Teacher union hunts for `hidden vacancies’

scavenger hunt sketch from ryanrocketship's site at flickr.com/creativecommonsLet’s say a teacher announces in April she’s retiring at the end of the school year. The teacher tells the district’s HR department, and if that position needs to be filled, the HR department tells the teachers union, which tells its members they may apply for that job.

Teacher contracts in many districts allow displaced teachers (usually, the most junior teachers from schools that have eliminated positions, teachers from shuttered schools, or those returning from leave) to choose another job from the list of openings, based on their credentials and seniority. 

The process is called “priority placement,” and it ended June 4. As of today, however, at least 18 of the teachers need to be placed, and the district is obligated to find jobs for them before hiring outside the organization, according to the union president, Betty Olson-Jones.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Principals hate this process — not because the displaced teachers are bad, but because they have no say about who will be joining their staffs. So some administrators keep their openings a secret from the district’s HR department until the displaced teachers have all found jobs and they can hire whomever they want (well, anyone who’s still looking for a teaching job in late June or July). They might, for example, ask a teacher to hold off on submitting his retirement or resignation paperwork until then.

The practice is so common there’s a term for it: “hiding vacancies.”

The Oakland teachers union is asking its members to help expose this open secret. It posted the district’s official vacancy list on its website, and is encouraging teachers to report any openings that are missing from it.

The union’s e-mail listserv has been ablaze with reported violations, including a number of Craigslist ads — though some have since been removed. Someone found a June 7 job listing, apparently placed by people with the district’s Middle School Staffing Initiative, for positions that weren’t included on the district’s vacancy list. (Although the ad was posted three days after the priority placement period ended, Olson-Jones said some of the displaced teachers — those still without jobs — are eligible for those positions.)

Another teacher wrote in about a principal who acknowledged asking departing teachers to keep their decisions hush-hush. Others wrote about instances in which teachers felt pushed into certain positions without adequate time to consider their options.

The district administration, as you might remember, proposed a compromise last month: a system that would let principals interview interested candidates from a pool of displaced teachers before the seniority preference kicked in. San Francisco Unified, where Superintendent Tony Smith last worked, does it that way.

The union leadership is opposed to such a change. So for now, the priority placement rules still stand — except for those who manage not to follow them.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    JR: This seems like it would be an interesting thread to pursue on it’s own.

    My point is that rad-libs – and I don’t have another word to describe them (don’t worry, some of my friends are rad-libs) – would have our kiddies spending all their energy reviewing history and complaining about various people everywhere being just sooo bad. And feeling smug in their own political correctness. There, lesson done.

    This reminds me of England punishing the settlers for being mean to the Indians (who were busy wiping out the settlements, kidnapping and torturing to death the English, etc. etc). As the English Administrators said at their trials back in London, you just had to be there…

    The orientation of the rad-libs is that they are always victims, and all their friends and co-rad-libs are always victims. Everyone who opposes them or their policies are just evil. Only they know the way. You see this with certain people who “cannot understand” the appeal of Barry Goldwater or say, Sarah Palin, or Stalin, Or Mao, Or Hitler, or Bill Clinton, or anybody other then their own diety.

    So you get people trained to never get anything as the world swirls around them. They just can’t see the world from the viewpoint of other working people.

    This is what seems to be the products of the public schools. And it makes them very useful idiots until maybe (if they survive) they get hurt enough to grow up.

    The schools would do well to start teaching such basics as “survival is the first law of the land” and moving onward and upward from that. Eventually your will reach the US Constitution. Then move into George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” with the pigs out at night on ladders with a paintbrush adding to the law written on the wall.

    I know what moral relativism is and that is not what I’m advocating. I’m not saying the events we find distasteful are moral. I am saying they always happened for reasons and the kids should be taught enough about people and history to understand what does happen, why, and how to recognize it starting again, and what it takes to avoid undesired events.

    That is more in line with my education.

    Brave New World

  • J.R.

