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Teachers vote on labor proposal; results TBD

By Katy Murphy
Monday, May 3rd, 2010 at 8:53 pm in OEA, OUSD central office, strike, teachers.

STUDENT AT OAKLAND TEACHERS' ONE DAY ACTION. PHOTO BY LANE HARTWELL/TRIBUNEI spent an hour outside a membership meeting at Oakland Technical High School this evening, talking with teachers about the labor dispute — and the big vote on a proposal that would authorize union leaders to call further actions, including a strike.

(An amendment to tonight’s proposal requires an indefinite strike to be approved by a majority of the union representatives at each school, in addition to the union’s 15-member executive board. Tonight’s vote tally should be available by late afternoon/early evening tomorrow.)

Here’s what they told me:

Kiernan Rok, a fourth-year special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School, said he and others at the meeting thought the union should “build on last Thursday,” the one-day strike. A longer-term strike would be a last resort, he said, but he is willing to do his part to secure a better contract. He said he had a meeting this morning with an instructional coach, an outside contractor; given the district’s financial constraints, he feels the district should rely more heavily on (and pay) experienced teachers. “There’s a lot of knowledge in this district; there’s a lot of experience.”

Emily Macy, a teacher at Oakland High who’s been in the district for almost two years, says she feels an attack on public education at the local, state and national level that’s resulting in an erosion of public services. She says she felt a great sense of unity during Thursday’s strike, and not just among teachers. As for the contract: “The money is OK. For me, I worry more about class sizes and the adult education program.”

Tom Reinhardt, from Oakland High (two years in OUSD), said he supports the union. He also said “there’s a lot of fear” about how a strike will affect the community — and how it will be perceived during an economic recession when so many are out of work. “It doesn’t look really great for the teachers to be out here asking for more money,” he said.

Connie Branson, a veteran teacher from Lincoln Elementary School, has lived through “every strike since 1985.” She said she’s not so worried about her own paycheck — she’s close to retirement — but about “our young teachers” and the importance of keeping them in the district. She’s also concerned about the district’s enormous debt, which she considers — in part — to be a legacy of state administration. “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Tony Smith, and I am concerned about what happened before he came,” she said.

Manuel Herrera, a third-year teacher at Learning Without Limits, a small elementary school in East Oakland, reflected on the unity he experienced at his school at last Thursday’s strike. “It was a powerful day for me,” he said. He added, “One day was powerful; many days could go either way. … I support the union, and I support my teachers, but I want to make sure we make the best decision for our kids, and at this point I don’t know what that is. … It’s a struggle, and it’s really pulling me away from the classroom.

Malana Willis, another third-year teacher at Learning Without Limits, said she was also unsure of the best way forward. Districts throughout California are struggling with declining state revenues, she said. “I would like to see all of the teachers in the state really rally around that. … It’s pulling from nothing. The district doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with. … I just want to do what’s most effective.”

Do you think an indefinite strike will come to pass? Would you support it? For those who were around (as teachers, students or community members) the 1996 strike: What was it like? What did you learn from that experience?

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  • Mahmood Ketabchi

    Teachers and other working people should not be paying for the mess created by the state and the corporate America. I will support a teacher strike. I hope they stand up for our public schools and a quality education for the children of Oakland.

  • Katy Murphy

    I just added the perspectives of two Oakland teachers I interviewed last night, Manuel Herrera and Malana Willis of Learning Without Limits Elementary in East Oakland.

    I realized this morning that I had forgotten to include them.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Malana Willis for OEA President – “The district doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with. … I just want to do what’s most effective.”

    Most effective? Not most politically correct? Not most philosophically pure? Not without any financial risk? Nope, just good ole’ fashioned – EFFECTIVE!

    I’m with you Malana. Hope OEA is with you and figures out what is most effective – for kids.

  • harlemmoon

    A strike will, in the short term, attract negative press, further identify OUSD as a troubled, disconnected district and alienate potential partners and stakeholders who might otherwise invest in the schools.
    Can this really be defined as “effective”?

