Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
On January 26, more than 100 OEA members met at Redwood Heights Elementary to discuss OUSD’s “Mutual Matching” proposal. If Mutual Matching were adopted, teachers whose positions are consolidated (i.e. eliminated) because their school has been closed or reorganized would give up their contractual rights to a guaranteed job. Instead, they would go into a pool (including consolidated teachers, current teachers who want to change schools, and new job applicants). (See accompanying article for details).
The forum was enlightening and revealing. Nine breakout groups met for about an hour, giving all participants a chance to voice suggestions and concerns. There was near-unanimity that OEA should tell OUSD that we will not agree to replace our contractual placement process (Article XII of the OEA / OUSD contract) with Mutual Matching this spring. Instead, as several teachers agreed, we should tell the district that the placement process doesn’t work because OUSD has flatly refused to implement large parts of it (especially the provisions for voluntary transfer). Rather than complaining that the process is broken, OUSD should acknowledge that they broke it and help make it work.
Many participants called the Mutual Matching proposal part of a district strategy to blame veteran teachers for OUSD’s failures, with the goal of driving out veteran teachers and busting OEA. But surprisingly, even teachers who have long expressed interest in exploring Mutual Matching expressed serious doubts about the district’s proposal and agreed that OEA should not be rushed into agreement on it this year.
All of this is quite heartening. But there were some disturbing aspects. In her opening presentation, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones reported that OEA and OUSD had worked jointly to develop a new contractual placement process, and that while OEA leadership had not seen or approved the present Mutual Matching proposal prior to its release, several ideas in OUSD’s proposal came from OEA (for one: monetary incentives to induce veteran teachers to resign or retire). Even more troubling: OEA had agreed to let OUSD pilot Mutual Matching on teachers who were consolidated in October. At least some of the affected teachers were quite upset, and felt victimized and abandoned by the union.
Perhaps most ominous is that despite the overwhelming sentiment at the meeting to stay with the current contractual placement process and to not implement Mutual Matching, some –perhaps most – OEA leaders are still looking for ways to make it work this spring. Thus, both before and after the meeting, prominent OEA leaders told us privately that they remained open to allowing “volunteers” to waive their seniority rights to join the Mutual Matching pool. This is fraught with danger. We all know how much pressure principals and other administrators bring to bear on teachers to “volunteer” for the latest pet project or “silver bullet” campaign. Once teachers start giving up their seniority rights, it will be a huge fight to get them back. The District will grab this opening and, having already established its power to impose, will turn the trickle into an all out assault on seniority. It was bad enough that they were considering this before the forum. But why, after not raising this during the forum, was this privately floated again as soon as the teacher participants filed out?
The current OEA leadership has insisted for years that OEA needs to collaborate with OUSD administration “when it’s in our mutual interest”. They have said that OUSD superintendent Tony Smith “is not the enemy; he’s on our side” (for example, at last spring’s OEA-sponsored Town Hall meeting). They have partnered with the district around a “Teacher Effectiveness” task force. They have worked with OUSD on developing the Mutual Matching framework, and agreed to let OUSD pilot it.
Meanwhile, Tony Smith and the school board have played hardball. They have closed the Adult Education program, which served 25,000 students when Smith took office in 2009. They are closing or reorganizing twelve schools this year and at least 25 more in the next two years, while more charter schools open. They have reduced the number of nurses, counselors, and psychologists to a dysfunctional minimum. They have refused to make a decent contract offer to Oakland teachers (who are the lowest-paid in the county and among the lowest-paid in the state). Instead, they imposed terms on OEA nearly two years ago, and now they’re trying to hit harder and harder. Now Smith and many principals blame union contracts for low student achievement, and call for immediately rewriting all contracts (see accompanying article). Now they refuse to arbitrate grievances, meaning they can violate contractual rights with abandon. Now they want to eliminate seniority – that’s the meaning of Mutual Matching.
For years, OEA leadership has given OUSD administration – and especially smooth-talking Tony Smith – the benefit of the doubt. OEA has stressed the importance of collaborating with OUSD. But collaborating with an opponent intent on undermining the union can only end in disaster. It is well past time to bend the stick in the other direction. We warn that many principals, with encouragement from Smith and his managers, are using site collaboration to pressure teachers to voluntarily agree to allow erosion of teaching and working conditions – for example, to make “staff agreements” to longer work days and / or longer work years at reduced pay for the extended time; for consultant-led rather than teacher-led Professional Development; for orienting instruction around districtwide exams; for accepting incursions from cyber learning / robot instruction; etc.
And while OEA has been campaigning for adequate funding for public education and other vital services from the 1%, where have Tony Smith and the school board been? Contributors to this newsletter founded the OEA campaign to “Bail Out Schools, Not Banks and End Foreclosures”, and several of us were arrested last May when we occupied Wells Fargo’s downtown Oakland branch to call attention to our demands. We have campaigned for years to get funding from the banks, from the Port of Oakland, and from the corporations that pay the city little or no tax. Tony Smith and the school board have never participated. They just turn their pockets inside out, cry that there’s no money, and tell us that we have to pay. Some collaboration!
OEA has a vision for what schools should look like and how they should function – the OEA Vision. We should all be clear that this is not a vision shared by OUSD. Let’s not continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s understand that they are using “collaboration” to induce us to agree to projects that are harmful to students, communities, and teachers: downsizing, charterizing, privatizing, and union-busting.
When we’re offered a decent contract; when the consultants and privatizers are shown the door; when strong guarantees for education focused on developing students’ conceptualization, spirit of inquiry, and creativity have replaced the current too-prevalent emphasis on test scores and obedience; when OUSD respects schools as communities of students, parents, teachers and staff; and when district administration fights for the funding needed to provide resources, programs, and staffing – then we can consider giving OUSD administration the benefit of the doubt.