OUSD imposes “last, best and final” offer for teacher contract
on April 22, 2010
The Oakland Unified School District announced Thursday at a press conference that the school board voted unanimously last night to impose the teacher contract that is their “last, best and final offer.” The offer keeps salaries and benefits at their current rates, removes the current class size restrictions and reduces the district’s full-time Adult Education staff. Today’s announcement came after months of negotiations with the Oakland teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association, which has been pushing for a raise for all teachers.
“We left feeling extremely disrespected,” OEA president Betty Olson-Jones said, referring to last night’s board meeting. “We found it shocking and surprising when the district said we will not go back to the table.”
The union plans to strike to protest this decision on Thursday, April 29.
The union had previously rejected this version of a teachers’ contract, which removes limitations on class size and implements cuts to Adult Education. While the imposed contract does not institute pay cuts, neither does it offer teachers a raise across the board as the union had hoped. Instead, the new contract preserves the district’s current “step and column” system that provides for a steadily increasing salary as a teacher gains in experience and completes additional degrees or certifications.
Tony Smith, the Oakland schools superintendent, also publically committed to doing everything he could to increase teacher compensation over the next few years. “The idea that we are protecting the current salary is really important and [so is] recognizing that teachers are not well compensated and we have to fix that,” Smith said.
“How much you’re paid is a demonstration of respect and we haven’t done what’s necessary to give teachers the respect they deserve,” he added later in the meeting.
The current contract negotiations between the OUSD and the OEA began two years ago while the district was still being run by the state following a takeover that began in 2003. At that time, a locally-elected board presided over a state-run district and a state-chosen superintendent. The district’s initial offer to the teachers at that time was a contract that included both a pay cut and a benefit cut, according to Gary Yee, president of the Oakland School Board. Yee said that the board rejected the offer.
In June, 2009, an outside mediator was brought in, as is required by law for union contract negotiations. That July, the board brought the issue before Tony Smith, who had been hired that month as the first locally selected superintendent to serve in Oakland in six years. Smith said he and his staff have been working to make the contract more palatable to teachers. But no agreement was reached with the help of the mediator, so an outside fact finder was brought in to offer a possible compromise.
Last week the fact finder’s report–a third-party document that evaluates the claims made by parties in collective bargaining, according to the district’s website–was released and neither the district nor the OEA agreed entirely with the findings. The report found that the district’s financial state was “woeful” but that teachers should still receive a salary schedule increase of about two percent. Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune, has more on the report here.
According to the district’s labor negotiator, Troy Christmas, at this point in the negotiation the OEA has earned the right to strike and the district has earned the right to impose the contract. Both groups are still legally bound to continue their efforts to come to an agreement with each other, Christmas said.
Smith said today that preserving the current pay and benefit structure in this time of significant sate budget cuts is noteworthy in itself. “It’s one thing to fix this with no reductions but to have to reduce almost a quarter of our operating budget and figure out how to figure out how to increase compensation when other districts are doing takeaways to manage that, and not take anything away—it’s been a complex problem to solve,” Smith said.
The district has said it expects to be operating on $85 million less next year than it operated on in 2009-2010. When this shortfall is added to the close to $40 million in operating costs it has lost over the last two school years. the district is looking at a close to 20 percent reduction in funds between 2007 and 2011. State budget cuts and the non-renewal of last year’s stimulus funding are major factors in the loss of funding. Additionally, declining enrollment and high truancy rates at Oakland’s public schools have a magnified impact on teachers since, fewer students require fewer teachers. Both have also led to a reduction in state funding since districts receive state money based on the average daily student attendance in the district.
Smith said that closing schools would be the primary way the district will deal with decreased student numbers and finding a way to increase teacher compensation. “We need to have 20 to 30 fewer schools and that has to begin immediately. School closures has to be part of what we do,” Smith said.
The OEA is planning to strike on Thursday, April 29. The union is expecting 95 to 100 percent participation among teachers and instructional aids, according to Olson-Jones. The district currently employs 2,339 classroom teachers plus a few hundred instructional aids. The day will begin with a morning picket at school sites, Olson-Jones said, and will end with a mid-day rally in Frank H. Ogawa plaza in downtown Oakland. “We continue to say we want to bargain. We want to use the fact finding report as the basis,” Olson-Jones said after today’s announcement. “We are not greedy. No teacher goes into it for the money.”
“[Striking] is not something we want to do,” Olson-Jones continued. “Every day you lose, you lose a day’s pay, you’re away from your children. … Teachers get into the business to teach.”
Smith said he bore no ill will toward teachers who felt they had to strike and said that the district was prepared with enough staff to ensure “our students will be safe and well cared for that day.”
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