On YouTube, Oakland superintendent explains decision to impose contract

Tony Smith tells us why he asked the board to impose a contract on the Oakland teachers union in this video. He says he’s “personally committed” to finding the means to raise employee compensation.

Katy Murphy

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

  • oakland resident

    I find it ironic that youtube is a blocked site on most OUSD computers

  • harlemmoon

    Here is a snippet from a column by syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr.
    It speaks to the “entitlement” of some teachers’ unions.

    “The perception is that you all, over the years, have put job security in front of the welfare of kids,” journalist Carl Bernstein told American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “There is something to that perception.”
    Yes, there is.
    Teachers unions need to understand they’re overplaying their hand. At a time when many Americans are out of work or taking furlough days or accepting pay cuts, there is little sympathy for organizations that — by virtue of brute political force — keep demanding more public money and less accountability without giving an inch.
    For their part, teachers could do themselves a lot of good at the moment by being less defensive in the face of criticism and not simply falling back on the convenient old saw that anyone who hasn’t taught in a classroom isn’t entitled to an opinion about how the educational system ought to work.
    Sorry, no sale. The public schools operate on our dime. The students are our kids, and whether they succeed will help determine our country’s future. This makes us major stakeholders who deserve to have a voice in how this enterprise goes forward.
    If hearing it makes teachers and teachers unions angry, then so be it.

  • Yet Another Oakland Teacher

    Can’t wait to see what the boss has to say when I get home around 6:30 tonight. Using a format that the teachers in question can’t access in a timely manner is yet another example of how the district sometimes doesn’t think through through how their actions come across to the rank and file, and the community we serve.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I was checking the District site and the same video is there. http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/ousd/site/default.asp

    Hope that’s accessible from the District’s network. That would be bad if it wasn’t.

  • harlemmoon

    One shouldn’t be trolling websites on business time anyway! Sheesh, people. Watch when you get home – on your own time – like the rest of the civilized world.

  • The real issue

    Granted, Oakland Resident was posting during school business hours, but every teacher I know works at home during their own time. I don’t think the rest of the ‘civilized world’ puts out 10 to 12 hour days and is exempt from overtime.

    I think looking at a youtube video put out by the district superintendent is a legit use of time.

  • Gordon Danning


    Gee, teachers do get lunch breaks. And the official work day is (in high school) something like 8 am to 3:30. If I get to school at 7:30, I can’t check my email? Really?

  • Oakland Teacher

    He is such a good speaker. Hmmm… I wonder if we could rent him out to raise some money for raises?

    The 6% raise Mr Smith got should be good for something different than the status quo (or the “new status quo” as they are calling our imposed contract).

    Re the teacher who responded during the school day: We are allowed (by federal/state employment law) breaks. Or are there people who think that we shouldn’t have those either? I can’t seem to do more than run to the bathroom during mine, but am happy that there are teachers who get to do more than that. We all work many unpaid hours, so to even comment on it is ridiculous. I am always amazed at my friends (with “regular” non-teaching jobs), who email frequently during the work day (I get the jokes when I come home), sending on jokes, etc… I think it is very common in most jobs nowadays and that teachers do it far less than anyone else.

    Why are there so many people who hate teachers out there? I can’t figure it out. I have many children and have only had one dud teacher, but even she was not worthy of hate.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Having worked for years in assorted corporations, I have to laugh at the noble comments regarding “the rest of the civilized world.”

    If “civilized” means rolling into work at 9:30, hanging around the coffee and bagel room until 10:00, surfing a little porn, doing a little Christmas shopping, taking a leisurely lunch, maybe a nap in the car, and spending the afternoon in a meeting to discuss all the work everybody ought to be doing one of these days, then teachers are surely uncivilized, because we’re ON at 8:00 in the morning and for every minute of every hour that our audience spends in the room.

    And if you don’t think teachers put in 10 and 12 hour days, you’ve never graded 120 student essays.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I believe the anti-teacher comments are primarily motivated by right-wing ideology.

  • Katy Murphy

    I keep hearing about Tony Smith’s “raise.” Is that referring to the difference in pay between the superintendent and his predecessor, Roberta Mayor? Smith is undeniably well compensated, even by superintendent standards ($275,000 in total compensation, plus a total of $60,000 toward his retirement in 2012, depending on his performance review), but I’m not aware of any raises he’s received since he started July 1.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Re post # 10 above. What is your experience with the right wing and teacher merit pay?

    I think the left wing are prone to blame the teachers whenever the chillun’ don’t score the same as Ken and Barbie. Is your experience similar to this?