  • Nextset

    Maybe a protracted strike would do some good. It just might force the schools to reconsider their business model. They can increase internet classes and outsource the teaching to service it. Physical classes would be used to supplement the internet classes and no longer be primary. Classroom size becomes less acute for internet classrooms. One Teacher can manage a far larger student cohort.

    OUSD would become far less vulnerable to future strikes this way.

    It’s coming, people. The sooner the public schools get with it, the better off they and the students will be. It will be interesting to see how it starts. A summer program perhaps, a small electronic “campus” for students who want it? The college prep courses perhaps – removing them from the general program for cost cutting?

    Brave New World.

  • http://www.mrpeabody.wordpress.com Evan Nichols

    Above all, I am willing to strike for smaller class size. That, to me, is the priority. As an experienced teacher with many tricks in my bag, I am amazed by how hard it still is, year after year, to teach even “just” 20 kids. When it gets up to 24, then 28, then 30 or more, forget it. When you are working in an urban public school with kids who need a lot of help, with kids who disrupt the classroom regularly due to their personal problems, those are not sustainable working conditions and the kids, and the teacher and, ultimately, our society suffer the consequences. Cut the consultants, give us the bare minimum cost of living increases, shrink the administration, but hold the line on class size and give us a fighting chance to help kids learn.

  • J.R.

    If you look at the salary structure at ed-data, and look at the salary stepping of OUSD, there are variables that no one is taking into account regarding teacher pay. Everyone should download and read this eye opening report on the teacher spending gap.

    http://www.hiddengap.org/resources/OaklandHiddenGapII.pdf

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Evan, According to OUSD’s info, “holding the line” on class sizes could mean 30 to 1 and teacher layoffs. I’m read somewhere that a few district gave up on the state class size reduction program because it was essentially a partially funded mandate. http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/199410331174255857/blank/browse.asp?A=383&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=57339

    http://californiawatch.org/watchblog/less-money-class-size-reduction-under-schwarzenegger-budget

    http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R911190850/b

    @J.R. It’s a pipe dream to think OUSD’s union and community will attack the issues in that report. Looks like it was issued in 2005. Any movement yet?

  • Gordon Danning

    JR:

    That reports is interesting, BUT people should know that they do not include Asian Americans as “minority” students or “students of color.” See, eg. the reference to Oakland High School being less than 50% “minority,” when it’s student body is, in fact, more tnan 50% Asian-American

  • J.R.

    Good point Gordon!
    Thank you!

  • Cranky Teacher

    When you break it down, the issue is pretty simple: We are saying more than the current illegally-low 45% of the district budget needs to go to the frontline employees who work directly with students: Teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians and psychologists.

    Whether that means smaller classes, higher pay and subsidized housing, I don’t really care. Anything to staunch the outflow of qualified teachers.

    To me, this battle is one of principle — show us your priorities are in the classroom.

    Let’s get the district back to basics after nearly a decade of outsider experimentation with small schools, charter schools, expensive consultants, inexperienced Broad-trainees (who are still powerful in the district admin), curriculum changes, etc.

    BTW, I believe our administrators at the site-level need to have a more sensible contract, as well. The principals at the small schools are overpaid, relatively, whereas those at the big schools are so underpaid relative to the insane challenges of the job and pay of neighboring districts, we can’t even find applicants for the posts.

    When education unions sign crap contracts, they accept with silence the continued gutting of our educational safety net and the main engine of social/economic mobility in our society.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @cranky, the easiest way to go above 45% (and cut $85 million in the process) is fire other staff. Apparently the Board is reviewing a proposal to cut 460+ positions. If those positions are outside the classroom – BOOM – Problem solved. Does that work for you?

  • Just a Thought

    @Nextset, I really have to disagree with you regarding online learning as the primary educator of students. Online education should be used as either a supplement or as an alternative to adult school, in cases where students failed a class and need to recover units. A key component of education, other than learning academic content, is socialization. Students learn life lessons, public speaking skills, social graces (if you will) and conflict mediation through their daily interactions with teachers and students. If Oakland truly wants to relieve themselves of the budget crisis, they will trim down their immense administration and save school programs first. I think an even better idea, would be to close the entire OUSD, and appoint one clerical, one HR and one business/Admin at each school site. Big admin always save their 100k+ salaries while cutting music, art and other relevant school programs. Time to switch it around!!!

