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Lessons from SF: UESF Teachers Push for Strike Vote in Contract Negotiations

28 Sep
We repost an article below which comes to us from two members of the leftist teacher’s caucus in UESF, EDU (Educators for a Democratic Union).  They and other EDU and UESF members have been fighting for a strike authorization vote throughout the summer with quite a bit of success.
On Aug. 14, UESF members voted strongly in favor of a strike authorization vote.  99.3% of the 2251 members who voted were in favor of the strike vote.  Here in Oakland we should learn from the struggles of UESF and be prepared to support them when needed.
UESF Teachers
Like us, they are faced with an intransigent district that drags out contract processes and demobilizes union members while proposing unacceptable contract offers.
Teachers in UESF are seeking a reasonable wage increase even though they are living in a gentrifying Bay Area with skyrocketing housing prices.
A few days ago UESF released an update on negotiations writing, “we can unequivocally say that the district’s salary offer was an insult to the men and women who actually do the work of educating our students. In fact, there was so little movement by the district that it is becoming likely that the district will force us into fact-finding and potentially a labor dispute.”
Besides needing to fight SFUSD to sign a reasonable contract, UESF members must also struggle to push a union leadership that is waffling on standing up to the district.  The union leadership is, in fact, actively blocking the democratic decision making of the union members who are pushing for a strike vote.
The authors write, “We are unfortunately all too used to so-called organizing that uses members as negotiating leverage rather than genuinely allowing members to weigh in on how our union should run. And President Kelly is determined to reserve the right to decide when, and if, we have a second strike vote for himself.”
We, in OEA, should be equally vigilant that our contract negotiations do not become top-down affairs with no input and struggle from us rank and file teachers.  Not only would that be undemocratic but it is also a recipe for a weak contract.

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Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement: Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

21 Jun

Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement:

Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

By Aram Mendoza and N. Finch in collaboration with Dewey teachers


Displacement of long-time, low-income residents due to gentrification has been an all too common story in the Bay Area recently.  Now the same insidious process is targeting some of the most “at-risk” students in Oakland.  Over the past two weeks, in the end of school rush, the Oakland Unified School District’s administration revealed they have been in close discussions with gentrifying developers that puts Dewey Academy, one of the public continuation high schools in the OUSD, in the cross-hairs of real estate agents and developers.  The developers are already planning a 24 story luxury condo building overshadowing Dewey and now want to add Dewey and the old OUSD headquarters to the project.  What follows is an overview of the situation, why it’s problematic, how it’s situated in the context of gentrification in the Bay Area, and what those of us opposed to the displacement of Dewey and the gentrification of Oakland can do about it.


Dewey gone.  In it's place condos.

Dewey gone. In it’s place condos.


“Surplus Property” and “Surplus Populations”


On Monday, June 10th, an OUSD-initiated group named the “7-11 Committee” (the name stems from the requirement that the committee have at least 7, and not more than 11, people on it) met for the second time.  The Committee was composed of various real estate attorneys, members of charter school boards of directors, and a couple community members.  Not a single active OUSD teacher or student was on the committee – the only current educator on the committee was the current principal of Dewey Academy.  They were charged with “advising” the school board as to the status of the OUSD property located on 2nd Avenue, east of the lake between E. 10th and E. 12th streets.  This property currently houses the former OUSD administration building, which was mysteriously flooded last year, as well as Dewey Academy.  The question set before the Committee was to determine whether or not the parcel of land housing both the former OUSD admin building and Dewey Academy was “surplus property.”

Surplus property is defined as property that is retained by the school district but is not currently being used.  How can anyone imagine that an actual school – Dewey Academy – that has just graduated about 130 students in the past weeks, and that houses a GED program for community members could ever be considered “surplus”?  During the first 7-11 committee, one of the OUSD’s attorneys referred to the “surplussing” of Dewey – that is, using the word “surplus” as a verb – and described the way that the OUSD and developers could actively convert Dewey into “surplus property” in order to make it open for development. (1)

The surplus property category is being used as a means to displace Dewey students and treat them as a surplus population.  It has nothing to do with Dewey actually being property that’s considered “surplus.”  This mirrors the treatment of Oakland’s youth in the broader society.  Seen as an expendable, incarcerable, and unemployable “surplus population,” Oakland’s youth are those who should be pushed to the margins in order to make way for more desirable occupants of land – those that can afford the lakeside view from the window of their 10th floor condominium.  This is the opposite of how they are treated at Dewey Academy where educators and community members work hard to support students who are missing credits needed to graduate, impacted by gangs and who might otherwise slip through the cracks of other OUSD schools.