  • aly

    the fact that he can say all of this with a straight face knowing that he negotiated his pay HIGHER to come here makes me sick.

    earlier the idea of a working-strike was mentioned (i think i’m bungling the name- help), where teachers would only work their contracted hours. the problem with something like that is teachers are already accustomed to working far beyond their contracts because it is what is best for their students. good teachers, i think, wouldn’t be able to restrict themselves to just the 8-3:30 because in the end it is the kids who would be hurt and that’s just not fair or effective- they don’t decide our contract.

    i wish the union were far more honest and discriminating about who they protect, because i genuinely believe that protecting bad teachers hinders their efforts. that being said, i appreciate that they fight to make my income (more) equal to my effort. as much as i love my kids and i love this work, i can’t tell you how tempting it is to see friends of mine work 30-40 less hours a week and make 20-30k/year more than i do.

    this action seems to beg for a more serious strike to follow, and i’m really curious to see how the union responds in the coming weeks.

  • livegreen

    Woaa, everybody. This is taking a major sidetrack to a productive discussion. There are plenty of teachers and non-teachers alike who work hard for their living. There are plenty of teachers and non-teachers who work extra-long hours & are not compensated for overtime. (Though not others in public or union jobs who are as dedicated as teachers). Lets step away from the rhetoric a bit.

    a) The economy is awful. My wife was laid off 1+ years ago and our income has fallen by a bit more than 1/2. We’re struggling to continue paying our mortgage.
    b) This is the same for many not just in the private sector, but in the public too. Besides SJ & SF headlines reading city layoffs in just the past couple days, there are quite a few headlines about school districts in other cities firing teachers or cutting pay.
    c) OUSD has to reduce $85 million from its operating budget. $85 million!
    Thanks State of CA!
    d) OUSD has to close many schools
    e) OUSD Teachers ARE underpaid & they haven’t received a raise in years. They DO deserve one.

    But where will this money come from? How is the City supposed to erase this deficit without getting taken over by the State again? & if OUSD can’t do what’s right independently, will the State be kinder? This still hasn’t been explained to me. Especially as public sector deficits lag the private sector (increased taxes don’t come in until after the income of those taxed has increased).

    My first urging to teachers would be to wait a year or two to ask for a raise. Now I know OUSD teachers have already waited a long time. So my alternative compromise would be asking to lock in today a phased in raise over the next couple years starting next. That way you know you’re getting something but it can be done as the economy’s recovering, revenues start flowing, and cost cutting measures bear fruit.

    I might add, & to teachers’ points, Tony Smith & the Board might start by voluntarily taking a pay cut to show they’re participating in the solution (both practically and symbolically). But please, let us look for a solution together. In this economy there is nothing easy…

    PS. Sorry for any type o’s. I’m not a teacher.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Livegreen, you make way too much sense. Nobody on here will think your ideas have any merit. They’re grounded in reality and that alone makes them unworkable.

    BTW, I’m glad you denounced the self-righteousness on all sides. It’s annoying and unproductive to spend countless hours arguing who’s got it worse. It’s tough all over and there are stars and losers everywhere.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I believe your are right the 6% is about how much more Tony Smith is receiving than the previous Board hired interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor.

    The Tony Smith benefit I currently am focusing on I don’t believe Superintendent Mayor received. The Board’s contract provides Tony Smith with the District’s paying of his employee contribution to PERBS retirement system. I believe that contribution is 5% of 265,000 a year state and federal tax free.

    I think teachers would like a similar benefit. If it is good enough to attract Superintendent Smith, why wouldn’t it do the same for teachers in motivating them to come to Oakland?

    I am one of those that thinks the money for a 5% teacher benefit, such as Superintendent Smith negotiated for himself, is possible if the District gets its spending under control.

    For example, the District at its last Board meeting spent $85,000 to get Barbara Lee to speak for the District and send some of her earmarked money to Oakland. I assume someone in the District on the payroll could speak to Barbara Lee and save the $85,000 used to hire a Washington Lobbyist company to contact her people. I would be shocked if Representative Lee only listens to hired Washington lobbyist. But, I would still think that public education funding should not be used in lobbying Washington or Sacramento even if it is an efficient use of public school money and brings in additional federal money.

    I also don’t think it is right to spend public school funding on hiring people to write grants although there are many practical people that think otherwise and see that as a legitimate method of leveling the playing field for under-sourced schools and school districts. I think the Eli Broad of school reform embraces school leaders seeking grants as a vital role of school superintendents and principals but even if the grant writers land some grants such money is soft money and not sustainable when grant money ends.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Yastrzemski

    @ Aly… it is called “Work to Rule”, which has the teachers working only their contracted hours. I believe that would be 8:10 – 3:10.

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

    This post helps explain the intense anti-teacher rhetoric which is heard from coast to coast these days.


