Four months ago I wrote about the ongoing contract negotiations between Oakland public schools teachers (represented by OEA) and the Oakland Unified School District. I was very happy to learn that last week the teachers ratified a three-year contract with a 67.5% vote. It’s done! Congratulations to all the teachers, the union, the district, the superintendent, and the school board. The teachers received a significant pay raise. The contract also includes the following (copied from the press release):
• Reduces average class sizes in grades Transitional Kindergarten-3 to 24-1 beginning next year, five years in advance of state requirement.
• Places lower class size maximums on schools with concentrated poverty and high numbers of English Language Learners and Foster Children.
• Reduces counselor ratios from 700-1 to 600-1 while including 6th grade in the calculation for the first time.
•Secured paid dental and vision for full-time substitutes.
• Added 1⁄2 hour of weekly, member-planned collaboration time beginning in 2016-17.
• Establishes class size targets for Special Education for the first time.
As a parent it’s a huge relief to have this issue solved. It was stressful to see the teachers unhappy, and to feel the tension between the teachers and the district. I also know it was hard on the school board members. So well done everyone — you found a solution to a difficult problem.
But why was it a difficult problem?
California schools don’t have enough money. They haven’t, ever since Proposition 13 was passed in 1978. Here are some of the harsh realities of California’s public schools. In one of our nation’s wealthiest states, blessed with multiple booming economic sectors, these statistics are shameful.
• School spending in California is at a 40-year low.
• Since 1981-1982 California has consistently spent less on education than the rest of the US. Today, we now spend about half as much as New York or New Jersey.
• 16 of California’s largest school districts are reducing the number of school days this year because they can’t afford to stay open.
• Per pupil property tax revenue reduced by more than half.
• California now ranks 49th in per-pupil spending among all the states.
• California ranks 50th in the ratio of students to teachers (2009-10).
Voters passed Proposition 13 because they thought it would protect seniors. The actual effect was protecting corporations (who now pay only 25% of California property taxes) at the expense of homeowners, including seniors (who pay 75%). Chevron alone saves $1 billion in property taxes thanks to Proposition 13!
This op-ed from a Berkeley parent does a good job explaining the enormous positive effects reforming Proposition 13 could have on California public schools. What would your local public school do with an extra quarter million dollars per year?
I don’t see a downside in reforming Prop 13. There is no reason commercial properties shouldn’t be regularly reassessed. Why is Disneyland only paying five cents per square foot in property tax? Why are California homeowners subsidizing Chevron (which made $19.2 billion in 2014)?
And the upside is huge. School districts that won’t always be broke. A break from (seemingly constant) fundraising for overworked parents. Better funding for libraries and other public services.
If you are a California resident and reforming Proposition 13 (at no cost to homeowners, renters, or small businesses) sounds like a good idea to you, please start by signing Evolve’s petition.
I’ll continue to track the Prop 13 reform movement as we move closer to 2016.