I am the parent of two students in OUSD schools. I want you to know that I am committed to Oakland Public Schools and in particular the many wonderful teachers that my children have been fortunate to have been taught by over the last 12 years (and I still have 8 years left in the District!) I have spent many hours talking to and listening to teachers, parents, OUSD officials and Board Members in order to understand the issues and to form an intelligent, well-thought out opinion. My opinion is that our teachers are the cornerstone of this District. They have demonstrated their commitment to our children. I would like the Board and the District to show their commitment to those teachers, and by extension to our children, by offering a fair and equitable contract proposal. What has been offered publicly is simply not enough.
According to GO Public Schools Data, OUSD teachers are paid between 7.6% (first year teachers) and 15% (most senior teachers) lower than the average in Alameda County. That means that our District cannot expect to attract and retain the highest quality teachers unless and until it makes up that gap in year one. The 10.5% or (13.5% with added hours and reduction in health care package) includes a 3% raise in year one, so at a minimum our teachers will be between 4.6% and 12% below average (and that does not account for raises being given to other schools in that same year one). Even with the proposed (and contingent) 7.5 % raise phased in over the second contract year, our teachers will not catch up, and that is particularly true for our veteran teachers who are so critical in the stability of a school community (not to mention their value as educators). The last offer that we have seen is simply not enough.
I know that the District has limited resources and many obligations, and have heard you lauded for your cost cutting measures, including the much touted cuts to Central Administration of 25%, but do not feel that your team is doing enough to prioritize teacher demands. The claimed Central Administrative savings of 25% must have come at the expensive of lower level employees and programs, because at the upper end of the spectrum, there is a cost outlay of nearly $1 million that we did not have in 2013-14 for administrator salaries (including 4 new positions created this year). That does not even account for the outgo of Measure J funds now going at the rate of $30,000 per month to Lance Jackson or the Ed Fund money that pays nearly $200,000 to another new position holder, Mr Kos-Read. I come from the business world, I know that there are no doubt some important reasons for some of those changes, but I also know that it is a matter of setting priorities. While that million dollars in raises/new salaries at the upper echelon of central admin would not have provided enough funds to close the salary gap, every dollar counts and it would make a very powerful statement of commitment on the part of our leaders if our upper administrative officials had foregone raises until meaningful raises for their employees were provided.
You are obviously very passionate about changing the way OUSD does business, and I applaud you for that, but in my opinion that change needs to come from within the schools, beginning with the teachers, and in particular the veteran teachers, that are the core of most schools. The compensation package does not foster teacher retention, but even more importantly, the insistence on stripping teachers of seniority protections is a signal to veteran teachers that our District does not value the people as much as the process. Oakland is a challenging District to teach in, and school downsizing and closures are a fact of its existence. Why would a teacher choose to stay in this District for less money and more challenging working conditions if they knew that in the event of an involuntary transfer (or a return from extended leave) they would have to compete against much less expensive new hire teachers for a classroom teaching position, as if their years of dedication were unimportant? I understand the value of flexibility at the school site in the crafting of a team with a common vision, but a wholesale denial of the importance of seniority is NOT the way to do it. I spoke at length to Brigitte Marshall about the Memorandum of Understanding that she very proudly crafted which provided an advisory matching process for teachers to find a school (and vice versa) in which he or she could be a meaningful partner. The District clearly knows that there is middle ground between no seniority and total flexibility and they need to find it.
This is a critical juncture in OUSD: we have new leadership, new Board Members, new money from the state and a new commitment from parents to support change in this District. If the District fails to honor its teachers with a more substantial raise, better support and working conditions and by recognizing the value of veteran teachers, we will be unable to attract and retain not just qualified teachers, we will be unable to attract and retain families who will send their kids to our schools. The time is now, use your position as the leader of this District to demonstrate that OUSD values its teachers and its children by making an equitable, competitive offer to our teachers.
Joaquin Miller Elementary