J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

OUSD Teacher Contract Negotiations (and Cronyism at the Top?)

As a parent of a child enrolled in an Oakland public school, I’ve been paying close attention to the ongoing teacher contract negotiations. Next week will be the 2nd week of teachers at my daughter’s school (Emerson Elementary) using “work-to-rule” as a means to protest the low salaries Oakland teachers receive as compared to neighboring districts.

OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) teachers have been working without a negotiated contract since 2008. From OUSD’s Collective Bargaining Agreements and Salary Schedules page, you can view the last full contract as well as the imposed contract implemented by the school board in April 2010 after several rounds of failed negotiations.

OUSD is offering teachers a 10% raise over three years (letter from current superintendent Antwan Wilson). The current average OUSD teacher salary is around $55K (starting teachers make around $40K). This may seem high to people outside of the Bay Area, but average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Oakland is around $4,000 a month. In other words average apartment rent in Oakland is approximately equal to 100% of average OUSD teacher after-tax income. Clearly Oakland teachers are underpaid. The statewide average is approximately $68K, while the neighboring city of Alameda pays an average of $65K.

[Correction: upon closer examination the link to Oakland rents includes neighborhoods with 10 miles of Oakland, which includes San Francisco. Oakland average rent is probably closer to $2500 — still very high for OUSD average teacher income]

To both attract and retain qualified, experienced, and talented teachers, Oakland needs to offer teachers higher salaries.

Negotiation Status

As of today OUSD and OEA (Oakland Eduation Association — the teacher’s union) have failed to reach an agreement. Here is the statement from the OEA. At issue are not only teacher raises but also Special Education class size caps and caseloads, student to counselor ratios, and benefits. The same page includes links to latest proposals from both OUSD and OEA.

Especially contentious is Article 12, which governs the rules for filling vacancies and assigning teachers. The district is pushing for changes that would reduce teacher job security and remove the role of seniority in placement and transfer rights.

Accusations of Cronyism

Jack Gerson of classroomstruggle.org has accused OUSD superintendent Antwan Wilson of hiring his pals from Denver with bloated salaries (including a husband-wife team), creating unnecessary new administrative positions, and giving all administrators pay raises that far exceed what OUSD is proposing for teacher raises. Reading Gerson’s post severely undermined my confidence in Wilson, and also the board that hired him.

Wilson states that he plans to “trim Central Office” but that does not seem to include the salaries of top administrators. What does this style of “pad the top, chop from the bottom” budgeting style really mean? According to Gerson:

So if Wilson is cutting the central administration budget, much of the cuts are likely coming from the lower paid administrative support. This would be a repetition of what Randy Ward did in 2003 – 6 when the state came in. He brought in all kinds of Broad Foundation graduates and residents at the high end (Troy Christmas; Jonathan Klein; and many others) and promoted some ambitious locals, while laying waste to central services — eliminating central copy services, almost annihilating maintenance (electricians, painters, window repair, etc.) and thus forcing schools to buy services from the likes of Kinko’s. Randy Ward made other cuts “away from the classroom” — of clerical, cafeteria, custodial, and other essential school classified staff positions.

Even if there is some central office fat to trim, and even if Wilson and his Denver team are a completely qualified and necessary team of brilliant administrators and deserve every penny of their sky-high salaries, Wilson should have deferred his own raise and the new top brass hires until a fair contract with the teachers was secured. It just looks bad.

I’d like to invite Oakland School Board members James Harris (President), Jody London (Vice President), Roseann Torres, Aimee Eng, Nina Senn, Shanthi Gonzales, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, and Antwan Wilson himself to respond to Gerson’s accusations, and either justify the administrative pay raises and new positions, or roll them back.

My Own Position

Originally I was sympathetic to points on both sides of the negotiations. Obviously teachers deserve a contract and a significant raise, but I can also understand the desire of the district to push for more flexibility in hiring and transfers, even if this comes at the cost of some job security for some teachers.

However in light of revelations regarding salary padding and fat new (and potentially unnecessary) administrative positions at the top, I believe the school board and the superintendent have lost all moral authority.