Dewey Academy students and staff. Surplus property?


Against the Displacement of Dewey Academy


“The safest place for Dewey to be [for the students] is right where it is . . . “ - Dewey High School alum


There are at least three central reasons that highlight how problematic and oppressive the move to displace Dewey and the OUSD Administration building are.

First of all, Dewey’s current location is next to the Youth Heart Health Center, a student centered free health clinic that Dewey students helped design, in collaboration with OUSD employees and MetWest High School students.  What sense does it make to take our highest risk, highest need students away from a health center that they helped design?  While the OUSD has committed in rhetoric to prioritizing the social/emotional needs of Oakland youth, this move by the administration directly goes against the social/emotional needs of Dewey students and, by extension, all youth who access the health center. These students helped shape the YHHC with the understanding that they would be able to access the medical services there.  Since its opening, Dewey students have made up the highest percentage of youth who have accessed the clinic.  Without these young people being in close proximity to the YHHC, the center’s numbers may decline and put them at risk of budget cuts and layoffs, causing further harm to all students who access the center – including those from MetWest and La Escuelita.

Additionally, many students at Dewey are gang-impacted, and the location of Dewey in an accessible and relatively neutral territory by the lake means that students can come to school and be in a safer space than they would be if they had to attend another school in another neighborhood. The informally discussed alternative locations of Fremont High School in East Oakland, Santa Fe elementary in North Oakland and Lakeview campus north of the lake are all either unsafe for gang impacted students or inappropriately far, especially for youth who are already struggling with truancy.  This proposed displacement will only further the alienation and marginalization that these young people face by destabilizing what is perhaps one of the most stable institutions in their lives.  If Dewey did not exist and function as it is, and where it is, many of these students would not have the opportunity to recover credits in a safer space and eventually graduate with a high school diploma.

Lastly, the decision making process behind Dewey’s forced displacement has been incredibly undemocratic and marginalizing of youth, educator and community voices.  The committee that is advising the school board on whether or not Dewey is “surplus property” includes real estate lawyers that represent condominium developers and charter school board members.  This is unacceptable and disrespectful – nobody should decide the fate of a school but the students, educators and staff who make the school run on a daily basis.  The fact that this committee was appointed by the superintendent without any meaningful engagement with the school community is a slap in the face to a community of students and educators who have worked hard to make Dewey one of the safest campuses for struggling students in Oakland.

All of these problematics surrounding the seemingly forced displacement of Dewey lead us to the question: why is this displacement being pushed forward in such a rushed way?

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Confused about LCFF? Oakland students break it down, why the upcoming LCAP meetings are so important and what democratic school budgeting would look like

27 Feb

This is a repost of an article from a new Oakland student blog. Check out the original here:

Students Want Their Voices Heard in New School Budget Making

By , February 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.46.31 AM

By Nelzy, Katie and Ana

After a lot of effort by students in California, a new budget plan was passed by the state legislature to offer equity vs. equality. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) determines the amount of money schools will receive for each California student, creating a new base line amount and providing additional money for students who are in need of more resources because they are low income, english learners or foster kids. The LCFF also offers students, teachers and parents a chance to work with school districts to have a say on how the money should be spent.

Under the LCFF, each student in California brings his or her school $6,342. On top of that a school receives $2,220 more for each student who is low income, or a foster kid, or an English Learner. But that’s not all! The schools in which more than 50% of students fall into those categories get another $2,220 per student.

Each district according to the LCFF law should have a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) which is similar to a group of people that decides how the money should be spent. In Oakland, there is a conflict because the Oakland Unified School District wants to choose the group for the people, but youth believe that students, teachers, and parents should choose the group.

Oakland Unified School District this year will be receiving $12.5 million more than last year because of the formula. Students say that the money should be spent wisely; they want the money to be spent on additional teachers which will cause classes to be smaller and give students more elective choices.

We asked Katie, a student at MetWest High School, to share her thoughts on where the money should go.“I think the money should be spent on the reduction of class sizes because when teachers are teaching thirty plus students per class, they tend to ‘favor’ certain students and only focus on them. Whereas in smaller classes of ten plus students, the teacher has the opportunity to thoroughly assist every student in the class as needed.”

Another student Chris says, “We should get new computers because we have dinosaurs, more art supplies and more electives like cooking class. Students, parents, teachers should decide where the money gets spent.”

