Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
by Natalia Cooper, Special Education teacher at Oakland Technical High School
I am so proud to be an Oakland educator in this moment of great importance for our union and our city’s schools. I have seen such great organizing over this past school year and am proud to be part of many groups within the Oakland Education Association (OEA) that have tirelessly worked to achieve changes in Oakland that will guarantee the schools Oakland students and teachers deserve.
I am very concerned about the current Tentative Agreement (TA) between OEA and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and I will vote NO at the contract ratification meeting on June 3 at Oakland High.
Over this most recent months-long contract fight in Oakland, I had the chance to reflect on what my “bottom line” for the contract looked like. A few days before the TA was released, I settled on the following as my personal threshold for a yes vote on the contract (not in any particular order)
1 A solid, double-digit raise (so at least 10%) with no contingencies: By solid, I mean I do not count as a raise things like bonuses based on complex calculations of money coming from the state. Nor do I count as a raise, an increase in my salary that is based on additional time at my site. The TA includes a 6.5% raise, plus 1.5% for additional site-directed work time. There is additional money that will be added to this using a complex formula, but it appears that any additional money will be in the form of bonuses and not increases on the salary schedule.
2 Hard caps on Special Education caseloads: I am a Special Education teacher in Oakland so this demand hits very close to home for me. Our district demonstrates what one of my colleagues in OEA called “penny wise and pound foolish,” meaning they are prudent with small amounts of money and yet inclined to waste large amounts of resources. I see this often in my job as a Special Education teacher. Costly consultants, advisors and curriculum have come and gone in my five years working for OUSD. The TA includes the creation of a Special Education Committee with a limited number of teachers and an unspecified number of OUSD administrators to operate like a district-wide faculty council for Special Education. The TA also includes claims that the district will instate support plans for teachers whose caseloads balloon beyond a certain point, but does not include enough accountability for me to believe that claim. This TA does not include hard caps on Special Education caseloads.
3 No major changes to Article 12: Seniority/Vacancy/Transfer/Consolidation: Part of my issue with the changes to Article 12 have to do with trust in OUSD. The sense of urgency from the school district around these changes throughout the past several months make me wary when we have a Broad-trained Superintendent. That said, I am not voting no out of fear, but based on my experiences within OUSD that lead me to believe that changes to Article 12 could be positive for some schools that are high-functioning and have good relationships between teachers and administrators and could be devastating at sites where this is not the case.
The original call for changes to Article 12 came out of concerns around Principals hiding vacancies and people wanting more bottom-up control over school sites. I believe that authentic bottom-up control of schools would require much more time and education to be effective. I do not believe that sending two teachers from each Personnel Committee to be trained by OUSD human resources is necessary or sufficient in terms of education for teachers or site representatives. I also believe that the changes to Article 12 will not address the original concern of Principals hiding vacancies. The process is complex and convoluted and appears to make things more difficult on all sides, not easier for anyone.
When put together with changes to Articles 27 and 28, the circumstances begin to look even more dire for any teacher who does not fit in at a site. Again, while I still find them dangerous because of threats to workers’ rights, I understand that there may be sites where these items seem like they will work well with current administrators and teachers, but what if conditions at a site change? A long term view of these articles, taken all together, is a move toward undermining workers’ rights and deprioritizing teachers’ voices, not empowering them.
In short, I say no because I believe that this contract agrees to many concessions and would put in place some dangerous changes to foundations of our union and to workers’ rights within OUSD. In addition, I cannot in good conscience vote for a TA that does not fully address the public outcry for hard caps on Special Education caseloads, includes a raise that has contingencies attached and has such dangerous and drastic changes to Article 12 (as well as troubling changes to other articles). I refuse to vote yes out of fear and continue the narrative that we should accept this contract and do better next time. I want us to refuse this contract and do better this time! I have respect for everyone’s opinions on this matter and hope that many, many people will show up and vote based on their values, beliefs and conscience and not out of fear!