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.
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:
“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!”