    I love good teachers, I have at least a half dozen close relatives who teach, and I don’t want the profession(which has mostly good teachers)smeared. I am addressing the unions(which has cost the teachers dearly by protecting the incompetent). You cannot continue to try and misdirect the public (whose attention and ire are on the union imposed rules that hire,fire, and layoff based on seniority not ability). This is not by any stretch of the imagination objective criteria. Taxpayers are being ill served, and they want changes. The union resists any kind of common sense change to benefit the children and always have. They represent the teachers best interests and they must take responsibility for that, and answer to the taxpaying citizens, and they will. The bill SB955 was only the first try at change there will be more. Principals are trying to keep the teachers who can do the best job possible(why shouldn’t they).They are going to answer to parents if they don’t, they are not shielded as teachers are so I really think this “favortism” excuse is overblown and is pretty much a straw man. Every wrongly terminated teacher(rarity)is one teacher, but every incompetent teacher can conceivably harm thirty students educational future. We see no need to put teachers needs ahead of students(we have already been doing that for decades, and where are we)? Our expectations in our teachers need to be high, just as for the students, and if we ignore that things are going to go downhill from here.I think our system is so adversarial and broken that we may need parental committees to step in and make these decisions. Do you know what your union would say to that? How can no educators decide who can teach, well I’ll give you some ideas(as I’ve said before pedagogy is not rocket science).

    1.If you can compile cumulative files on students, then you can do so with teachers.

    2. Gradebooks, how complete are they and do they reflect state standards, are lessons consistently being differentiated for the students.

    3. Is an adequate amount of homework being assigned, along with assessment testing.

    These are just a few truly objective criteria that any capable teacher could handle.

    Teachers are not the same, just as students are not the same and should all be treated as individual with different strengths and weaknesses.

    Speaking of dishonesty, I have known some teachers who believe themselves to be great teachers, but by all objective measures with past performance over years taken into account, they are not good at the craft of teaching. Good teachers that I have known for years ask themselves “Are my students as a whole, better educated at the end of the year than they were at the beginning”. As I have stated before some children have had to endure “lost years” because the teacher was on “autopilot”, and by the time parents got their due attention summer was upon us.

  • J.R.

    and yes, I do disagree that working longer hours is always a sign of excellence. If a teacher is knowledgeable, organized and efficient… why would they need to work longer than anyone else to get their job done?

    Simply put, the little one’s need extra help, would be the short answer. If we had that many teachers who fit the description of: knowledgeable,organized, and efficient would we be at or near the bottom of school districts in California? I don’t think so.

  • Steph Blatherly


    Can you run for school board please?! You have it SO right.

    -OUSD High School Principal

  • J.R.

    So you don’t think we would be at least somewhat better if we:

    1. Trimmed away the useless bureaucratic waste, and put that money “IN” the classroom, where it belongs.

    2. Trimmed all the dead-weight teachers(irregardless of time served).

    3. Instituted parent review boards, because the kiddies(admin & staff) just can’t get on the same page, and make the kids first priority over salary.

    If you don’t believe any of this, then some of these teachers were right, and I have just had my first brush with a clueless principal.

  • J.R.


    Educators(principals included) do not like non-educators telling them what and how to do something but we have a very valid point of view. Let me use an easy analogy for you:

    I have a revenue stream(faucet)my job,and my business(which I provide a service in order to be paid money), and my faucet needs maintenance from nozzle to ipe, and I must pay money(monthly) to keep it on, I have learned how to adapt and overcome in order to pay this and other liabilities.Your revenue stream is the tax payers, that faucet is always on(although now at a lesser rate)you have never had to learn to adapt and overcome because that money just keeps flowing, and so you don’t worry(librarians,junior teachers, janitors)they will all be cut before your number comes up anyway, right? Just keep in mind where your money comes from, and how hard we work to get it, and you will count yourself very fortunate indeed. You are welcome!

  • jenna

    Seenitbefore: I did not care if people knew about my keeping MY class door open or not. I did not make it public with anyone but the students and the parents who asked if their students were actually in my room working. It was not about “making myself look good at the expense of others” as I was told by other teachers. It was simply how I CHOOSE TO SPEND MY TIME.