I don’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the complex OUSD budget, but from what I can tell the teachers have put forward a reasonable proposal, which as a parent I fully support (I’ll be at Emerson later today to join an after-school protest supporting the teachers) .

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the district; the district budget is closely tied with the state budget, and California lawmakers leave money on the table every year with absurdly low oil extraction taxes. Still, the district should move quickly to reach an agreement with OEA, and forget about changes to Article 12 for now.

Get the teachers the raise they deserve, and do it soon.

Let The Board Know

If you are an OUSD family member and you’d like to support the teachers in their negotiations, you may wish to send a “valentine” to the school board and the superintendent. A sample email and the board member’s addresses are below:

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

“Dear school board member: This Valentine’s Day we are asking you to show our teachers that you love them by giving them the modest raise they are asking for – without contingencies. As an OUSD parent/member of the OUSD community, we want to attract and keep the best teachers, and we think the teacher’s request for a contingency-free raise makes good sense. Happy Valentine’s Day!”


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  1. Theresa

    Thank you for being a parent that supports and understands. I’ve been in the district for 15 years. It was my first job out of college and I’m still at the same elementary school. It is heart breaking what is happening. I would like parents to understand. Please let us know if Dr. Wilson does reply. Best to you and Emerson.

    • Thanks for the comment Theresa and for your service as an educator! We’re all hoping for a favorable agreement soon.

  2. Lana

    Thank you for their simple and concise summary.
    I sent my Valentine with the Subject header “KISSS” and wrote:
    Keep It Simple School Board & Superintendent!
    Don’t our teachers deserve contingency-free salary increases? They’re giving so much more than they’re asking for. Please speak their love language with a c-free raise.
    Supportive OUSD Parent & PTA Co-President
    Cleveland Elementary

    Keep up the great blog!! Thank you!

  3. Kim Davis

    Loved your perspective on all this. Like you, I am an OUSD parent (Joaquin Miller Elementary 4th grade and Oakland Tech 11th grade) who was originally ambivalent about the Article 12 issue, but I have come to understand that Mr Wilson’s agenda is not good for the kids OR teachers. I am working with parents at other OUSD schools to set up a network of interested parents to share information, ideas, questions and concerns and to join in support of our teachers as they seek a fair contract. I would love to connect with other OUSD parents to add to our network of parents, I can be contacted at [email protected]. Also, Nina Senn is hosting a q&a session on Wednesday February 18th at 7 at the Montclair Women’s Club, I am hoping that Ms Senn, who has recently shown herself to be ready to challenge Mr Wilson when appropriate, will answer questions like those raised in your post.

    • Good to know about the Q&A. I won’t be able to attend but if you would like to share any notes from the meeting that would be great.

    • Aimée

      Just so you know, the teachers are not allowed to speak at this event. The district said they won’t come if the teachers are part of the discussion.

      • Aimee, thank you for your comment about teachers not being allowed to speak at the Nina Senn led session on Wednesday. Originally, when the event was at Montclair, I believe that teachers were not even welcome to attend, so I am not surprised. Interestingly, Ms Senn’s invite does not mention that part, perhaps it will come up at the beginning of the meeting. I appreciate that we as parents will have an opportunity to have our questions answered, and hope that Ms Senn and the representatives from the Superintendent’s Office will be direct and completely truthful in their responses.

      • Aimee, an update on this: Nina Senn has confirmed that teachers are welcome and they are NOT prohibited from speaking.

  4. Anna

    I’m an OUSD parent, and I totally agree about the teacher raises, and have sent a similar email to Superintendent Wilson and the board superintendents. There are lots of things that the district should be spending more money on, and I do think we need to figure out ways to increase the total amount spent on our kids, but making sure that our teacher pay is comparable to nearby districts just seems like such a fundamental step toward a thriving school system. A contingent 10% raise is not nearly enough.

    Special ed classroom caps sound good in theory, but I do worry a little bit that caps will just make it harder to access special ed– and access to special ed is already a huge problem for many students who need it. I’d be interested to hear more about this issue from those in the know.

