piedmont, Orinda,
    and other high academic achieving communities are
    generally no better than Oakland teachers.

    The TAX could pay for subsidized housing and relocation costs for more OUSTANDING PARENTS AND STUDENTS that the Oakland Unified School District so desperately needs to get off the state and federal bad boy list. Of course the Oakland School Board could never endorse such a realistic (tongue in cheek) initiative and I wouldn’t blame em! Everyone’s gotta eat, and reap what they sow.

    Hey, do you think some Oakland teachers get tired of being essentially told they’re the only ones who need to be outstanding or make the effort that makes the difference? I wonder.

  • spedteacher

    I am an OUSD teacher who opposes (and will vote against) Measure N, in part because of the solidarity reason mentioned by Cranky Teacher. I also fear that a measure like this would encourage even more people to come out from nowhere to open more charters, since they will now get even more than the ADA received prior.

    What concerns me most though, is that we are again working without a contract and the district is proposing that not only would we (OEA members) NOT receive any pay raise, but that we would be frozen on the salary schedule for the next 3 years. That would mean that our salaries would not increase with additional years of experience or additional education. Frankly, if that happens I will have to leave OUSD as a teacher, even though I live here and my own children attend (or have graduated) OUSD schools. Just when I think things can not get worse, they do – a very sad day for Oakland.

  • http://growpublic.blogspot.com Ann

    Teacher’s know that running the Measure N will take money out of our children’s school operating budget. According to OUSD at least 1/4 million.

    Wouldn’t responsible leadership build in support before they put a bond measure forward?

    Why is the district not being challenged by the press for gambling public funds (at least a quarter of a million out of our children’s education budget) on a bond measure that they couldn’t build internal support for?

    Since Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Education is really driving this initiative (it would shift costs back from the State to the district), Jack O’ should run the campaign and foot the costs. Our children should not have to pay for Mr. O’ Connell’s bad ideas, nor should he or other administrators be allowed to gamble with our children’s limited education resources.

  • Jim Mordecai

    The ballot language:
    Measure N: To attract and retain highly qualified and credentialed teachers for Oakland’s District-run public schools, and to support successful educational programs at Oakland’s public charter schools, shall Oakland Unified School District levy $10 per parcel per month ($120 per year) for 10 years with an exemption for low-income residents, mandatory annual audits, an independent citizens’ oversight committee, and all money spent to benefit Oakland Schools and all Oakland students? (2/3 vote required for passage)

    I hope that Oakland voters vote No on Measure N.

    There are many reasons to vote against Jack O’Connell’s flawed Measure N Oakland parcel tax. I just came from the OEA Building Representative meeting and the OEA Building Representative Assembly overwhelmingly voted to uphold the Union Executive Board’s rejection of Measure N. My feeling is that putting in Measure N a provision to provide charter schools a million dollars a year for the next ten years was the reason so many teachers turned aside the lure of money and voted against the flawed measure.
    It was interesting to learn at the OEA meeting that a phone survey of Oakland voters found there was support for a parcel tax to raise teachers’ salaries but a lot of unwillingness to provide taxpayer support of charter schools. Therefore, I believe if the voters of Oakland hear both sides of the Measure N arguments, they will vote it down by more than 1/3 vote.

    However, with all eyes on the Presidential vote this November I fear than many voters will not get the word that Measure N was implanted with a poisonous charter school million dollar a year clause and pass Measure N. And, they will not know that unions, including the teachers’ union, are against Measure N.

    If you study the title of Measure N, OUTSTANDING TEACHERS FOR ALL OAKLAND STUDENTS ACT, you might think that all the money is to go to teachers but you’d be wrong. “To attract and retain highly qualified and credentialed teachers for Oakland’s District-run public schools..”, certainly means spending the parcel tax money on teachers, but the rest of the language pertaining to charter schools does not target the parcel tax money for charter school teachers,”…support successful educational programs at Oakland’s public charter schools.” Oakland parcel tax money is for the administrators of charter schools to get to decide how they’ll spend the money. This could mean that not one dime of Measure N money will be spent on charter school teachers. Yet, the title is designed to imply that all of the parcel tax money will go to pay teacher salaries.
    Finally, I would like to call attention to the “exemption for low income residents”. Nationally low income is defined as $5,500 per one individual. The Bay Area and California the cost of living makes the $5,500 cut off unrealistic. Many low-income Oakland residents making more than the Federal cut off will be hurt by the additional $120 they will have to pay. They may also be stressed by the permanent $195 parcel tax that was passed in February and looking at future property tax payments of $315 might be the straw that breaks their hold on home ownership.
    I could go on but feel I have given sufficient reason to vote No on Measure N.

