Contract, imposed

It was unanimous. All seven members of the Oakland school board voted to immediately implement a contract for teachers — the same offer, made in December, that the union membership rejected.

Much of the audience cleared out soon after the vote — including me, because the district’s wireless Internet access was down, so I had to run home and send the story before my 9:15 deadline. But as I headed for the door, I heard Superintendent Tony Smith talking about new beginnings and pay increases for teachers. I stopped and pulled out my laptop again. Here’s what I was able to get down:

We agree that teachers in Oakland deserve higher compensation, deserve deeper appreciation for the work that they’re doing every day. This is an opportunity to finally and fundamentally close the chapter of state administration. … the board moved to protect current salaries. There were no takeaways …

We as staff are dedicated to managing the organization in ways that will increase compensation for all employees. … fundamentally close what’s been happening and open a new chapter. …

As we engage this dialogue, we must address money, we must address conditions and we must address content. We have to change the way we do business. … (asks for) direction from the board … to begin this process anew.

David De Leeuw, bargaining chair for the OEA, was on the other side of the door. He didn’t hear Smith’s comments. He said he looked forward to hearing them later on the news, but he wasn’t ready for an olive branch — or, as he put it “nice words after you slam the door in my face.”

Ben Visnick, the former OEA president who’s running for Gary Yee’s seat on the Oakland school board, said during the meeting that even Randy Ward, “the Boston bully,” bargained with the teachers and reached a settlement “at the 11th hour.”

But the school board members said the collective bargaining process wasn’t working — judging by the two-plus years without a settlement — and that the two sides needed to work together differently. David Kakishiba noted that he’s spent well over a year trying to forge a coalition around a local parcel tax that would generate $20 to $25 million a year for employee salaries. But, he said, “we get stuck on the same issues.”

So, what next? Will teachers go for an extended strike? How will Smith be able to build trust between the union and the district after this unprecedented move?

Katy Murphy

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

  • harlemmoon

    This is a classic case of walking the straight path toward destruction. No one should be surprised by what happens when we reach our destination.

    For all the talk, all the posturing and, yes, even the saber-rattling, all sides are back on the unconscionable perch of, as Mr. Roundtree called it, “warfare.”

    Every volley fired from here on is yet another slug to the heart of OUSD, making it darn near impossible for the district to ever reach a place of stability – much less meaningful progress.

    And that’s a damn shame!

  • seenitbefore

    Tony Smith was given a 6% pay increase from the last superintendent’s salary upon being hired by OUSD. Boardmember Spearman announced tonight that the board recently gave themselves a raise…. some small amount….but that’s not the point.

    The Administration spends millions of dollars on Si Swun Math, outside consultants and ridiculous “professional development” that wastes teachers time when they need to be focusing attention of the needs of the students in their classroom.

    Tonight’s decision is a slap in the face to the hard working teachers in OUSD.

    It is also a slap in the face to Oakland students who will ultimately suffer the consequences of this asinine and self serving decision by the board.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Wow. I have to say this is unfortunate, but not unexpected. Two years of bargaining? After two years of bargaining, I don’t think anyone could be blameless, District or union. How long is long enough to bargain? 3 years? 5 years?

    There is definitely something draconian about the thought of imposing. Katy said Capistrano imposed a 10% reduction. What did OUSD impose?

  • Another Oakland educator

    What is disturbing is the political power that OEA has. I’m a teacher in OUSD and am opposed to the strike. I do not see where the money would come from. I value the coaching I get from Swun math, as well as the professional development the district offers. There are many teachers such as myself who don’t speak out against OEA because there’s such an “Us V Them” mentality, and to criticize OEA is to be with them. I don’t know what I’ll do next week – I know what the reprecusions are for crossing the picket line. It’s just a really sad time in OUSD, in the education system across the nation. Why can’t we focus on that? So much wasted energy.

  • rayjmama

    I’m an OUSD parent and I don’t think I fully understand the issue here. It seems the sticking points are keeping class sizes the same, raising teacher salaries and keeping adult education. Those are all things I can get behind. But is the moneyactually there (somewhere) or is that part of the problem? Is the district hoarding cash somewhere and not sharing with the teachers? Or is there just not money available? Please share your opinions so I can make an educated decision on whether or not to send my child to school on 4/29. Thanks

  • Curious

    Another Oakland Educator – what are the consequences for a teacher crossing the picket line?

