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Oakland students stand up for their pink-slipped teachers

By Katy Murphy
Monday, March 28th, 2011 at 11:43 am in budget, middle schools, students, teachers.

Edna Brewer petition

Pictured above (left to right): E’Niyah Wilson, Lia DelVecchio and XueYong Liu.

These three girls at Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School have decided to highlight the effect that all of the budget and staffing uncertainty is having on their school. The petition they wrote says nothing about seniority rules, experienced vs. young staff, or who was exempted from the pink slip list and who wasn’t. Just that they care about their teachers, that their teachers care about them, and that they don’t want to lose them.

Students and staff are holding a before-school rally at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday. I’ve heard that similar actions are planned at Oakland Tech and Oakland High.

Here’s a copy of the Brewer petition, which lists 18 teachers (of a staff of 42) who received pink slips. As of last Thursday, the students had collected about 300 signatures:

Mr. Knowles
Ms. Jones
Mr. Gray
Mr. Aquino
Ms. Ben-Israel
Mr. Sullivan
Ms. Drury
Ms. Goldstein
Ms. Hutter
Ms. Maiuri
Mr. Minhondo
Mr. Pitt-Smith
Mr. Sato
Mr. Smith
Ms. Tacke
Ms. Ramsay
Mr. Reese
Ms. Philips, Counselor

These teachers might be getting layed off next year because of budget cuts. This is not good because the teachers really care about us and they are really hard working. It’s unfair because most of the money in California is going to something else rather than education. Stop the injustice and save the future generations!

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  • livegreen

    Thanks to the students for doing this.

    Edna Brewer has made a lot of progress over the last few years. Laying off this many teachers, including one of the best music teachers in OUSD, will be a challenge. Even though it physically is located in a Middle Class neighborhood that it pulls some students from, it serves 65% FRL students. (It will thus have many of the same fundraising challenges as many other Oakland schools).

    You can see it’s academic progress compared to the rest of the city here:
    http://web.ousd.k12.ca.us/sarc/docs/ScoreCard09-10/Edna%20Brewer_09-10_Scorecard.pdf

    Edna Brewer’s API ranks 8 out of 10 statewide, and 10 out of 10 when compared to similar (inner city) schools:
    http://www.greatschools.org/modperl/achievement/ca/187#from..HeaderLink

    Thanks to the teachers, administration, students and parents for doing such a wonderful job at Edna Brewer. I hope their progress can be replicated at other Middle Schools. It might be time to cut costs, but it is NOT time to cut teachers.

  • Public School Teacher

    Livegreen-thanks for the excellent post showing the strengths and accomplishments of Edna Brewer. Evidence of growth will keep parents invested in the public school system and less inclined to go “private”. I wish that OUSD would do what is in the best interests of the children and the schools instead of mailing pink slips and cutting areas that affect children and learning the most. I think at this point, parents and teachers should pressure the district to make cuts on the administrative level, including limiting or eliminating outside consultant fees and bloated admin salaries before they cut teaching staff.

  • livegreen

    Thanks PST, with one important note: Many in the middle class can’t afford Private. Instead, they’ll move.

  • iteachurban

    I hope O.U.S.D. is listening. I called Brewer late Friday afternoon and left a message hoping to schedule a quick tour for Monday, the 28th. Ms. Phillips (pink-slipped counselor) called me first thing this morning and asked if I wanted to wait for a “real tour”. The only tour guides available were students. No problem, the students will tell the truth and hide nothing. The two young ladies that showed me around their school were fabulous. What a GEM of a school! I had the pleasure of witnessing excitement in teaching and learning. There are systems in place to keep students engaged and focused. It would be a shame for O.U.S.D.to dismantle a middle school where students and teachers know their purpose. Why would you replace progress with chaos and confusion?

