The second-to-last Oakland Unified School District board meeting before the summer recess began Wednesday night with members of the teachers’ union demanding a new contract on the steps outside the district’s office, and ended with those same teachers becoming angry, tired and frustrated at having to wait six hours to present their proposal to the board.
“You’ve heard again and again from teachers about how disrespected they feel in this district,” Betty Olson-Jones, the president of the Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union, told the board after criticizing it for making teachers wait till past 11 pm to present their contract demands. “You can talk to anyone in local districts in surrounding areas and they don’t feel the same disrespect. The fact that all these teachers are willing to come back, we do it because of the kids. We sure don’t do it for the treatment we get from the board of education.”
Earlier during the meeting, the board discussed the district’s budget for the coming fiscal year, adopted a new policy on standards for family engagement and discussed a November ballot measure that would allow the district to issue $475 million in bonds to improve classrooms and bring in new technology.
The board also heard complaints from parents of former students at an Oakland private K-12 school run by St. Andrews Missionary Baptist Church, where teacher Robert Lacy, Jr. is being accused of physical abuse by several students, according to a news report by California Watch. The California Watch report also alleges that the school is overbilling taxpayers by inflating its enrollment numbers. The OUSD allocated $50,000 in federal funds last year to the school, and many parents were there to urge the board to stop funding the school in the future.
Before the 5 pm meeting began, about 50 teachers, many wearing the signature bright green shirts of the Oakland Education Association, demonstrated out in front of the building, demanding a new contract. The teachers have been working under a contract imposed by the district since 2010. The previous contract expired in 2008.
Standing outside the district office, Olson-Jones said in an interview that part of their demand for a new contract includes “asking the district to follow state law and spend 55 percent of education expenses in the classroom,” which she said the district has failed to do for years. “We still have a district that’s top-heavy in administration,” Olson-Jones said. The teachers then chanted “Classrooms first! Fifty-five percent!” as they tried to enter the board chambers for the meeting.
With the chambers already at capacity—many parents were there to see a Mexican folk dance performance by elementary school students at La Escuelita, a school southeast of Lake Merritt—most of the teachers were left outside. After some negotiations with the security officers present, though, the doors were open so the teachers waiting in the hall could at least watch the dance performance.
Soon after the performance, a line of people formed to comment on the district’s allocation of money to the school run by St. Andrews Missionary Baptist Church. The recent report on the school by California Watch alleges that the school received federal funding from the OUSD because of its claim to have 195 students enrolled, when really the number is much lower. The report also included students’ allegations of physical abuse by school leader Robert Lacy, Jr., which he has denied in news reports.
Some of those lined up to address the board were parents and grandparents of former students at the school. Catherine Joiner, who said her son Charles attended the school when he was 9, told the board her son was assaulted and robbed when he was collecting money for the school outside of a BART station and said there wasn’t a teacher around to intervene. “There wasn’t even an adult in the present premises to have even seen it,” Joiner said.
Joiner also said her son was locked in a room as a disciplinary action, and that he climbed out of a window because he had to use the bathroom, falling two stories and breaking his foot. When Joiner shared that story, groans went up from the packed chambers.
Board member Noel Gallo (District 5) asked Superintendent Tony Smith if he had a comment on the school board’s stance on continuing to help fund the school. “We’re investigating and taking everything into consideration, but given the nature of the issue, I believe it’s general counsel territory,” Smith responded.
OUSD general counsel Jacqueline Minor then said the board “takes the allegations very seriously and some additional investigatory work is underway,” adding that the board would discuss “litigation alternatives available to the district” during closed session later in the meeting.
Lacy, Jr. was present at the meeting, and addressed the board after the parents. Lacy said that while school officials “were not ready to respond” to the allegations, the school is “able to respond to every question that arises about the money that comes to St. Andrews, and how we facilitate the programs.”
Later in the evening, the board unanimously voted to approve new standards for family engagement. These standards are designed to improve communication between parents, teachers and administrators, and improve parent involvement in the district by organizing parent volunteering and giving parents more of a voice in education decisions affecting their children. While the board unanimously voted to approve the new standards, many on the board raised questions on the specifics of the plan, saying it was unclear what the program would cost and how it would be implemented. “I think this is like a lot of stuff we do in this district,” said Alice Spearman (District 7). “It’s packaged real well, I’ve got a nice binder, but my question is, it is going to serve the greater school community?”
The board also held two readings for items that are sure to dominate the next meeting—the budget for the next fiscal year and the possibility of putting a $475 million bond measure in November that would pay for improvements to school buildings and add resources to classrooms as well.
The last item on the public agenda was the presentation of the OEA’s proposal for a new contract. About a dozen OEA members remained to present it to the board as the hour passed 11 pm. The teachers’ main demands, according to Jones, include more academic freedom for teachers, lower class sizes, higher pay and the district committing to spending 55 percent of its education expenses in the classroom, which is state law. “Teachers’ working conditions are our student’s learning conditions,” Olson-Jones told the board.
Negotiations between the two sides should begin in July, Olson-Jones said. The final school board meeting before the summer recess is June 27.