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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Education & Student Activism | Labor & Workers
Town Hall on Saving Public Education in Oakland from State Defunding, 3/26/11: photos and audio
On March 15th, 538 of Oakland's teachers, counselors, librarians, and social workers were notified that they may lose their jobs. On Saturday, March 26th, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) teacher's union responded by holding a town hall to establish consensus between teachers, parents, students and elected officials so that solutions can be found and implemented to avoid the potential massive layoffs and disruption in Oakland schools. Mayor of Oakland Jean Quan; State Assembly Member Sandré Swanson, 16th District; State Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, 14th District; Tony Smith, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District; and Sheila Jordan, Superintendent of Alameda County Schools were present and expressed support for finding new streams of revenue given the large cuts to education expected at the California state level, traditionally the source of up to eighty percent of the budgets for local public schools. Invitee Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, did not attend. Council Chambers on the 3rd floor of Oakland City Hall, including both balconies, were packed with teachers, parents, students, and supportive community members who expressed their frustration and apprehension. Seven points of agreement were reached between nearly all present. [Full audio below.]
The city, state, and school officials present offered supportive remarks at the opening of the town hall, including making note that many of the revenue problems set to wreak havoc on California public education can be traced to the increasingly low tax burden placed on the wealthiest citizens and corporations in the state. Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson agreed that returning the top state income tax bracket back to 11%, which it was under Republican governors Reagan and Wilson, rather than the 9% at which it currently stands, would help raise billions more in tax dollars that could be used for educational funding. Nancy Skinner noted that decreasing revenues are reaching a critical point now as white voters, many of whom align with the recent Tea Party anti-tax fervor, have decided that they no longer want to contribute to public services such as eduction as the state grows increasingly diverse racially and culturally. Substantial revenues could be raised by taxing oil extraction in the state at rates comparable to that of most other oil-producing states. A consensus appeared amongst the elected official present that it was not possible to work with Republicans at the state level in any sort of rational or productive manner and that statewide propositions intended to raise new revenues and save public education are the only way to avert financial disaster. Mayor Quan suggested that the OEA, in conjunction with the California Teacher's Association, has enough union clout to place their own measures on the state ballot to better protect education in California.
Tony Smith claimed that the large number of RIF (Reduction in Force) notices were issued due to the uncertainty caused by the current budget impasse in Sacramento, where Governor Jerry Brown, Democrats, and Republicans have yet to agree on exactly how draconian budget cuts to education will be for the coming year. The final number of actual layoffs will not be determined until May 15th.
Teachers past and present, parents, students, and supportive community members took turns at the public microphone decrying the layoffs and the disruption to K-12 education that is already beginning with the uncertainty created by the large number of RIF notices. Should the amount of layoffs announced in two months approach the number of RIFs already issued, the disruptions to public education will be devastating. New sources of revenue will have to be raised at the local level if state leaders insist on continuing to defund local education.
Speakers questioned what is to happen to education in Oakland with the population of students remaining the same while the number of educators and support staff drastically reduced. The outlook for music and arts in schools looks bleak, two things that Sandré Swanson noted help decrease truancy rates. Numerous speakers objected to the huge and growing economic disparity between the super-rich and everyone else in this country. One speaker noted that the top 400 households in the U.S. hold as much wealth as the bottom 50%, or about 150 million people. It was universally agreed that the time has come to bring tax policies back to the more progressive rates of decades past when the wealthy paid more of their share.
Students also took their turn at the mic, speaking on behalf of favored teachers facing layoff and the fact that their right to a quality public education is being laid off with so many teachers and counselors facing termination. Some objected to seniority being the main criteria used in issuing notices. Parents worried about what the effects will be on their children and neighborhood schools, some which will be hit harder than others.
The following are the official "agreements" that came out of the town hall. All seven points below were agreed to unanimously by the officials present, except for number four, on which Sheila Jordan felt some responsibility remains on the Oakland district:
1. I commit to publicly endorse and work for progressive taxes
to fund public education and services.
2. I commit to support legislation to increase accountability
of charter schools.
3. I commit to work with OEA to hold the State accountable
for debt accrued while under State administration.
4. I commit to publicly support and work toward
forgiving OUSD’s loan payments to the State.
5. I commit to ensuring that OUSD spend 55% of education
expenses on teacher and aide salaries per Ed. Code.
6. I commit to work to restore adequate funding
for class size reduction.
(7. I commit to work towards rescinding all of the recent layoff notices.)
April 4th has been called as a nationwide Day of Action -- "We Are One" -- in support of collective bargaining rights and against cuts to education and social services.
Oakland Education Association:
Note that Spanish translation is only made for introductory remarks in audio here. Translator and Spanish speakers moved off-mic for the remainder of the event.
Student contingent representative Nikita Mitchell declares that their right to a quality education is being laid off
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 1:13 PM
Subject: [oaklandteachers] Letter to the community
In response to numerous requests from teachers and parents, I wrote this open letter to the community on our response to the layoffs. Please feel free to circulate widely. (I tried to add as an attachment but was told it was too large to send.)