  • On the Fence

    It is quite a shame to see the names that are on the list. One who knows this school will realize that these are some of the most vital teachers and staff in this school. This list includes both music teachers, in a program that accomodates a huge number of students, has wild support from parents and students, and is an undeniable strength of this school. They are irreplaceable. This list also includes teachers who have stepped into roles beyond the call of duty, covering extra classes or stepping into classrooms where the teacher unexpectedly left (Ms. Jones for Algebra, and Mr. Gray for history). They also include the names that form part of the daily stories and fabric of the school. I’m sure that I would be equally bummed with a list that included the most senior teachers, so my point is not about seniority. Rather, I agree with the above posters who lament that this GEM of a middle school, with all of the success that their team has garnered, is facing such potential upheaval. I will also add that this school has been able to attract a large number of students in the middle and upper-middle class whose families struggle with the decision between public and private. These families DO have the option to bail from OUSD if Brewer flounders.

    I agree with public school teacher who writes, “I think at this point, parents and teachers should pressure the district to make cuts on the administrative level, including limiting or eliminating outside consultant fees and bloated admin salaries before they cut teaching staff.” But how do we send this particular message and is anyone listening?

  • Ms. J.

    I heard Tony Smith eloquently address the group of us assembled to learn from Linda Darling-Hammond at OMCA last night. He is a good speaker and I think many of his goals for the district are good, but I cannot get over the fact that he negotiated a $265 K salary (plus $23 K in benefits).
    Is he still getting paid this much? Jean Quan voluntarily took a 25% pay cut when she became mayor. Such a gesture by Smith would not enable the district to keep most of its pink-slipped teachers, but it would mean a lot (and 25% of Smith’s salary could pay for a teacher at Oakland rates, and a somewhat experienced teacher at that).
    As it is, I can’t take the superintendent’s assurances that he wants to build a trusting relationship with us seriously, given that he makes so much more than any of the people who are actually doing the complex classroom work he claims to admire, even as he proposes to lay-off a huge proportion of these people.

  • Harold

    Our School Board has failed us. They are the one’s who hired Dr. Smith at that rate. He’s got some good ideas, but he’s making a lot of money. Mayor Quan gets a lot of flack, but she walks her talk!

  • Annoyed Teacher

    As a teacher at Brewer, and one of those pink slipped I am of course worried for my future but also for that of the state as a whole.

    I would like to see considerable change in how education is managed particularly with regard to things like tenure as it is at the very heart of the issue we (meaning the teachers) currently face. It is utterly galling to know that teachers in the district who are utterly incapable of educating in and for the modern world will keep their positions while young, dynamic, and tech-savvy teachers will be laid off or, at the very least, left to exist in realm of uncertainty until the district and state can finally get their act together.

    We could also talk about the issue of professional development and the seemingly fetish-like adulation it receives within the offices of OUSD. I have learned nothing from countless mandatory professional development sessions that I could not either work out myself or get for free from another teacher. I’m pretty sure that simply eliminating these things would prevent many of these lay-offs.

    As a successful school Brewer will be attractive to teachers who are not facing layoffs but who will use this crisis as an opportunity to move to a school they see as more comfortable. The result will be a wage strain that eliminates many of the programs that help to make Brewer successful. Although our students may be better than average they also present issues and problems that require teachers who, to put it as politely as I can, are not simply treading water. Should these teachers be forced to leave the school will decline and will take years to recover (if it ever does).

    Ultimately of course it comes down to taxes and a legislature that seems on the Democratic side to be a bunch of ineffectual wimps and on the Republican side a bunch of heartless bastards. I’m not sure which side I despise more. Having taught in several countries I despair at the all too common practice in the United States of using the public education system as alternately a hostage and a whipping-boy depending on which party is pulling the strings.

    I love teaching but neither I, nor a majority of young teachers, will put up with this BS for long before we take our talents elsewhere because, like many of our students, we have dreams and ambitions as well. They cannot be achieved in a district or state in which it seems funding for public education is no longer held sacrosanct but is instead simply seen as another drain on the public purse. They also cannot be achieved when the current rules act to pervert the educational goals of the state by recognizing only time served rather than ability.

  • Harold

    @8 — Ageism is unbecoming. One day you will be a veteran, in some capacity. Technology will continue to evolve. There are ineffective Teachers who are: 25, 35, 45, 55 and 65.

  • Annoyed Teacher

    #9

    But only one of those groups is facing the chop due exclusively to their age and/or length of service with no regard to their ability.