    Jim Mordecai
    Oakland teacher
    Member Oakland Education Association
    Oakland Property Owner

  • oakie

    What a waste of time. One major component of the dysfunction of OUSD is the union. Teachers talking about “solidarity” sound a lot more like Teamster truck drivers than professionals. They disgust me: why aren’t they in “solidarity” instead with the students that are not being served?

    Bottom line: watch Washington, DC. They are about to level the playing field and allow the school principals to unload the deadwood teachers. I know that won’t be in “solidarity” with these teachers, but it may end up improving the end result of actually educating the students as poorly served as those in OUSD.


    Robert Bobb used to be D.C. school board president. I am hoping if he comes back (as suggested by Chip Johnson), maybe we can start some radical change here that would actually, for the first time, put the students first.

    Measure N will do nothing to break the pathetic abuse of power by the union. While they’re in “solidarity,” 50% of OUSD students drop out (70% for African American males).

    Districts like Piedmont, Walnut Creek and those in Marin can afford teachers with a mind set of a plumber union member, but underclass populations in Oakland and Washington DC are paying the price for this “solidarity.” And, of course, we know what happens to teenagers in Oakland who drop out and have no hope of a real future: a crime rate that is the worst west of the Mississippi. And in that way, the rest of us pay the price. Pathetic.

  • John

    Jim: You correctly state that, “Many low-income Oakland residents making more than the Federal cut off will be hurt by the additional $120 they will have to pay. They may also be stressed by the permanent $195 parcel tax that was passed in February and looking at future property tax payments of $315 might be the straw that breaks their hold on home ownership.”

    It is refreshing to hear an associate of the (OEA) teacher union make this important point.

    Here is a true case study: Two families purchased separate homes in 1991, one in Oakland and the other in San Francisco. These two properties were purchased for the same exact price (giving them both the same Prop. 13 cost basis). The property purchased in San Francisco is now worth almost twice as much as the property purchased in Oakland, yet the current tax on the Oakland property (with special assessments) is one third HIGHER than the property tax on the San Francisco property.

    As another articulate contributor to this blog (Nextset) puts it: “Oakland once was nice real estate. Not now. Perhaps in the future it will be again but things will have to change.”

    It’s burdensome enough owning Real Estate in the City of Oakland as it is (Don’t forget Measure EE). Until things change for the better (if they do) it’s best to hold off on adding another (parcel tax) straw that could well break more home owner backs.

  • David

    to the reader: “Oakie” a lot of good women and men; union women and men, sacrificed to make the workplace safe and free OF reprisals from the “bosses”. You seem to long for the good ol’ days. There are many reasons why OUSD isn’t doing as well as it can – educating our students. The chief one, in my view, is the incompetence that I find at district headquarters. You are part right – there are some of my colleagues who need to move on. But your anti-union diatribe is useless to the students of OUSD.

    fyi – there are interns, in the classroom RIGHT NOW who are working for FREE!!! The district doesn’t have its act together with fingerprinting and there are dedicated, new teachers, working for FREE!! You heard me. They haven’t signed contracts and they re not getting paid.

    Thank you all you interns who show up everyday, in the face of an incompetent administration.

    Solidarity – Oakland Education Association!

  • Cranky Teacher

    Oakie, your political slant is clear: Unions bad for kids. However, your “deadwood” comment is typical of people who want to spin education as straight political issue, and misses a lot.

    Here is the reality: Districts like Oakland have severe teacher SHORTAGES in all areas, depending every year on an army of TFA and intern teachers to just hold the classroom doors open. These shortages are nationwide, and for math and science they extend to the suburbs as well. By 2010, the country needs to find 2.5 million new teachers to fill the ranks depleted by retirements and straight up frustration. Half of all new teachers quit in the first five years.

    Oakland pays a starting salary of 38K in one of the most expensive regions in the world. That is the lowest in Alameda County. They have just asked us to keep that salary structure frozen for three MORE years after a seven-year de facto freeze.

    So, now, with all that, you want to get rid of the “deadwood.” I hear you. My own children have been taught by public school teachers who have no business still be allowed in the classroom after a track record of failure. But in Oakland, anyway, getting rid of “burnt out” teachers or ones who were never good to begin with is simply not feasible overall: It means more classes will be taught by year-long subs.

    Finally, the most important point to me: Teachers are not properly trained, supported or assessed, so the schools could not efficiently get rid of “deadwood” if they wanted to. Principals at large schools don’t really know who is doing a good job. They have to rely on rumors, personalities or, if they are really on top of it, twice a year visits of 40 minutes. Or they can just be ageist (and stupid) and get rid of all the older teachers, who cost more.

    Frankly, if you have never worked in education I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. The reality of the situation is so different than your average office job (which I have also done). The lack of resources, beginning with manpower and time, are just astonishing — yet astonish nobody because they have been the norm for so long.