  • Harold

    @another Oakland educator – why don’t you go get a job at a charter school or a private school? no unions there to deal with…

    This district is a union shop. You knew that coming in. If you cross the (one-day) picket line, you are making a HUGE statement that i’m sure the other Teachers at your site will not forget!

    OEA has so much “political power”? Yeah right … we just had a contract imposed on us and we are so “powerful”?

    Sounds like the right-wing has done a incredible job undermining unions in the schools.

  • Sue

    I’m also an OUSD parent, and have been for 14 years. My advice to you is, *don’t* send your child to school next Thursday – for *your* *child’s* sake.

    Last time the schools were scheduled to close for a one-day strike (cancelled at the last minute due to an 11th-hour contract settlement), there was no way to know who would be in the classrooms with students, or even be sure that anyone at all would be there. It’s simply not safe. Your kid could be one of the unfortunate ones dumped in an unsupervised situation with a handful of students of all ages – subjected to bullying, physical abuse, anything at all.

    It’s a risk, though, I’ll freely admit, a very small one. Yes, there was very little of any sort of problems way back when this happened the last time. But my husband and I kept our kids at home. And there were a few minor incidents around the district. But without the teachers in their classrooms, there’s no benefit from sending the kids to school. They won’t be learning anything. So, why take a risk, even a small one, when there’s absolutely nothing to be gained for it?

    The only reason I heard during the last (almost) strike was that kids had nowhere else to go for the day and the parent had to work – so the empty school was the only available babysitting option. If that’s your situation, I can understand completely. You’ll be making the best of your situation and your child’s. But if you have any other options for that day, take them instead – they’ll be the better choices.

  • Harold

    To the parents who read this blog … call your representative in Congress (Barbara Lee) for most of Oakland, and tell him/her that our schools are too big to fail.

    Wall Street, literally, bullied Congress into giving them the TARP bailout. Those printing presses can work for our schools too!

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    Another Oakland Educator & all other teachers who leave comments: If you are willing, it would be helpful if you generally stated your teaching career history and general life circumstances. It would give us the background information we need to help understand your particular perspective.

    A.O.E., I’m imagining you are fairly young, probably without a family and not really thinking much about what will help you tolerate this job over the long haul. Perhaps I’m wrong. But I believe it is going to be mostly young teachers – particularly if they are short-timer temps like TFA and OTF-types – that will be most likely to be dismissive of the goals of the OEA.

    When I was a recent college graduate and new member of the nursing profession, I was quite uninterested in getting involved with defending labor issues. I was living in a state that didn’t have a nurses union, and a small movement arose to start one. As I got older, I realized that I hadn’t cued into what the pro-union people were fighting for at all. At that point in my life, the benefits they wanted the hospital to provide for us seemed irrelevant and abstract.

    In those years I was more preoccupied with perfecting my day-to-day job skills, enjoying a steady income for the first time in my life, having a good time on my days off, and looking for love. In my youth, I could easily work all kinds of hours and situations, and would never complain – such is the physical and mental stamina of youth.

    Looking back on it now, I realize that I was in a phase of my life where I could just focus on myself and didn’t have to worry about my future being secure. I fit perfectly into Erikson’s developmental stage of the young adult (age 20-34). I wasn’t yet married, hadn’t started a family, and hadn’t thought about buying a house. I hadn’t yet been subjected to all the other difficult things that inevitably come along in maturing life like financial, mental, and physical health problems and crises of my immediate family and other loved ones.

    A few years ago, I was listening to a public radio talk show about the make up of the U.S. work force. A young person called in to bitterly complain about all the older workers he knew who weren’t willing to “work as hard” as he did and to express his resentment about the amount of time they took off. The wise guest advised him to call back in about 25 to 30 years and let everyone know how he was seeing things then.