    I paid union dues to earn time to spend as I desire. I desired to spend my time at the school most days with my room open to students. I often graded papers. Many teachers choose to grade papers at coffee houses or home, I chose to grade papers in my classroom – it worked better for me and it worked better for the students to see that my day did not end at 3:00.

    What I resented then and still feel frustrated by is to be a working adult who is not given a choice of how to spend my free time. It is my time, given to me by a contract and the union dues. It is mine to spend as I choose. To take it away from me feels like stealing. Many of my co-workers stole my choice to work in public school and keep my classroom open.

  • J.R.

    I for one,am so sorry that your co-workers did that to you. I as a parent and PTA member appreciate what you have done for the children. In this economy some children are in effect homeless,while others are in difficult home circumstances for one reason or another and their classroom is the only taste of normalcy that they have. You may have made a bit of a difference in at least one child’s life, thank you!

  • seenitbefore


    The point of “work to rule” was to shed a little light on the enormous amount of extra, donated or otherwise “free” labor that nearly ALL teachers have been doing and continue to do each day whether at school, home or on vacation.

    Sometimes….. when we all just do whatever it takes…. people just start taking for granted that we are “supposed” to do all these extra things and that in fact, we HAVE to do it….. for free!

    In a time where the community and the district are telling teachers that we should be paid LESS for the job we are doing. Maybe it is time for people to realize what exactly teachers are actually doing all day…and night… and weekends!!!

    I have no doubt that you have made a difference in the lives of your students as J.R. has suggested. And I know for a fact that I too, have made a difference for many of my students. It’s not about neglecting the children of Oakland. Many of their parents are already doing a good job of that.

    It’s about being fair, honest and paying an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. People who think that OUSD teachers don’t deserve to be paid what we’re asking… should spend an entire week in the classroom and see what they think after that…. if they last that long! It’s not like this in other school districts. I know because I have taught elsewhere. If all you know is Oakland and it’s dysfunctional system, then maybe I can understand all this upset. But really, there’s no reason to be laying the blame and shame of OUSD on the shoulders of teachers who are only asking to be treated fairly in the workplace.

  • JB

    Some people misunderstand the difference between experience and repetition. Having spent twenty years in the classroom and another twenty as an administrator, I have seen far too many teachers who claim to have twenty years’ experience when, in fact, they have one year of experience repeated nineteen more times. Quality teaching cannot be defined in terms of years. It can be determined by teachers’ efforts, and ability to engage students in learning. The evidence is shown by student progress.

  • J.R.

    Yep! You are correct. We should be seeing progress, but we have witnessed mostly regression. If these kids are that unruly and bad, maybe we as taxpayers should hire multiple educational aides to babysit and or teach them(we’ll save money and more importantly union induced headaches). As for honesty, if you look at the pay-scale differences from district to district the pay is not that dissimilar, the oft quoted low wages of OUSD teachers are an average which is brought lower because of the great number of new teachers every year(the older teachers are doing just fine)If there is someone to feel sorry for it’s the young teachers who get shafted.

  • http://www.morethankids.com bryan farley

    Going back a bit. J.R. Asked me “Would you want your children to agree with slavery(which was lawful at one time)or the Chinese exclusion act in SF, or segregation? This is about right and wrong, and sometimes the law is on the wrong side of the equation.”

    While I do not think that education leaders violating employment contracts is the same as slavery, I think this is a fair question. I hope my children learn to answer your question. I hope my children know when to disobey. I also hope they do so without hiding if possible.

    Since you brought up the legal argument, I will tell you another of my concerns. Everyone assumes that after principals hide vacancies that principals choose the best teachers available. We also assume that after principals violate contracts, that principals will start following rules and laws.

    How do we know this? How do we measure?

    Would principals follow fair hiring practices? Would they follow the Americans with Disabilities Act? What if principals didn’t agree with laws that got in their way? We know what happened last time.

    I would be interested if someone has studied how hiden vacancies are filled.

    I am also interested how this affects our opinion of the educators who follow the rules.

  • J.R.