  • Starshaped

    J.R.,

    If you read that report to the very end, you find out it was funded by Eli Broad who is essentially wants to privitize public education. He wants schools to be run like business. He is also the person who is responsible for running AIG into the ground. So if that’s the business model for running a school, no thanks.

    Next, public education is gone into by most people as a way to give back to the community. We do not get bonuses. We can only deduct $250 as expenses for our classrooms (and everyone I know, spends far, far more than $250 a year on supplies). We work long hours. If you don’t believe that, then you have no concept as to what we do. I answer emails from parents at all hours of the night and weekends, no extra pay. I have to play psychologist, police officer, nurse, mother figure, entertainer, all beyond the scope of my just teaching.

    I can tell you from experience, because I have worked at Title 1 schools and currently work in a hill school, that there are more services avaliable to Title 1 schools but higher turnover. Part of the higher turnover is due to the fact that Title 1 schools often get rid of 1st and 2nd year teachers because it looks like they are doing ‘something’ about their low test scores. Working at a Title 1 school is hard because you are dealing with students that are economically challenged, parents that are often new comers to the country or chronically economically challenged, and due to those factors, they have less exposure to museums, literature, and healthy food which can be frustrating to deal with day in and out, year after year, especially when you are paid the lost wage in the east bay. Working in a ‘hills’ school can be hard too because parents can be overly involved and sometimes believe their kid is the second coming of Albert Einstien. I’m lucky in that I often get the parents that are little more relaxed and hold realistic expectations of their children. My parents are very helpful and help pick up supplies for the class. I’m a 8 year veteran of teaching but I just happened to land at my school. I did not plan it out, nor do I plan to leave. I make a good $8000 less than the median salary quoted in the Broad pamplet for my school.

    Lastly, statistics can be bent and shaped into whatever form you want them to take. They can suit any purpose, given half the chance. That’s why I have always told my students, consider the source.

  • cranky researcher

    To Starshaped:
    Eli Broad also planted the fake evidence on WMD in Iraq, and funds the Tea Party movement. The report was researched and written by Ed Trust West, and the upshot of it is that affluent and majority white schools spend a lot more on teacher salaries than low-income, majority African American and Latino schools, and that this is a bad thing. This bad thing is a result of a free market (experienced teachers who are paid more tend to choose to work in affluent, white schools, and low-income ‘minority’ schools have high turnover and thus a higher proportion of lower-paid newbie teachers) – and the report is critical of the free market. The report suggests that to remedy this inequity, schools that spend less on teachers receive some compensatory payments – a socialistic sort of solution, isn’t it? Does this fit your picture of the evil capitalist Eli Broad? 1) The Broad Foundation is a very big operation with a lot of people, it is not run on a day to day basis by Eli Broad. The constant Eli Broad conspiracy theories in Oakland are really tiresome and make us look like a bunch of leftist tea partiers. 2) The report was from 2005, as someone mentioned. That funding imbalance was supposed to be remedied by Results-Based Budgeting – that was the main reason for that system: to equalize funding between hills and flatlands. The funding would follow the students, not the teachers. I don’t know what the results have been for that goal. Katy? Anyone?

  • Katy Murphy

    You are right, Cranky Researcher, that one of the goals of Results-Based Budgeting was to address this experience gap — or, at least, to give schools with lots of newer, cheaper teachers more funding for other services. Ironically, schools with declining enrollment or low attendance — which are often located in low-income areas — have had a hard time with this formula. Just ask the people at BEST High School…

    But you’re a researcher, and that’s just anecdotal information. There was a study about this approach to funding schools, which I blogged about in November 2008. To quote myself:

    “Researchers from the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based social science research group American Institutes for Research recently studied how these budgeting systems were put in place in Oakland and San Francisco, and how they have worked.

    Through their interviews and focus groups, researchers found a strong preference in both school districts for this approach. But they also found that it didn’t bridge the “experience gap” between the teaching staffs at high- and low-poverty schools – and that it was quite a lot of work (no surprise there).”