    If ageism is “unbecoming” I would suggest that it goes both ways and when the jobs and potential careers of the relatively young and skillful educators above is on the line (yet others’ careers are not) perhaps we want to be talking frankly and not mincing our words for fear of causing transitory offense or bucking an utterly unfair system.

  • J.R.

    Annoyed,
    You are absolutely correct, and I am sorry for what the stupid system has put you through. We as a society will pay a price for turning away some of the best teachers available. Everyone ignores the fact that this is all for the children, and paid for by hardworking taxpaying parents. Thank you annoyed for your service and hopefully some lucky district will have room for you. No doubt you will be successful in whatever endeavor you choose to pursue.

  • Yet Another Oakland Teacher

    Just for the record -many teachers that received March 15th letters are not young in years, just teaching experience. There are many out there that are 40-60 years old, came into teaching for the the love of it and the kids, as a second or third career and are suffering all the same uncertainties as those young in years, but often with far more financial commitments and responsibilities.

  • J.R.

    Yet another,
    I know many teachers who are career changers, which has been of great benefit to students(they teach with a different perspective that is so valuable). It’s still sad regardless, because the real losers are the children.

  • On The Fence

    I’m a bit confused with how this might work. On this Pink Slipped list are 2 PE teachers, both music instructors, the Spanish teacher, and the only school counselor, among many others. I simply can’t fathom that Edna Brewer could lose some of these staff members because of their specialized roles. I get that they may not have been around for as long as others, but how will the school staff certain programs? I really don’t see the music program going away, and only certain staff can run that specialized program. In fact, given the success and recognition that Mr. Pitt Smith has brought to the program, I can’t even see them not hiring HIM (as opposed to a music teacher from other school) back to this very site. So my question is how will this work? Will they first look at their need for say a qualified counselor and then reverse the pink slips for the number of counselors they need, or look at the staffing need for music teachers and then rescind the pink slip for that specific type of teacher? Will they take back the most senior counselor who was pink-slipped from anywhere in Oakland and offer them a slot at Brewer or will they rehire from the pink slipped staff at Brewer? Will there be any attempt to keep staff at their individual sites or will it be a toss up? Will the principals’ be able to offer recommendations on which staff they need back? On this same note, if there are already enough history teachers, but not enough math teachers, can they rehire the first year math teacher while overlooking the 4 year veteran history teacher?

    I am particularly interested in this school, but I am sure that there are many folks interested in this process in general. Can anyone comment?

  • Steven Weinberg

    On The Fence, I will attempt to answer your questions about how layoffs are handled, but if anyone has more complete information or a correction please add it. There are two considerations. The first is a person’s credential. Each set of teachers with the same credential are then laid off according to seniority in the district. So, for example, if the the district decides to eliminate 10 positions held by people with single subject PE credentials, the 10 least senior are let go. If 2 PE teachers are released from a school that needs 2 PE teachers for its program, that school will select or have assigned to them 2 PE teachers who were more senior but whose positions were eliminated elsewhere in the district. If positions are restored after June 30, teachers who were released will be called back to the district according to seniority. If their old position is still vacant they might return to it.
    Right now there is a huge disconnect between the budgets schools have been told to prepare to staff with through the RBB process (significant reductions, but much smaller than those entailed by the lay-off letters), and what the district has done with potential lay-off letters. If the district were to really proceed with the number of cuts indicated by the March 15 letters, each school would have to make huge cuts in their own master programs. If the district decides not to cut the school site budgets more than they already have, the number of lay-offs will be much less than the number of March 15 letters.
    It needs to be stressed again that most of this disruption could have been avoided if the Republicans in the State Legislature had agreed to a June election to keep California taxes the same for the next 5 years.

  • AH

    “The result will be a wage strain that eliminates many of the programs that help to make Brewer successful.”

    And, you plan to remain in teaching? Do you plan to remain at the entry-level pay scale throughout your career?

    The problem is RBB, not teacher salaries. And, veteran teachers can and will do a good job. There is no reason to believe that Brewer will “decline,” nor that it would take “years to recover.”

    Brewer students will continue to do well.

    There will be changes, and life there will go on without you.

    Perhaps you shouuld start speaking frankly about the damage done by RBB.

  • On the Fence

    Steven: Many thanks for your explanation.