Adan Feliciano, an OUSD teacher, said “This and the $25 million (at least) coming in next year should be spent directly on the needs of students and the educators/staff who serve them. Caseloads for teachers, nurses, and counselors should be lowered so that students can get more one on one attention from all the adults who serve them and support their development.” Another issue to be considered is who should decide how the money will be spent.

According to EdSource. “Schools must get input from parents as to how additional state funds intended for low-income students, English learners and foster children are spent,” organization said, explaining the Local Control Funding Formula and the importance of parent involvement in the decision making.

Adan Feliciano, an OUSD teacher, said “The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) is super vague as it is – and from what I’ve heard, the school board will appoint the members. This is undemocratic.” In his opinion, “The best way to decide how funds will be spent is for a popular assembly of staff, educators, students, and parents to decide together how the money should be spent.”

In general, students think there should be participatory budgeting where people who are directly affected by the budget decisions get to decide how the money is spent. It is very important that students, family and community are involved because they fought for the money and should decide where the money goes. Get involved by going to to public meetings where students and parents can attend:

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You Don’t “Hella Love” Oakland Teachers OR Students with Research Like This

13 Apr
iwanttocommodify hella love oakland teachers

the true agenda of the NCTQ report? if it’s not, can you clarify why?

You Don’t “Hella Love” Oakland Teachers OR Students with Research Like This.

A Critique of the NCTQ’s “Teacher Quality Roadmap” Report

Table of Contents:

  1. Intro – A Racist/Classist Report for Oakland’s Schools

  2. The NCTQ’s Four Main “Reforms”

  3. No Social Context – No Race/Class Analysis – No Neutral On Moving Trains

  4. No Mention of Budget Cuts and the Impact on the Community – Continued Ignorance of Race/Class Oppression

  5. But . . . Schools Are in Crisis.  What is to be done?

Intro – A Racist/Classist Report for Oakland’s Schools:

On Wednesday, March 20th, I went to a rally organized by Youth Together that was in support of the Local Control Funding Formula.  At the rally, groups of Oakland and Richmond youth were yelling chants about “education not incarceration” and making demands for smaller class sizes, and better paid teachers.

Afterwards, I went to the GO Public Schools event that publicly released the findings of a report titled the “Teacher Quality Roadmap,” written by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).This report by the NCTQ, presented by two white women, completely contradicts the demands that students of color were putting forward on the same day.

The entire presentation was centered on the role of teachers as the most determining factor in student achievement.  Huge emphasis was placed on the role of “great teachers” as opposed to “average” or “ineffective” teachers.  No explanation was given for how these categories of “great,” “average,” or “ineffective” were determined, but I have an idea of how: standardized test scores.  No mention was made of what this study’s actual political viewpoint on standardized testing is.  No mention was made of how teachers should be supported in improving their practice.  No mention was made of out-of-school factors like police brutality, immigration raids, or unemployment play in shaping students’ lives.

The entire thing was shrouded in triggering statistics, flashy graphs, and seemingly convincing rhetoric about the problems of public education in Oakland.  The purpose of this quick response is to challenge the report that GOPS is promoting in its utility for addressing the real problems in Oakland schools.  Rather than supporting the efforts that teachers, parents, and students are putting into keeping quality programming alive in Oakland, and improving the programming that needs improvement, this effort is a veiled attack on the entire community of Oakland.  It represents a neoliberal political program that seeks to address the challenges facing communities of color in Oakland, while in reality being a veiled version of white supremacy and classism that will only further the degradation and destruction of Oakland students’ lives.

What we provide below is a critique of the 4 main recommendations that the NCTQ make for the Oakland Unified School District.  Secondly, we offer a critique of what the report leaves out, and the racialized and class based implications of these omissions.  Finally, we offer thoughts on how to transform the OUSD to actually make schools places where students can learn in healthy ways, teachers can work under the conditions needed to make the student experience profound, and where community members can be integrated into the day to day operation of the school.

Anyone supporting this program should reconsider, immediately, if we have a real interest in improving our lives and the lives of other oppressed people in our community. Continue reading

Tony Smith leaves Oakland . . . in shambles

8 Apr

We’re offerring a piece by our retired teacher comrade Jack Gerson on the “legacy” of Tony Smith, the now resigned superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.  We will be posting more on this soon.  Please send comments and suggestions.  

