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At school board meeting, students plead for their teacher

on April 28, 2011

A dozen students from Marbella Rios’ fourth grade class lined up in front of the microphone on Wednesday night to ask the school board to allow their teacher to stay in her classroom.

“We all love our teacher,” student Paulina Rico said. “Sometimes we draw her drawings and she hangs them up on the wall next to her to remember us always.”

Jesus Soria speaks to the Oakland school board on behalf of his fourth grade teacher while his classmates wait their turn to do the same. Their teacher, Marbella Rios, has been asked not to return to the classroom next year.

Rios is a first year teacher at Ascend Elementary in East Oakland who received a “non-reelect” notice. These notices are different than “pink slips,” which are budget-based layoffs.  Non-reelect notices can only be issued to teachers who have not yet earned tenure and are issued at the will of the school principal. No reason for the notice need be given.

This spring, only 16 of these notices were sent out on top of the over 600 budget-based notices. (In 2010, 47 non-reelect notices went out.) The Oakland school district recently rescinded the vast majority of the budget-based lay-offs for elementary school teachers, but the district has not yet announced a decision on the fate of the secondary teachers or administrators who were sent layoff warning notices in March.

When the kids from Rios’ class sat down, three school counselors stood up. Budget-based layoffs for counselors haven’t been rescinded and counselor Alice Philips told the board she thinks they should be. Philips is responsible for counseling over 800 students at Edna Brewer Middle School in central Oakland.

“I’m stunned that comprehensive high schools and large middle schools are planning to go forward without counselors,” Philips said. “While cuts are necessary, this is an area that has no extra room to cut.”

Philips said that in just one day she performed duties as varied as meeting with the mother of a bullied student to helping a boy who found himself homeless after a fight with his mother. She worried that without someone in her position next year, these functions would go unfulfilled.

The school board is not permitted to respond to public comments while they are being made, and did not announce any decisions regarding the jobs of the counselors or teachers who have received non-reelect notices.

In other business, the board passed a resolution in support of an upcoming week of protests to support public education in California being organized by the state teachers’ unions. Betty Olson-Jones, the president of the Oakland teachers’ union, said planned actions the week of May 9 included teach-in events in the Bay Area, a rally in San Francisco and occupying the state building in Sacramento.

Eleven local contractors attended the meeting to witness the vote approving facilities projects funded by Measure B. Timothy Brown, the district facilities director, has led an effort to increase the number of local contracts awarded for school district projects.

“Hopefully it will continue like this,” contractor Rick West of Rick West Plastering said. West was awarded the plastering contract for a project at the Lowell Middle School campus in West Oakland. He said school construction jobs were gratifying because, “I’ll be able to help in the redevelopment of Oakland.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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