    In general, I agree that Edna Brewer will survive. I feel very sorry for the teachers who have gone above and beyond to create programs of distinction in this school and maybe will have to leave them. I hope that they will be asked to return. If not, I am sure that they will carry their work ethic and reputations with them to their next jobs. I also hope that the families that have options do not flee from EB due to the perception of disruption. There are many very hard working and dedicated teachers who were not pink slipped. I am confident that EBMS will do fine as long as they retain the confidence of the community.

    Nextset has been warning of the budget issues and changes to come for many months. I was more optimistic, but I do have to admit that things are sounding pretty dismal for teachers and everyone else. Quite a shame. IMO teachers are bearing an unfair burden, and there are many who would be happy to malign any other public employee at present. We are all more connected than we’d like to admit, however, and if we bring down one sector (public employees) there will surely be unintended consequences to all.

  • livegreen

    AH, Could elaborate on the affects of RBB, and your perspective on it’s impact on teacher layoffs? As I understand this method was designed to help higher needs schools by giving them the ability to use money remaining from less expensive, less experienced teachers so they could supplement where necessary to make up.

    What’s wrong with this & what’s the affect on teacher layoffs? (With or without RBB we’d still have seniority).

    My question is not to challenge but to learn…

  • J.R.

    Here is an example of the seniority system placing someone who(it sounds like)didn’t want to be there. Over the last couple of years this has happened at various school districts(sans the publicity)teachers generally keep these feelings amongst themselves(not in this case though). It sounds like she was in over her head, but gave it a go for the money. Now lets see if they can manage appropriate measures(I very much doubt it though).

    http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/119071054.html

  • livegreen

    Teachers and parents need to let OUSD Board members know that concentrating cuts on schools is not the answer. Yes, school sites will have to share, but emphasizing teacher & principal layoffs is not going to solve anything except cause the district to lose much of the progress it has made…

    The Strategic Plan is noble and can greatly help OUSD in future. But we need help now, and today cannot be sacrificed for an unknown future. The Strategic Plan won’t do anybody any good if implementing it delays cost cutting measures until after layoffs occur.

    Ideally we’d be able to do both. But the timing is simply not ideal.

    I sure hope Dr. Smith has some financial aces up his sleeve (like some as of yet unannounced foundation grants). Otherwise, somethings got-to-give. & it can’t be mostly School Sites and Teachers.

  • AH

    “IMO teachers are bearing an unfair burden, and there are many who would be happy to malign any other public employee at present.”

    Well said.

    Veteran teachers are not the cause of these layoffs. I’m sorry for those who got pink slips, and I do hope they are rescinded.

  • J.R.

    According to the California Department of Education (source 2) the average per pupil expense for the 07-08 school year was $8,594. This puts California just below the national average of around $9,000 per student, and well below states like New York and New Jersey who average around $12,000 per student.

    As for other countries who are rated higher educationally than the United States:

    * Korea (ranked 1st in scientific literacy and 2nd in mathematic literacy): spends around $4500 per student for primary education and $6500 per student for secondary education.

    * Japan (1st in mathematical literacy and 2nd in scientific literacy): spends around $6700 per student for primary education and around $8000 per student for secondary education.

    * Finland (1st in reading literacy and 3rd in scientific literacy): around $5500 per student for primary education and around $7000 per student for secondary education.

    * New Zealand (3rd in reading literacy and 3rd in mathematical literacy) around $5000 per student for primary education and around $6000 per student for secondary education.

    **all data collected from OECD/PISA, chapter B, indicator B1 (source 1)
    source(s):
    http://www.oecd.org/document/9/0,3343,en_2649_39263238_41266761_1_1_1_1,00….
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/ec/currentexpense.asphttp://www.siteselection.c
    http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66

  • Annoyed Teacher

    AH

    Schools only get a certain budget to pay for teaching staff. These things are not paid for as they should be at the district level. With the current system a school composed entirely of teachers at the upper end of the wage scale will find its budget severely stretched and will have to eliminate certain non-teaching positions. This is the undeniable reality of the current system.

    If layoffs are based solely on seniority then the wage bill for many schools will increase while the staff levels will decline as adjustments are needed to ensure that the books get balanced. It’s a crappy system but there you go this is OUSD after all.