Teacher’s union disrupts school board meeting, calls for full salary raise
on October 27, 2016
“Trick or treat/ so petite/ our promised raise is incomplete!” sang union members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) at a lively school board meeting at La Escuelita Elementary School Wednesday night. School board directors carried out business as usual over the chants, but faltered a few times as they discussed budget matters, and heard from two charter schools seeking renewal.
The union members were protesting the school board’s September 27 announcement that that they will not pay teachers their full salary increase. While the most recent contract between Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and OEA establishes that teachers were to receive a 3.75 percent raise effective July 1, 2016, the school board says it can now only afford 3.07 percent.
“When we adopted the budget we anticipated higher revenue,” but pupil enrollment was lower this year than expected, Superintendent Antwan Wilson said.
“Because of charter schools—duh!” yelled one audience member.
Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated, schools that make up one-fourth of the district’s campuses. Both types receive the same amount of per-pupil funding. However, some board members such as Director Jody London of District 1 and Director Roseann Torres of District 3 have noted that charter schools cause the district to operate inefficiently because of the expense associated with opening and maintaining new charter schools.
Wilson sought to keep the tone of the meeting positive by saying he was “incredibly proud” of helping secure what he characterized as the largest raise district teachers have seen in 15 years.
However, Wilson warned that he will not be responsible for any action that puts the district’s financial health in jeopardy. In 2003, the district lost control of its financial autonomy after racking up a deficit estimated between $35 and $100 million. “You can call me whatever names you want … but one name they will call me is smart,” Wilson said as a few audience members who were not affiliated with OEA jeered.
Families and staff from two charter schools in red and purple t-shirts filled out the packed crowd. Those wearing red had come from the American Indian Public Charter school to drop off a thick binder containing its charter renewal petition.
Those wearing purple hailed from Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy, located in East Oakland, for their charter school’s renewal hearing. Their assistant principal, Tambra Mola, estimated that approximately 70 students, teachers and parents had shown up to voice their support of the renewal. Several mothers spoke, mostly in Spanish, about how the school is an essential part of their community and had helped their children get into college.
The Aspire charter school network operates 40 schools in California and Tennessee. According to Bay Area Aspire Public Schools Superintendent Kimmi Kean, the Aspire “district is the highest performing low income school district in the state.”
Board members quizzed school leaders about their school’s demographics, which only enrolled 29 African Americans out of 539 students in 2015-2016. They also asked whether school administrators would sign the “equity pledge.” The equity pledge, frequently referenced by Superintendent Wilson, is a set of norms designed to govern charter schools’ policies for inclusion and transparency. In the current system, many charter schools do not accept students with severe special needs, or make their boards’ membership rosters or meeting times visible to the public.
Aspire Public Schools is a signatory of the pledge.
However, critics like Jim Moredecai of the teachers’ union noted that the equity pledge is not legally binding. OEA members also noted that charter school special interest groups have been pouring money into the school board race in support of three candidates: Director Jumoke Hinton Hodge of District 3, Huber Trend who is running for a seat in District 5, and Director James Harris of District 7. The Parent Teacher Alliance, a political action committee affiliated with the California Charter Schools Association, has already spent approximately $100,000 each on these three candidates through independent expenditures.
In other news, the board listened to numerous public comments from local workers and contractors who are working on the new Central Kitchen. The Central Kitchen, located at the current Marcus Foster School at 2850 West Street, is the core of the Rethinking School Lunch Oakland Initiative scheduled to launch next year. The new facility will house a 32,552 square-foot central kitchen designed to serve 89 Oakland schools, an urban farm and several culinary classrooms.
The OUSD has a project labor agreement for construction of the kitchen that requires at least 50 percent of workers be local residents. Harris called the project “historic” for its commitment to “black and brown labor.” However, many construction contractors and workers of color commented that racial tension at the site undermines the equitable intent of the policy, although none would make further comment.
Hinton Hodge commented that while she does not believe the board can pass “anti-racist legislation,” the board has a duty to “go beneath the iceberg” and make sure workers are being treated well on the $40 million project.
Harris also requested that voters learn more about Measure G1. If G1 is passed on November 8, teachers in all Oakland schools will receive a salary increase, and middle schools will receive support for art, language and music programs.
The next school board meeting will be held on November 9 at Oakland City Hall.
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