    To me, a reasonably compensated and fair work environment is what unions exist to fight for, and they are very valuable to that. The OEA isn’t asking for too much considering that what Oakland teachers get is at the bottom of the barrel (if you haven’t, read the fact finding report). Everyone complains about the extent of teacher inexperience and high turnover in OUSD, and the harm that it has on kids. If you care about your students, you should support OEA’s proposal because it is a long term goal that could help alleviate that situation. I hope the OEA can get some of their demands met and I wish them well.

    PS: We should ALL channel this frustration by going to Sacramento and storming the doors of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mansion. He is a huge Milton Friedman fan, so naturally despises the fact that governments are involved with supplying public education. So, school districts have been utterly abandoned.

    In Illinois: “An estimated 15,000 people gathered at the Capitol in Springfield Wednesday calling for a tax increase that could stave off major budget cuts. The gathering, dubbed the “Save Our State” rally virtually shut down traffic around the Capitol building and is expected to be one of the largest demonstrations ever in Springfield.” (Huffington Post)

  • Tim

    I’m an OUSD parent and have great respect for the teachers at my school, but they aren’t exempt from the recession impacting the rest of the world.

    Kakishiba was spot on when he said the process here had proven itself not to work. Go Tony. I believe he’s being honest with all sides in this.

    We should have zero tolerance for those who disrupt our childrens’ educations with a strike. Reagan got it right — if they won’t show up for work, find others who will.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Rayjmama and others.

    I believe the issue is money. Clearly if the district fired all of its custodians, HR department, security, police, principals, it could give teachers a substantial raise. So, some might say, it’s an issue of priorities. I think that’s silly and so I think it’s money.

    I’ve looked over the District’s site, the unions financial proposal and perused the fact-finders report (at least the recommendations). The District offered 0% and OEA demanded 15%. That’s a big gap. The factfinder recommended 2% for 1/2 year in 2012. Given that backdrop, who was being more realistic about money for the last two years of bargaining?

    Frankly, if I were OEA, I’d be more interested in a conversation about how to bring Oakland to the median of salaries for the county rather than striking over not receiving a paltry 2% in 2012. What’s the financial difference between 2% in 2012 vs. 0% now and conversation about how to get to the median? Or is this about anger, frustration and “respect” more than terms and conditions?

    It’s clear to me that if OUSD is to do anything substantial (more than 2-3%), they are going to have to get creative. Recently, I’ve been hearing about another parcel tax. I’ve got serious doubts about that working right now, but it certainly won’t work with teachers out on strike. It certainly won’t work if teachers are opposed. What is morally the righteous opposition that’s preventing teachers supporting a tax to get 15% vs. squeezing the last blood out of a district where the factfinder said they could only pay 2%, in 2012?

    That seems like a lot of wasted effort for very little reward. But hey, what do I know?(opening for personal attacks)

    I’m sure Reagan is somewhere in hell getting a little joy at watching these groups fight each other over crumbs leaving them too distracted to see the bankers make off with the real money in this economy while producing NOTHING and while funding tea party’ers to fight new taxes to properly fund education. I’m sure this mess is giving him a grin.

  • Sam

    We teachers are not asking for an enormous pay raise. Of course we know the district is hurting. But part of the problem is that we didn’t get decent pay raises before the recession, either, because Oakland seems to always be in crisis mode (a la Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine). Working for OUSD is kind of like being a child in a dysfunctional family… you don’t ever get to assert your own needs because the grown-ups are always too involved in their own drama.

    For those who say the money is not there… It’s true there is not a lot of money anywhere right now. But the impartial factfinder came up with some suggestions (eg, creating an account for any new sources of money that comes into the district, to be designated exclusively for class size reduction and teacher pay increases), and the district just ignored them all, refused to negotiate any more, and imposed.

  • Ms. J.

    In response to number 11, it is hard for me to believe you respect the teachers at your school if you think they should be fired for any ‘others who will…show up to work’ (by crossing a picket line).

  • Union Supporter-But

    @ Sharon Higgins: 55, two sons, union member, grew up in a union family and spend my school day covering for three OUSD teachers who have been written up, do not know content for their grade levels, and have left students year after year without the basic state standard knowledge to advance.