    I won’t lie to you Bryan, there is not a whole lot of certainty in this world, we may be unemployed tomorrow(well, maybe not you if you are tenured and have seniority), but we may die tomorrow, managers hire and fire who they wish all over the world(thats the world), but more often than not if you are good they want to keep you around. Like I said before, principals are not protected the way teachers are, and it is in their best career interest to hire the best staff they can.The taxpayers put the school board, and district in charge, and in turn they put the principals in charge, but in reality principals effectively have one hand tied behind their backs in personnel matters. By union contract dictate the district is essentially the “boss” of all teachers, not the principal(who is onsite and should be in charge). You can blame the absence of normal business practices and collective bargaining for these problems. No one is allowed to keep the best employees because people are entitled to their jobs and their has never been any accountability. The education system is nothing more than a mechanism to build wealth for certain people who don’t merit it by effort. I have seen far more deficient principals leave or be sacked than deficient teachers(the ratio is probably 50 to 1). The mechanisms of teacher employment in place are flat out wrong and unfair to the children. I may not condone hidden vacancies, but I as a taxpayer understand them. If I was in charge and my butt was on the line, I would want the best people surrounding me. There is no doubt about that. I put some large blame on the scope and size of administration in education(I think it has far too many layers and is redundant and wasteful. When you comment about following rules, my first instinct is to ask myself “who made these rules and who benefits from them”. Think about it.

  • OUSD Parent/Teacher


    I am a stickler for rules. Rules keep us safe and ensure order. HOWEVER, I also encourage people to think critically and question the status quo.

    I used to be a huge union supporter. In some aspects I still support collective bargaining. But the blatant truth is that teachers unions exist to ensure job security for its members, not advocate for children. One constantly undermines the other. I am tired of witnessing ridiculously negligent teachers with a boat load of “rights” keep their jobs and have no accountability. What about the “rights” of their students?! One group has to win, and right now its the teachers union, not students.

    I support leaders reaching the end goal (quality education) versus obeying “the rules” (job security). Respectly, your argument is dangerous and the reason why OEA runs this district and weakens the high standards our students deserve. Not to mention, it prevents good teachers from receiving the salary and recognition they/we deserve. Regretfully I understand why society will not increase our salaries. How to you justify a substantial increase in salary for a work force with no accountability, who is not obligated to produce any result? You can’t. I am starting to believe unions hurt students AND good teachers.

    Fight on principals! Continue to choose excellence over job security. When the union has the same goal, THEN you should obey this rule.

  • Let’s Get Real

    It’s news to me, OUSD P/T, that OEA runs the school district. In fact, one reason Oakland schools continue to suffer is that teachers DO NOT have enough input when it comes to school policy.

    Please stop blaming teachers for poor decision-making and poor use of resources on the part of district officials.

    Successful schools do not become that way based on teaching alone. There are many other things in place at those schools–including good leadership–that create a successful learning environment for students.

    You could fire every teacher in the district (many of whom are excellent teachers at dysfunctional schools), hire a new crop of the “best” teachers, and wind up with the same result because you have done nothing to change the underlying causes of the problem.

    Please stop spreading this anti-teacher rhetoric! Stop blaming teachers for poor education policy!

  • J.R.

    Lets Get Real,
    Once more and for the last time, parents and taxpayers are not blaming all teachers just the deficient ones, we realize most teachers are hardworking and good at what they do. There are teachers on pretty much every school site who should not be teaching because:

    1. They never had what it takes to be a teacher(patience, drive, determination,fondness for children, and an ability to help kids understand concepts).

    2. They lost what they had because they are washed out,burnt out or just playing out the string.

    3. They have developed an attitude of apathy and don’t see that every child(has the potential to change this world if a teacher is willing to show them the way.

    Great teachers are almost magical, they can do so much, but unfortunately a bad teacher can do grave harm as well. When I think of great teachers I think of that story of the millions of starfish on the beach, and the person who throws them one at a time in a seemingly futile effort to save them. Just then another person standing by asks the first person ” whats the use you cannot possibly save them all it doesn’t matter, and the first person says while flinging another starfish into the ocean “it matters to that one”! All kids deserve a good education, and you can’t have that with bad teachers in classrooms, and unions standing in the way of whats best for kids. This is truth not rhetoric, we parents have seen this with our own eyes. The union dishes out rhetoric we have already established that.