Tony Smith: What He Did to Oakland, What Hell Try in Chicago

By Jack Gerson        April 6, 2013

On April 4, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Superintendent Tony Smith gave notice that he was resigning effective June 30 and relocating his family to Chicago to be near his ailing father-in-law. There is little doubt that Smith will soon be a visible presence in Chicago education – quite possibly the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools. It is important for Chicago teachers and community to know just who they are likely to be dealing with – and to those fighting back against the corporate education agenda elsewhere too,

Tony Smith, laying the law down on Oakland’s students, teachers, and community . . . and then cutting out! Deuces!

given the importance of the struggle in Chicago.

My guess is that Tony Smith’s job in Chicago will be to break or weaken the powerful alliance between teachers, students, parents and community so evident during and after last September’s teacher strike.  There are few who can match him when it comes to talking about the importance of neighborhood schools providing wraparound services to combat the effects of poverty; to recruiting, rewarding, and retaining good teachers; to stimulate authentic learning based on concepts and creativity rather than skill-based rote learning; to provide all the resources that teachers need to teach and students need to learn; to acknowledge and work to overcome racism and its effects; to forge real authentic collaboration between faculty, staff, community, students, parents, and administration; to crack down on mismanagement, excess administrative overhead, and needless outsourcing; etc.  For that is exactly what he did when he was appointed superintendent in Oakland four years ago. He talked so well, in fact, that even some skeptics were willing to suspend disbelief and give him a shot.

But in Oakland, it was just talk. Continue reading

Connecting the Dots: Bay Area Millionaires Buying School Board Elections Across the Country

3 Apr

A little while ago we wrote about how corporate money has been rolling into school board elections across the country, upturning normally low-key, local affairs and twisting them towards corporate school de-form.  Of course, the local example was how GO Public Schools funneled $185,000 towards 3 Oakland school board candidates, Rosie Torres, James Harris, and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge.  GO had received the money from 3 main sources: the California Charter School Association, Gary Rogers (seed funder of GOPS), and Arthur Rock.  Well now, Arthur Rock and some other Bay Area venture capitalist friends have been popping up in even more local elections.  Teacher blogger, Jersey Jazzman, did the dirty work to uncover the campaign finances and here is a sample of what he found:

- Colorado: According to election records, Rock, Penner, Callaghan, the Goldberg-Sandbergs, and the Fourniers gave a total of $19,830 dollars to a slate of candidates consisting of State Senators Linda Newell, Mary Hodge, and Andy Kerr; Representatives Pete Lee, Millie Hamner, Brittany Pettersen, and Dave Young; and House candidate Chuck Rodosevich, who lost his bid. While each if the candidates got different amounts all donors individually gave the same amount to each candidate.

- New York: According to election records, Callaghan, Penner, and Rock gave State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein $2,000 each; Sandberg and Goldberg each gave $1,000.

- Nevada: According to election records, Alison Serafin, who was recently elected to the Nevada State Board of Education, received the following amounts:

  • Rock, Sandberg, Thiry: $5,000 each.
  • Goldberg: $3,500.
  • Callaghan, Penner: $2,000 each.
  • The Fourniers: $1,000 each ($2,000 total).

While some of this might seem like chump change when Obama raised $1 billion for his reelection, in school board elections these amounts of contributions totally warp the democratic process.  For more info from Jersey Jazzman, please click here for his post.  As he puts it these folks have been buying elections 3,000 miles from home (New Jersey in his case).

Of course, they’re also buying elections here and with huge consequences.  GO has continued its push to bring corporate de-form policies into Oakland schools, most notably, with its recent campaign to evaluate teachers by test scoresa scientifically invalid process.  To stop this red herring of a reform and point attention to where it should be (support and training for teachers based in professional learning communities and, crucially, increased resources for schools and our communities) we will have to be doubly vigilant and mobilized to offset the undemocratic nature of our current board.   Click here for more ideas on what we can do and, as always, please share your ideas too.

Garbage Science: Teacher Evaluation by Test Scores and Some Ideas for Stopping Them in Oakland

1 Apr

Some of you might have already seen the shocking results in the New York Times today.  Apparently, all the teacher evaluations programs pushed on school districts by Obama’s Race To The Top and the corporate de-formers have found a shocking conclusion: most teachers are, in fact, “highly effective” at their jobs.

Diane Ravitch does a great job of poking holes in this “realization” and cites some of their statistics:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

This is serious news for Oakland.  As many of you hopefully know by now, GO Public Schools & Co. (including Youth Together, Youth Uprising, SEIU 1021, OCO, and Education Trust-West), is making a serious push to evaluate Oakland teachers by student test score data.  They are not alone.  Superintendent Smith is heading the same direction in conjunction with 8 other California school districts (in the group called California Office to Reform Education (CORE)).

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