    For once I agree with John: Teachers can’t do this alone.

  • Nextset

    Just for the record.. I think that Unions are essential regardless if the workers are plumbers, Kaiser physicians, Nurses, Teachers, Police or streetsweepers. And by “Union” I mean having a “PAC” as well as the membership union. Look what it’s done for the CA prison guards.

    From the days of trade guilds to the 20th Century Labor Movement, working people and working professionals must have a larger voice than the individual.

    And I’ve warned the self employed to join their trade groups and associations – the self preservation issues there are sometimes discrete and hard to see, the associations provide early warning of issues that will hurt you.

    Worker’s Of the World, Unite!

    PS: Are people finding my political views surprising or inconsistent? What do you expect, anyway… Catholic Grade Schools, Public High Schools, UC Professional School. Criminal and Civil Law Practice.

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset, are you admitting that you are “Oakie”?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Some may think that Jack O’Connell had a conflict of interest in placing Oakland parcel 1.8 charter school tax as part of Measure N.

    Jim Mordecai

    Schools Chief O’Connell Recognized as ”Charter School Supporter of the Year”
    Thu Mar 6, 2008 10:43am EST

    The California Charter Schools Association today recognized California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell as “Charter School Supporter of the Year” annual Hart Vision Award recipient. O’Connell accepted his award prior to his keynote speech at the 15th Annual California Charter Schools Conference in Sacramento.

    Caprice Young, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

    “O’Connell’s bold leadership has been absolutely critical to breaking down barriers and allowing high-quality charter schools to thrive. It is our pleasure to award Superintendent O’Connell with our ‘Charter School Supporter of the Year’ award.”

    About the California Charter Schools Association

    The California Charter Schools Association is the membership and professional organization serving 687 charter public schools that serve an estimated 240,000 charter school students in the state of California. The Association’s mission is to improve student
    achievement by supporting and expanding California’s quality charter public school movement.

  • Renee S

    I am a taxpayer and resident of Oakland. I will be voting NO on Measure N because aside from the issues already raised against the measure, there is no assurance of how the money will be actually distributed. In the past this has been a problem, even with a supposed community review board. So, while Katy says that it “could” result in a 7% raise if the money were distributed equally, it will more likely be given to a group of teachers that will be designated at the whim or will of the administration. It could end up rewarding those with certain test score results, or those who have higher Open Court results, or those willing to perform extra duties, or those who are deemed outstanding by any other arbitrary (not yet disclosed) criteria.

    And is “teachers” inclusive or exclusive? Does it cover only those professionals working full time in classrooms, is it limited to certain schools, with certain populations, with certain years of experience or education levels ? ? ?

    I have been disappointed by the allocation of bond measures in the past and I will no longer support them. I hope everyone will join me in voting NO! on Measure N in November.

  • Catherine

    Teachers – you can be anonymous in this post. So I want to know the answers to a couple of questions about pay, performance and how my kid will be able to learn all she is capable of every school year.

    If you could design a fair starting salary for Oakland teachers, what would it be?

    If you could have your pay raises tied to something other than the number of years in the classroom, what would it be? (I ask this because some teachers salary keeps going up and they are a few years from retirement but do not want to be in the classroom and a K teacher at our school honestly sent two kids to therapy last year because of the yelling, requiring that they sit on the bench at recess, throwing away their work because it was not good enough, etc.)

    How should you as a teacher be measured and who should have the authority to do the measuring?

    Should every child, regardless of how much they know at the beginning of a given grade (below, at, above or significantly above grade level) have the opportunity to advance at least one grade level per year?

    Honestly, depending on whether I get answers, I am willing to get a foundation that would pay bonuses to teachers who succeed by the standards of teachers.

  • Lisa Shafer

    Here is a wonderful column my friend wrote for the Dallas Morning News on measuring teachers. I am a teacher and I agree with him. I am sorry it is long.

    Joshua Benton / Dallas Morning News / May 22, 2006
    U.S. a failure at evaluating teachers