  • J.R.

    Get real,
    The problem is not policy or money, it is a structural waste of resources that should be expended directly on children, and a horrible seniority(tenure) based system of compensation instead of merit. If we can track kids and create a (cumulative file) we can do something along the same lines for teachers.

  • J.R.

    t’s news to me, OUSD P/T, that OEA runs the school district.

    In the union contract, the union dictates:

    The hours that are worked, the rate of pay(including stepping, built in raises and colas, which incidentally they feel wholeheartedly entitled to before and after the fact) the process and terms of disciplinary action including termination,and they protect substandard teachers with ferocity. Last but not least they can and will fire a teacher for not paying union dues.(you can be derelict in your duties as a teacher but you dare not forget to pay up the MONEY. Well, the union better think again, because thats taxpayer money, and we wont play nice with them anymore.

    Once again a reminder:

    The good teachers are worth the money we taxpayers pay, but it just sickens me to be forced to pay for people that just don’t measure up. Not to mention the damage they do to upwards of thirty kids at a time.

  • J.R.

    Nawsflash from CTA

    “Tell Senator: Stop Blaming Teachers
    Urge Assembly to Defeat Steinberg “Favoritism” Bill

    Your help is needed to defeat the newest version of a measure that would ignore the real needs of students and public education – adequate and stable funding – and blame teachers for the system’s ills.

    Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has authored SB 1285, a CTA-opposed measure that again will make it easier to lay off experienced teachers from lower-performing schools and undermine local control. On top of that, the measure is completely unnecessary because state law already gives school districts flexibility in layoff procedures to best meet the needs of students. CTA continues to battle against these attacks on the protections against discrimination and favoritism, including seniority”.

    In my opinion(and that of millions of disillusioned taxpayers) seniority protections are discrimination and favoritism, the only fair way is to keep the best workers like they do in private enterprise(unless your the head honchos kid of course). There is nothing, I repeat NOTHING fair about seniority. I have to borrow a great line from another post paraphrasing ” some teachers claim to have 15-20 years experience when all they really have is first year experience 15-20 times over”. That is just so true.

  • J.R.

    One more specious claim from their website:

    That provision(SB1285) would allow district officials to practice favoritism and discrimination. They could decide not to hire back a more expensive teacher or a teacher who has been a vocal advocate of student needs.

    Fire a teacher for being a vocal advocate of student needs? This is worse that perpetrating a fraud this is a flat out LIE!

  • Mike


    It’s heartening that your hatred for educators is matched by your incredible wealth of free time. If only “once more and for the last time” really were.

  • OUSD Parent/Teacher

    Let’s Get Real,

    I agree, leadership is extremely important. I would NEVER suggest that site and district leadership is not vital, but teachers and instruction also play a role. The most important role, after all we are the ones who have direct contact with students. That’s what the union seems to not grasp. They want to shift all ownership on administrators, with no ownership on its members.

    I worked with a colleague who would take off repeatedly (a minimum of once a week, every weekend was a 3 day weekend for this guy). He never left lessons plans and sometimes he wouldn’t bother to call a sub. I spent hours covering his classes. When we complained to the principal, you know what OEA said “it’s his RIGHT to use sick leave”. #$#@!!! What other job in America or union would support this kind of behavior? And the sad truth is that I could go all night with story after story! And this is not the most egregious story I could share. How is that the fault of the district? His students learned NOTHING. OEA made sure that he kept his job and there was nothing the site or district leadership could do. Even an employee at a fast food restaurant is expected to maintain good attendance and call in when absent. And they aren’t responsible for children. What organization allows you to do that and keep your job?! Poor attendance is a surefire way of getting fired…..in OTHER professions. So I ask you, who had control in this situation? Should the site and district leadership be held accountable for his students’ test scores? This one is 100% on OEA. If you think teachers are under fire now, let more stories like this go public! People in other professions will hear these stories and flip out….rightfully so.