    I do hope the teachers union agrees to compromise on the seniority/transfer rights issue– my daughter’s OUSD elementary school is one of those with some hiring autonomy, and it is a really great thing to have the freedom to hire the teachers that are the best match for the school, it makes for a good community feel. Tenure is a great thing (I say as a spouse of a tenured teacher), but it shouldn’t be absolute.

  5. Here is some interesting and scary information about Antwan’s plans


    About setting caps on special education.

    I am an inclusion teacher at montera middle school. I work with students with moderate to severe disabilities. Currently there are no caps on any caseloads. There are what the district calls “soft caps” basically it is a suggestion of how many kids can be in a teacher’s caseload or class. I have a soft cap of 12 which is still too much when working with people with pretty severe needs. Last year I had 15 kids at one point. I started this year with 13. Three kids moved from the district so I now have 10.

    When we say setting caps on caseloads we mean that we are just setting a limit to the amount of students on each teachers caseload or class. What this means is that OUSD will have to hire more teachers in order to maintain these caps. This is a good thing. Currently teachers are treated as daycare providers. Educating our students with special needs is impossible when there are too many students on our caseloads. In addition Special education teachers have to write detailed IEP’s, conduct assessments, and manage aides. There is no time to do any of these essential tasks when our caseloads are so packed.

    Last year was the worst year of my life. I don’t think my students noticed because I basically worked from 7am to 9 or 10pm every day just to keep up with the large caseload.

    Supporting caps on special education means supporting the education of our neediest students. Even students with special needs deserve a equitable education. Feel free to email me if you have more questions [email protected] You can also see montera’s work to rule website at http://www.monteraoea.wordress.com .

    We love our OUSD parents. Next year I will be an OUSD parent and I will fight to make sure that OUSD is a district to be proud of. Thank you for all your trust and dedication to educators.

    • Thank you for sharing some details re: special ed at Montera. I went to Montera myself and returned recently as an Oratorical judge. It was great to be back on campus!

      Caseload caps make 100% sense to me, even if that requires hiring more teachers.

  6. Aimée

    Love the article. One point of clarification, teachers only get paid ten months out of twelve. So if you choose to get paid in ten months, your take home pay would average $4000 but you’d have to put aside money or get a summer job. If you choose to have your check spread over twelve months, your take home pay is closer to $3200.

  7. Reblogged this on ousdparentsunited and commented:
    An OUSD parent perspective on the Negotiations and Cronyism at the top

  8. Here’s a post that includes a link to both Wilson’s recent negotiation update and the teachers’ response:

  9. OUSD has increased salary offer, and both sides have agreed to accelerate negotiations. I hope they can reach an agreement soon. http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/domain/162

  10. The accelerated and more flexible negotiation process seems like very good news indeed, the more they talk, the better I believe. Just to be clear, however, the district increased their offer by just 0.5% beginning midyear next year, and it is not guaranteed (if I am reading it correctly). Further, in their offer they restated their commitment to dismantling Article 12 protections for veteran teachers which I do not think can be resolved quickly – the OEA has asked for this issue which was inserted into the discussion in November (about a year into the negotiations) by Mr Wilson be tabled for now to allow the contract to be finalized as to the other issues. This change in Article 12 would mark a fundamental change in the way that qualified, veteran teachers are treated if a school is closed or downsized and they are transferred involuntarily and so may take time to resolve. Just my thoughts on the matter…

  11. The district and teachers still haven’t reached an agreement, but there has been some progress in negotiations. I hope that a strike can be averted. Here are the latest statements from the district:


    and the teachers (OEA):

  12. Dave

    While teachers are under attack from Administrators around the nation I wonder why the press is not taking a look at the salary’s and benefit packages given to administrators. School boards rarely get to hear from teachers to learn if policies are having a positive effect in classrooms. Far too many Administrative decisions are meant to look good on paper but in reality do little to help the student and classroom teacher. Admin love to say how they value teachers….until it comes time to pay them. They will, given time, turn schools into sweatshops. Time to kick the politicians out of education.

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