Masked Oakland teachers protest pay, conditions

photo courtesy of Craig Gordon, Oakland Education Association

Oakland teachers, who have been working without a contract for a year, gave a new meaning to school board drama last night; they greeted the new superintendent and the school board behind theater masks. According to union president Betty Olson-Jones, the masks were “a visual representation of the state administration from a teachers perspective.”

“Teachers have been treated like cogs in a wheel, like pawns on a chessboard,” she said, before adding that “A teacher’s working conditions are a child’s learning conditions.”

So, yes, plenty of familiar rhetoric, but there were a number of new voices, too. Teachers talked about larger class sizes this fall, the scarcity of special needs aides, new testing for kindergartners (timing how fast they can read the alphabet), losing great teachers to better-paying school districts, and the challenges posed by high staff turnover.

A teacher at an elementary school in the hills was so choked up she could barely get her story out: The school secretary, who apparently was being paid late, had just had a lock put on her apartment because she wasn’t able to make the rent.

On school financing: The teachers made a case for the new superintendent, Tony Smith, and school board to change or do away with Oakland’s school budgeting system, which was designed to give schools more flexibility and autonomy in spending. Some love “Results-Based Budgeting,” and some hate it. It’s controversial, because not only is each school responsible for setting its own budget, but its actual teacher salaries come out of its bottom line. So if a school has a bunch of new teachers on the lower end of the salary scale, it has more money left over for other things.

Union leaders — who are, for the most part, veteran teachers — say principals are under pressure to hire more new, lower-paid teachers so they have more money for other expenses. (Principals: Is this true?)

On charter schools: No surprises here. The publicly funded, independently run (and in Oakland, union-free) charter schools were blasted by one speaker after the next. California Connections Academy, a home-based, online charter school model that wants to open a Bay Area headquarters in Oakland, took a good deal of public ridicule. (“I really thought I had heard everything, seen everything, until I heard the last presentation,” Olson-Jones told the board.)

Some bargaining background: In late June, just before the new superintendent started and the board regained much more of its governing authority, then-State Administrator Vince Matthews declared impasse in contract negotiations, a move that rankled the union. Impasse means a neutral mediator steps in and determines whether an agreement can be hashed out, or whether fact-finding should begin.

There is a pretty big gulf between the two sides, at least with salary. The union is asking for a 15 percent pay raise, across the board — it originally asked for 20 percent — and the district has proposed a 3 percent cut.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Michael Siegel

    Thank you for this report-back from the Board Meeting. (Back in the day, we could watch the meetings on cable, but no longer, I believe.)

    One detail is missing, however. When you say that the union is asking for a 15 percent pay raise, and originally asked for 20 percent, I think you should also mention that 20% is the cost of living increase since 2003. OUSD has been collecting money during the state takeover for cost of living increases for its employees, but the teachers have been forced to endure a salary freeze.

    Without the context of the last six years, your last paragraph paints OUSD as reasonable in the context of our larger economic meltdown. But that would be to forget how the district pocketed the cost of living increases — and also funneled $80m each year to obscure private contractors. The money is there to pay the teachers. Let’s not buy into the district/state takeover propaganda.

  • Nextset

    Workers of the world unite.

    I think things are going to get pretty dire, and within 12-24 months. But no matter what happens the workers – in this case the teachers – need to organize and co-ordinate their voices and their needs and wants. Without that the employers can get away with lying and deceit in relations with the workers.

    Open dialogue and open books.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for providing some context to the raw bargaining numbers I presented, Michael.

    Which OUSD employees (“its employees”), exactly, are you referring to with respect to cost-of-living adjustments?

  • Michael Siegel

    Hi Katy, I was talking about the teachers in particular. From what I know, the district’s funding is tied to a cost of living assessment that usually increases by a certain percentage each year (i.e., 4% or 5%). I have seen estimates that OUSD ‘s cost of living increases since 2003 are about 21%.

    I think many of us would agree that, big picture, the Oakland schools need to be spending *at least* the same proportion of total funding on teachers. (In fact, we probably need to be spending a higher proportion of dollars on teachers, and a lower proportion on middle management/consultants who do not support classroom learning.) Teachers are the ones with the kids, plain and simple. They are the ones that can make the biggest difference.

    I also think teacher’s assistants, food service workers and custodial staff can make a similar argument. They are providing core, essential services and should not receive a diminishing wage.

  • Da Chomp

    David Montes is the best kept secret for OUSD! Not one new one has opened under his watch in over 2 years.Keep up the good work. If you can deny the Native school, we got something here!

    Oakland schools for Oakland kids and down with those non union charters! I thought it was a bad idea when the OEA spoke well of him and voiced their support, but they knew something we did not.

    Keep up the good work and fight! Viva la Union!

  • district employee

    I’m not a Principal, but I can say that most of them prefer a mix of new and veteran teachers on staff. The amount of money it takes to support a new teacher to get the results Principals are held accountable for is pretty comparable to an average or above-average salary.

    Interestingly enough, a lot of the “private contractor” money goes to organizations and agencies that provide supports for new teachers – either through coaching or other support staff.

  • Katy Murphy

    According to the timeline on the OUSD charter school office Web page, four charters have opened since 2008. All of them, though, are associated with existing schools.


  • TheTruthHurts

    Katy, way back when all this negotiating stuff started (I think in early ’08 if you can believe that) there was a presentation on the board’s website that sorta dealt with this cost of living thing. As I remember it, it actually showed MORE than 20% increases from the state. However, it showed that healthcare had gone up over 60% in the same timeframe. I believe the suggestion was that the increases had been spent on total compensation but not all on salary.

    Were you at that meeting?

  • Katy Murphy

    I do remember that now, and I’ll be sure to include that presentation in my next post about bargaining.

    Thanks for jogging my memory. Health care costs are — as they were during the near-strike in 2006 — a big part of this equation.

  • cranky teacher

    Thank you Michael. There was an argument on here months ago about the 20 percent demand and nobody, including me, thought to point out that in seven years, COLA (Cost of Living Allowance)would naturally range from 10-25% depending on the actual inflation numbers. 2-3 percent is the usual COLA, the way the Fed fights down inflation.

    I think the OEA (the oakland teachers’ union) has perhaps done a bit of a poor job in the past in messaging this?

  • cranky teacher

    Just used the Social Security site to find their national COLA increases from 2002-2009: 24.3%

    Not sure exactly when we date the last Oakland teachers’ raise from.

    My understanding that after the big pay raise around 2000, the next contract rolled it way (all? most of the way?) back to 1999 numbers. Not sure about that though. If that was the case, the COLA gap would be even higher.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Glad you got numbers to put a face on what is happening to the US workers. You haven’t seen anything yet. We are in the process of experiencing a Soviet Style cramdown in standards of living – engineered by the US Government. Congress and the Executive Branch knows what they are doing (and they are at the same time protecting themselves, their families and their friends which doesn’t include you and I).

    National policy on flooding the country with 3rd worlders, “Free” education, “Free” trade, “Free” health care and other entitlements, “Free” International Police actions and unlimited printing press money to pay for all of it guarantees massive inflation and depreciation of your paychecks. And that’s all good with them, because they have no allegiance to you, your class or people like you. They are doing all this for other people.

    You are paying for the “Free”. Others are getting the benefit. And the trend is increasing not decreasing.

    Brave New World.