    Lets get real….Get real!

    And as far as the comment that we could fire every teacher, then we would get the same results. Once again, the union response is extreme and an over-reach. Bloggers shared that the district should have the right to fire underperforming teachers, not all teachers. But the union mindset always interprets things in an exaggerated manner. Why so extreme?

    I give tenure 10 years at the most. America has had it with union scapegoating.

  • Let’s Get Real

    OUSD P/T, you don’t call “OEA runs this district and weakens the high standards our students deserve” an extreme comment? How do you expect someone to respond?

    You cite one instance of poor teacher conduct in which the teacher was defended by his union and, by doing so, imply that this behavior is the biggest problem facing students in our district. I agree that there are cases like this, but they are relatively few, and they are not the biggest problem in Oakland schools.

    One of the most challenging issues in most schools is the high tolerance from district and site administration for bad behavior on the part of students. The other is the high degree of support students need because they enter our schools unprepared for the rigor of the curriculum. These issues affect the quality of ALL teaching.

    These same issues plague every urban district–they are not unique to Oakland. And until they are addressed effectively, schools will continue to have problems–no matter who is teaching.

  • J.R.

    Have you ever heard the phrase “in context”, when I used “once more and for the last time it was in reference to my statement that I am only complaining about two things:

    1. The teachers union

    2. Union enabled bad teachers

    one more thing, if you do not understand the meaning and usage of context, I hope you are not teaching our kids.

    And oh yes, I love good teachers!!!!!!

  • Hot R

    Interesting discussion – here’s my take…

    I have worked under 6 principals and at least 12 VPs. None were evil, but most were incompetent in at least one or two of their 3 responsibilities – relations to the parents and community, budgeting and running the physical plant, and being an instructional leader. In all fairness the job is really an impossible one. The principals could not recognize nor implement effective instructional methodology, maintain a budget, summon up the guts to discipline a recalcitrant teacher, run a meeting, or have a vision as to where the school should be going. The VPs have the worst job and most were learning on the fly, making mistakes on a regular basis and leaving disasters in their wakes -ordering the wrong state tests, mismanaging funds allocated for computer labs, letting discipline matters stack up so that months would go by without any action, or rubber-stamping teacher evaluations because they couldn’t tell good teaching if it bit them on the ass. Basically these are just people who wanted the higher pay and couldn’t or wouldn’t cut it in the classroom. So when you impart “good” motives to an administrator, I question whether they really know what they are doing. That is why you need a contract.

    On the subject of teachers working extra hours, or putting in extra work, let’s face it. Teachers are VERY jealous of each other. Schools are like “Peyton Places” to use an old TV analogy, where excellence is not held in high esteem but is instead attacked for being different. Those teachers who go an extra mile are viewed first with suspicion and then derision for overworking the kids, or showing others teachers up, or “who exactly does he think he is?” This attitude is not just found in the teaching profession, but in every profession. That is why it is so hard to consistently be excellent. Jaime Escalante was eventually forced out of his school. However, I will add this caveat – I have seen teachers work extra hours because they were NOT efficient at all by using a convoluted system of grading which required them to stay at school until 8 p.m. But my compliments to the teacher who spends extra hours with their students because they uphold the nobility of the profession. And no, you don’t get paid enough, but never hold back from the kids because you resent the District’s underhanded tactics. When you feel that resentment building up you should find a new profession – or how about becoming an administrator?

  • J.R.

    Thanks Hot R,
    That evenhanded assessment really does bring real perspective to the subject, good post.

  • J.R.

    Hot R,
    I guess you could call a principal who lets parents run roughshod over them because they feel that their child was “graded too harshly” as incompetent or at least derelict in their duties. A principal who just doesn’t “see” the teacher who is not giving much “class” or “home” work or tests to their students could also be regarded as deficient,derelict and or incompetent. Good points all. If they cannot handle it time to find a more suitable career. It really is making me think just how destructive bad admin and bad teachers can be.