March 22, 2011
Dear Parents, Students, and Members of the Oakland Community,
On March 15, 538 of our teachers, counselors, librarians, and social workers were notified that they may lose their jobs. The list includes 231 Elementary teachers, 11 counselors, 6 psychologists, 8 librarians, 13 social workers, 18 foreign language teachers, 11 drama and music teachers, 10 art teachers, 13 vocational education teachers, 45 middle and high school social studies teachers, 41 middle and high school English teachers, 28 6th grade Core teachers, 46 Adult Education teachers, 4 Alternative Education teachers, and 25 P.E. teachers.
Although these so-called "pink slips" or RIF (Reduction in Force) notices will not be finalized until May 15, the large number of possible layoffs has sent a shock wave of anguish, anger, and determination through the Oakland community. The district tells us that the reason for this unprecedented number is that they have to prepare for the worst possible state budget scenario. Our response is that the first priority of any school district should be to provide safe, stable, and sustainable schools for our children. That is the bottom line. We can't continue to create excellent learning environments for our children if class sizes continue to increase and teachers are moved around like pawns, or threatened with losing their jobs. Although we don't discount the seriousness of California's current budget crisis, we also want to point out that for years, this state has refused to make public education a priority. Since Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, banks, other corporations, and the wealthiest Californians have failed to pay their fair share in taxes. This has caused California schools to go from near the top in the nation to at or near the bottom in per pupil funding, class size ratios, the number of school librarians, counselors, nurses, etc. We say we've had enough of this failure to prioritize public education, and that our children deserve to have stable schools without constant turnover and turmoil. We say that our kids are the priority and that the layoffs must be reversed!
We are deeply concerned about the impact on all schools in the district, but especially upon those schools that have a high percentage of new teachers. Few schools have been left untouched, but many have been disproportionately impacted, with all or almost all teachers noticed. Many of these schools are in flatland areas, which historically have higher rates of teacher turnover than the more affluent hill schools. Layoffs devastate any school, but especially those that face losing most or all of their teachers.
For years the OEA has been calling for special attention to schools in the most impoverished areas of Oakland. Our "Create Success" program and our bargaining proposals have consistently advocated for additional supports for students in schools of highest need, such as smaller class sizes and more time for teachers to collaborate and plan. We have supported a mix of new and experienced teachers at all sites to provide mentoring and support. We have spoken out consistently against the tendency of Results Based Budgeting (RBB), OUSD's site-based budgeting policy, to encourage site administrators to hire new teachers as a priority because they cost less. In fact, in the 19 schools that receive additional dollars under the state's highly successful Quality Education and Investment Act (QEIA), an act that was authored by CTA, the law requires a mix of experienced and newer teachers, small class sizes, excellent site leadership, professional development that is designed and led by our teachers, and time for teachers to collaborate with each other to improve teaching and learning.
We are open to creative suggestions that will help minimize the instability caused by massive layoffs, and we will work hard to reverse the layoffs and bring teachers back to their sites. However, we want to caution against potential solutions that pit newer teachers against other newer teachers or against more experienced ones, or one school against another. The diversity in our teaching force is something we honor and respect; we each have a role to play. Though not perfect, seniority is a hard-won right that protects against arbitrary dismissals. Let's not take any measures that would pit teachers against their colleagues or parents against teachers.
The OUSD administration and Board members must answer some questions. We urge you to join us in writing to Superintendent Tony Smith and members of the Board of Education asking them for answers!
1) Why is a single teacher being given a layoff notice when we still have outside consultants working in the district? If this is really "about the kids," why isn't the district calling for a moratorium on outside consultants?
2) Why doesn't the district make retaining teachers its number one priority by shifting funds from programs that may be desirable but are not absolutely necessary in the current economic climate?
3) Why is the district not fulfilling its legal obligation to spend 55% of education expenses on teachers and instructional assistants, while continuing to spend huge sums of money on non-mandated costs such as benchmark testing?
4) Why is the district not aggressively telling the state that we cannot and will not pay the $6 million in annual loan fees, or the $1 million/year in audit findings and penalties, since these expenses were incurred under state takeover and fiscal mismanagement?
In our commitment to kids and public education, we welcome your ideas and suggestions, and we urge you to ACT:
1) Write to Tony Smith and your School Board member (Tony.Smith [at] ousd.k12.ca.us, Board member's name [at] ousd.k12.ca.us).
2) Come to OEA's Town Hall meeting at City Hall on March 26, 9:30am - 12:00 pm.
3) Come to the Board of Education meetings to support your children and their teachers. Ask questions. Demand that the layoffs be reversed!
President, Oakland Education Association
(510) 763-4020 x15
272 E. 12th Street
Oakland, CA 94606
The 10-Point Plan is a guide to raising revenue locally that California is set to deny school districts statewide.