    You can access the study through my blog post:
    http://bit.ly/cBG9Cn

  • Jim Mordecai

    Katy:

    That study also found that rewarding attendance was an experiment that didn’t work because it transferred money from poor schools to schools with relatively better resources.

    Unfortunately, the Oakland School Board since taking over this school year has done nothing to follow up that 2008 study and change that aspect of the RBB budgeting procedure.

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    We’ve tried it a myriad of ways over the last 10-20-40 years(traditional schools, charters,and state takeover and none of it makes much difference. This isn’t about money(enough is enough)and frankly, good wages are much better than the unemployment line. The solution to this situation that we find ourselves in requires a massive change in attitude and the banishment of the entitlement mentality. As a society we must come to the inescapable conclusion that you are only entitled to what you achieve “so aim high, and give it your best”.

  • chocolatesebastian

    Passed by 75% –
    Authorize the OEA Executive Board to call all actions as necessary to settle the contract dispute with OUSD up to and including a strike. Amendment (passed by voice vote at the Membership Meeting): A decision to call an indefinite strike must be decided by the Representative Council.

    See http://oaklandea.com/
    I also voted to authorize.

  • Cranky Teacher

    “To Starshaped:
    Eli Broad also planted the fake evidence on WMD in Iraq, and funds the Tea Party movement . . . he constant Eli Broad conspiracy theories in Oakland are really tiresome and make us look like a bunch of leftist tea partiers.”

    The main claim that the Broad org and its handpicked trainees completely dominated the district during the years of the state takeover is not a “conspiracy theory,” it is a documented fact. Go back and read the archives of the East Bay Express, if you want to know more.

    Broad is a moderate, of sorts, and certainly not out to destroy public education completely; but his foundation’s role in the transformation of OUSD was certainly anti-democratic, especially when you consider the financial role he had in funding our state superintendent’s political campaigns.

    It is certainly fair to note who funds a study, as well, although it doesn’t have to discredit it if the evidence itself is solid.

    And are you implying that nobody lied about WMD in the lead up to the Iraq War?

    Conspiracies DO exist, even moderate ones. For folks like Broad and Gates, it is not even a secret: They want to transform public education. Why pretend otherwise?

  • Ml Young

    Ms Murphy I have contacted you several times about International High H.S. (Oakland site) and the deterimental effect it is having on other High schools in the area. Oakland High and Oakland Tech both offer excellent English Language Learner programs. Both inclusive and equal access to a full A-G curriculum. Tech in particular has the superb academies which a number of ELD atudents have taken advantage of,including the nationally recognized Engineering Academy.Tech will be graduating about 25 ELD students this year plus a number who have been in the progam during their time at Tech. Many of these are heading off to 2-4 yr institutions.

    It has recently come to my attention that at least 20 of the proposed new intake at International H.S have on average 5.6 yrs i district middle schools !. Indeed 2-3 student in the new intake are closer to being designated long term learners then newcomers!these student more properly belong in a high school where they may access teachers who have been recognized by the district as expert instructors, a full A-G curriculum and a real American High School experiance.

  • Nextset

    Just A Thought: I’m not saying that Online Classrooms are superior. I am saying that they are coming. Big Time.

    We are in a depression not a recession. Depression among other things means 15 + years of these troubles. The reason it doesn’t feel like 1930 is because of the government printing press welfare schemes (food stamp ATM cards instead of bread lines), Prisons instead of homeless camps, and other New World improvements that keep us from realizing what has happened such as publication of false stats (redefined stats) – the cooked “unemployment rate”.

    We will soon experience hyperinflation and crashing pay and benefits – well masked with hidden taxes (try the national sales tax that’s on the way combined with payroll taxes and “mandatory” insurance of various kinds, etc).

    Automation is cheaper than labor and low status children like the proletariat are just not going to rate a 40 to 1 student-teacher ratio.

    So you will soon see computer delivered instruction. And when it arrives it will seem like a good thing. Maybe it will be. The alternative is correspondence courses.

  • Gordon Danning

    Re: #21:

    I also have questions about International High School. ELL students at Oakland High have access not only to A-G, but also to AP classes. I’m guessing that is not true at International High, so I wonder whether some of those students are being shortchanged.