CLASSROOM STRUGGLE

Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education

What I sent to my co-workers at Fremont on the TA

by Nick Parker

Regarding the important vote on the tentative agreement this Wednesday June 3:

I recommend people take a look at this summary. I also explain my thoughts on the issues below. I respect the fact that there are many opinions out there, and I am sharing mine because I consider our contract to be an important vehicle for (or against) equity and justice our students and ourselves.

This tentative agreement is a “teacher turnover contract” when what we, and our students, need and deserve is a “teacher stability contract.”

It is a teacher turnover contract because changes to Article 12, 27, and 28 make it easier for the district to push people out of their jobs through school closings, transformations, or consolidations, and then avoid placing the affected teachers based on seniority. Displaced teachers who have done nothing wrong will have to compete with others to get placed. Thus, teachers have to pay the price for the instability imposed by the district.

It is a teacher turnover contract because no significant progress is made on class size, caps for SPED, or counselor ratios. This is the fundamental equity issue in our contract: students need more teachers and counselors to provide for their needs. If we don’t fight for smaller classes and more counselors, who will?

It is a teacher turnover contract because the guaranteed pay raise is quite small, only 6.5%. STRS contribution increases will eat up around 2% of this. This leaves us way behind the regional median and does not help increase teacher retention. What happened to the double digit raise and parity?

Our students have greater needs than students in middle class or upper class schools, with mostly white students. Therefore they should get greater support in the form of more teachers and counselors per student, and adequate teacher compensation and extra preparation time to balance the increased difficulty of teaching in high-needs schools. (Yes, we want to be here, and yes, we enjoy it. But it is challenging, no one can deny that.) If we won’t fight for greater resources for our students, who will?

This contract is a major step toward making all Oakland public schools into “charter-like” schools. Changes to Article 26, 27, and 28 encourage schools with “specialized programs” (including linked learning, newcomer programs, or restructuring, all of which apply to Fremont) to seek exemption from parts of the contract, allowing them to impose longer hours and days of work, increased class sizes and caseloads, more subject preps, and different evaluation procedures.

While it is true that the new contract language requires that these changes be voted on by teachers at the work site, it is highly problematic to have a majority of teachers effectively imposing increased responsibilities or changed requirements on a minority of their coworkers. Not all of us have the same responsibilities. A young, single person is more likely to be able to take on extra work hours than an older person, or someone with greater family obligations. If a majority at a school site decides to impose longer work hours, how will this affect single parents or teachers of color? I think this will tend to drive out single parents and teachers of color who may have more demanding roles in their families, while favoring younger, whiter and more middle class teachers who may have less demanding roles in their families. Therefore this plan will worsen the diversity problem in the workforce, instead of improving it. Once a school site has approved its “special plan” for teachers, called an “affirmation agreement,” all teachers are required to sign the agreement — or go somewhere else:

28.3 Election to Remain at Site: Teachers currently assigned to a school site designated by the District for intervention may elect to remain at the site provided that they sign the Affirmation Agreement […]

Even if a teacher signs the agreement, the principal can later “determine” that the teacher isn’t meeting the agreement (no specific process is laid out, as opposed to the formal evaluation process). This would subject the teacher to review by the personnel committee and possible removal from the site. If the personnel committee disagrees with the principal, the decision is made my the Superintendent and the OEA president (really).

excerpted from 12.2.2.7.2 – 12.2.2.7.5:
[T]he Principal/Site Leader may determine in writing that a teacher has not satisfied the terms of the Affirmation Agreement at the new site or program within a site […] Principal/Site Leader and teacher shall discuss […] the option of the teacher’s voluntary [sic] return to the Talent Pool…
If the teacher does not select the option to return voluntarily [sic] to the Talent Pool [and if] the PC agrees with the Principal/Site Leader’s determination, the teacher will automatically be placed in the Talent Pool and begin participating in the transfer procedure […] In the absence of agreement, there shall be a review by the Superintendent and OEA President, whose decision shall be final

Finally, I understand that many people have mixed feelings about the possibility of a strike. As regards our students, I think it is accurate to say that a strike for smaller classes and more counselors, for better compensation, and retaining job security, would be a strike in the best interests of our students. In contrast, giving in on all these issues, in exchange for a small raise and some one-time cash bonuses, is not in the students’ best interests. Furthermore, if we reach out to the community we would receive an outpouring of support. If we believe in social justice, we must know that power concedes nothing without a demand. Is it worth the risk and the sacrifice of a possible strike to make teaching in Oakland a sustainable, stable job and to improve the level of attention we give our students, especially those with the most needs? I think the answer is yes. That’s why I recommend a NO vote on the tentative agreement. If we stand up and reach out for support, we can do much better.

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This entry was posted on May 31, 2015 by in Uncategorized.
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