    You and others in our union say it is the principal’s job to get rid of these teachers. There are over two full reams of documentation on each teacher, yet the union has stepped in to protect their jobs. The school has taken money out of the funds my classroom needed for microscopes to provide training and a substitute for one teacher who NEVER SHOWED UP TO THE TRAINING. The principal said she had to reimburse the school, the union said no. No training, no microscopes.

    We have many more good teachers than bad at my site – but several teachers have been given opportunities and the students in these classes are suffering. I am picking up the slack in the next grade. We both know the amount of content knowledge required in the average grade is beyond what most of us have time to teach. When I get students from this class, I literally have nearly two full school years’ material to cover.

    Shame on us for allowing this to continue. I want a raise, but our school could afford the raises and classroom materials if the bad teachers were gone.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    I have always supported our union, and I have no intention of working on Thursday the 29th, provided the date is not moved again. Quite honestly, the bouncing around of the one-day strike date has been somewhat nerve frazzling. I covered a social studies class today, and a couple of the students asked me why I was scabbing on strike day; apparently not all the kids were aware of the most recent time shift. The class in general was more manic than I’ve seen in some time.

    So I’m feeling the atmosphere and certainly don’t look forward to any strike lasting more than one day. Hope I don’t sound fatalistic, but a whole lot of teachers all over the state have received pink slips, and a lengthy strike at the end of the school year might not be the soundest economic gamble.

    Again, I’ve always been a union teacher. If it weren’t for our teachers’ unions, we might still be making the kinds of salaries presumed sufficient for kindhearted ladies who depend on our husbands or parents for most of our life sustenance. There’s some comfort, too, in the promise of due process and, if necessary, legal representation should something go weirdly sour on the job. I’ve heard some very disturbing stories about teacher salaries and job conditions in non-union states. Union teachers are generally less burdened with the stigma of the do-gooder chump.

    But we also work with children who are easily enough thrown off course without this kind of stormy climate, and the entire state is also shouldering a serious recession. So I’m taking a bath and going to bed early. I’ve got a headache.

  • Richard Thompson

    Oakland Teachers know that we’re in a recession more than others. We’ve been in one since the State take over. Welcome to our world.

  • Teri Gruenwald

    Full disclosure: 21st year teacher in New Haven USD and a parent of two in OUSD.

    For Tim: you say, “We should have zero tolerance for those who disrupt our childrens’ educations with a strike. Reagan got it right — if they won’t show up for work, find others who will.”

    I find this objectionable. Teachers have the right to strike and of course, you have the right to cross the picket line. It is part of the collective bargaining process, and a necessary tool in negotiation. The district has imposed their last best offer which is unacceptable, especially in light of the salary and perks and benefits district administrators make and the fact that our Board of Ed actually earns money and health care benefits to oversee a broken system. Everyone expects teachers to sacrfice. What are these other players doing to actually help reduce the deficit–even it’s a small gesture of the board eliminating its salary and benefits and the superintendent and other administrators taking pay cuts.

  • Teri Gruenwald

    One more thing:
    Union-Supporter But… you say, “You and others in our union say it is the principal’s job to get rid of these teachers. There are over two full reams of documentation on each teacher, yet the union has stepped in to protect their jobs. The school has taken money out of the funds my classroom needed for microscopes to provide training and a substitute for one teacher who NEVER SHOWED UP TO THE TRAINING. The principal said she had to reimburse the school, the union said no. No training, no microscopes.”

    It is still the job of the administrator and district to get rid of the teacher and for the union to provide representation. That is what the union does, and if you ever needed representation, you would be grateful. These teachers did not become bad teachers over night. Administrators often do not do their job–to observe, evaluate, and offer remediation to teachers who aren’t living up to the expectations of their job. I’ve seen it at my own site and know it’s true at so many other sites.

    Also, other teachers can apply pressure on teachers who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing in a non-evaluative way. But still, if an administrator sat in that teachers room every day, there would be a change. If an administrator demanded lesson plans be turned in, showed up unexpectedly at different times, there would probably be change. And if the administrator required that departments develop PLCs that are meaningful, then there easily could be change.