  • Harold

    Thanks for posting this link Sharon.

  • Nextset

    Sharon. I am convinced that the movement to tie teacher pay and retention to student test scores is likely to succeed. This will further the destruction of the public schools which seems to be an important agenda in this Brave New World. This madness is coming from both left wind and right wing of the political establishment. It is predicated on the “all people are created equal” nonsense that is the party line of the establishment. Since all students are presumed equal it must be the teacher’s fault that Otis and Latifah can’t score like Ken and Barbie. So we are to punish Otis and Latifah’s teachers. And that is what is about to happen.

    So watch what happens when Otis and Latifah try to find teachers in the future. The teachers are simply going to make it their career to be teaching Singh and Lin or anybody else. And they can do it too, by switching employment to selective Charter Schools. Or college level instruction, or many other alternatives.

    And the fact of the matter is that no matter what (University Educated) people say in public they generally know very well the points of “The Bell Curve” and related studies. Especially when their paychecks or their own children are at risk.

    I believe all are better served when we realistically appraise a school’s student base (ie: test incoming students) and make programs and expectations from that data, which the Army and the NFL already do. And we should do this openly, not hiding anything and with little or no concern for racial balances. It is what it is. Another way of saying the same thing is that there should be a range of school programs in a large district such as LA Unified or Oakland from low IQ to high IQ with the students freely able to choose. Each program/campus should maintain it’s minimum qualifying and retention standards, rejecting/expelling those who don’t measure up. No concerns about racial balance either. Everybody goes where they want. People who don’t toe the line wind up in Ditch Digger U. This system would actually work, satisfying the students, families and staff.

    We are heading for the closure of the urban public schools. And first they will run off the best teachers (into the charters) with this new pay scheme. It’s all a government created death spiral.

    Maybe a “Charter School only” educational system was always the master plan for (urban) public education. Maybe we are the only people confused. All this is supposed to happen this way. Was the deal struck with the enactment of NCLB?

    While the prospect of people being born into a particular Charter School – a caste system – actually sounds rather European (as in “we’re all Eton people”) it represents something new for the USA. If this is what is going to happen I wish the government was open and honest about what they are doing.

    I rather liked the social mobility we had/have here.

  • Nextset

    A foillow up. I believe this new system of punishing the teachers of the low performing students will not help the students. They will become even more stigmatized as toxic failures. They will not receive effective training at all. They will be encouraged to dissapear from school entirely.

    The pressure put on them (the dulls) to be/perform more like Ken and Barbie (the brights) will run them out of education completely. This is why the drop rate is as high as it is in Oakland and similar demographic school systems. We will not work with the cognitively impaired as they are, and fit them in to society with the skills they do have – so they leave the schools. They do have other options you know.

    As for imposing the contract – you are going to see a lot of that for years to come in municipalities. It is what it is. Nothing can be done about this.

  • J.R.

    “I believe the anti-teacher comments are primarily motivated by right-wing ideology”.

    You need to forget about lefty-vs-righty thinking. This is simply the motivation borne by over taxation, and too little results for our money over decades. Just keep in mind that we do love the majority of teachers(who are very good), but there can no longer be that kind of latitude in regards to lax attitudes. We as a society need to remember that our best teachers are a extremely resource that instructs our most valuable resource(our children).

  • robert oakland

    I taught in OUSD for a decade. While I am unsure what relationship or experience folks here may have with this district, but let me tell you all something: the OUSD is one of the worst-run organizations on earth. All decisions are made to save money. Consequently, this district is just a rotating door of under qualified teachers and administrators constantly experimenting with Oakland youth.

    Escape while you can. Any district that refuses to work with a teacher’s union while simultaneously arguing with a fact-finding report done by a neutral party is simply just re-arranging the chairs on the Titanic.

  • Starshaped

    1. Robert, you hit the nail on the head. OUSD is the worst run district, possibly ever. I went to a Saturday board meeting a couple weekends ago and they had a graphic artist, illustrating their notes (!?) and a moderator for their discussion on moving the district forward with one goal in mind. Really? You can’t bargain with the teachers because there is no money but there is money for a note doodles?

    2. Tony Smith smiled throughout the whole video. He reminded me a little of W. but without the irksome laugh.

    3. People teacher bash because we don’t fight back. We are seen as wishy-washy or overly dogmatic. People hold up a few bad apples and say, “See? A rotten one!” but there are many, many teachers that are plain awesome, and that doesn’t play well with the percieved perception. Also, Americans don’t trust ‘eggheads’ and teachers are often portrayed as ‘eggheads’. Being clever is alright. Being smart is looked down on and not to be trusted. You need look no further to than the way that Obama is treated by some media outlets.