Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Response to March 15, 2011 Layoffs: Letter to the Community from OEA President Betty Olson-Jones

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.      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.      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.       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.       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.      1)  Write to Tony Smith and your School Board member (, Board member’s
2.     2)  Come to OEA’s Town Hall meeting at City Hall on March 26, 9:30am–12:00 pm.
3.      3) Come to the Board of Education meetings to support your children and their teachers. Ask questions. Demand that the layoffs be reversed!