    Three education stories that caught my eye this week:
    Item: Federal officials announce that not one single state will meet a key requirement of the No Child Left Behind law: that all teachers in core academic subjects will be deemed “highly qualified” by this fall.
    This comes as a surprise to no one. The teacher-quality portion of the law is among its most ridiculed, since its strange network of rules says some tremendous 20-year veterans aren’t good enough to teach but declares many rookies “highly qualified” before they’ve ever set foot in a classroom.
    Item: A group called the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has come up with a process designed to recognize top-notch teachers: a much-touted credential it calls National Board Certification. Hundreds of millions of public dollars have been spent promoting it.
    So the board hires a noted researcher to prove that National Board teachers really produce better results in their students.
    But the researcher finds the opposite: Kids whose teachers had National Board certification didn’t score any higher than anyone else.
    The National Board, despite paying for the study and helping design it, declines to release the results publicly.
    Item: The Washington Post reports that suburban kids, as an alternative to high-priced tutors, are hiring their homework helpers offshore. Companies are now hiring smart folks in India and elsewhere to offer one-on-one tutoring sessions to American teens over the Internet.
    But American teacher unions say they think those overseas tutors should have to meet detailed American teacher-certification requirements before getting their hands on a big pot of federal money.
    Three different stories, but one consistent theme: The ways we have to judge a teacher’s quality aren’t very good.
    Check that: The ways the government has to judge a teacher’s quality aren’t very good. After all, wasn’t it always pretty easy to tell which teachers were good when you were a kid?
    Miss Johnson always had a good lesson plan, had answers to all your questions and made you interested in the subject she was teaching. Miss Smith always took naps during “quiet time,” lectured in a dull monotone and sometimes seemed a textbook chapter behind her students.
    Not too hard to tell the difference, is it? So why is it so hard for the government?
    The problem is that teacher quality gets evaluated on credentials, not quality. How many hours of math classes you took in college. Whether you’ve filled out the paperwork for a certain certificate. Whether you’ve gone back to get a master’s degree.
    The federal “highly qualified” standard, for instance, is primarily about what hoops a teacher has jumped through, not how good of a teacher she is.
    But there are awful certified teachers and terrific uncertified ones. There are amazing teachers with just a bachelor’s degree and terrible ones with a doctorate. Plenty of research has shown that quality doesn’t align neatly with credentials.
    Differentiating good teachers from bad ones has always been a touchy subject. Take salary. Great running backs get paid more than benchwarmers. Great trial lawyers get paid more than mediocre ones. So shouldn’t the best teachers get paid more than the worst?
    In Dallas ISD, an amazingly talented 15-year veteran teacher makes $46,176. And a thoroughly mediocre 15-year veteran teacher makes…$46,176.
    (There are a few ways those figures can budge by a couple thousand bucks. But they’re tied to things like job titles and credentials – not individual performance.)
    There have been a few stabs at “merit pay” proposals around the country, but most have flopped. Teachers, rightly, have complained that most such plans would reward teachers primarily on their students’ test scores. That’s not fair because teachers in Dallas get different kids to work with than teachers in Highland Park or Plano.
    But why can’t a teacher’s quality be judged the way everyone else’s is? Not on some mechanized system tied to test scores, but by their bosses’ evaluation of their performance.
    Once a year, their bosses evaluate their performance and adjust their pay accordingly. A top-notch teacher might get a 10 percent raise. Someone struggling might get none at all. Educators talk about wanting to give principals more autonomy – why not give them the power to reward good work?
    Sure, some principals might play favorites. (Some schools tend to have a whiff of All My Children about them, full of feuds, alliances and backbiting.)
    But some bosses play favorites in the private sector, too. We don’t respond by saying every American gets the same 2 percent raise every year. And there’s no reason the folks in a school district’s central office can’t watch their principals and make sure they’re not giving out raises inappropriately.
    The point is to reward excellence. And the great thing about a system that rewards excellence is that it attracts the excellent.
    If a teacher knew she could be making $70,000 if she did an amazing job, wouldn’t that attract some talented folks who otherwise might not consider teaching?
    And if a teacher knew her raise was tied to her performance, wouldn’t that push her even harder to do the best job she possibly could?
    The point is that principals know who their best teachers are. They should be rewarded for being the best – not for jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

  • ex OUSD staff

    Teacher salary is only part of it and probably not the biggest part. Teachers in Oakland get very little support and they have a huge workload. There are way too few counselors, clerical staff, nurses and janitors to meet the needs of the district. Administrations change just as they build momentum. To a classroom teacher, it often seems that if 1025 Second Ave. does anything, it will do it wrong, late, or not at all. After 3 decades of cutbacks in California, teachers are probably working twice as hard as they did a generation ago. This is not just an Oakland issue. Teach for America placements are up 28% this year. 50% of new teachers quit within five years. This is not a problem that is going to go away by tossing a few bucks at a couple of teachers here and there. This is major national crisis and needs to be met with major national resources.

  • Catherine

    Ex OUSD Staff:

    I just have to say that in the private sector, the amount of work and the number of hours I have to work for the same pay has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. In addition to that I am paying 1/2 my medical and dental benefits, have no retirements other than what I contribute to a 401k plan (to be fair is matched at 25% up to $5,000 per year) and my sick leave and vacation pay has be converted to Paid Time Off – a total of 14 days a year after 10 years on the job.

    What I see in the “administration” in public schools is the same sort of “administration” I see in the private sector. What I think the difference is – long term teachers and employees in the private sector remember what it was like in the good ole days.