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!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Must Read! March 15 Call to Action!

 by OEA's Secretary and Communication Chair, Steve Neat.
 The timing was perfect. Just as most of my colleagues and I were working on our own unpaid time (yet again) to get report cards done, the Reduction In Force notices (RIFs) began arriving at the homes of teachers by certified mail over the weekend. 538 OEA Members have been given layoff notices. At some sites every single teacher has received a layoff notice. At my site, Kaiser School, 4 out of 11 teachers has received one. These are indeed desperate times, but this is not a natural disaster, it is man-made. It results partly from poor governance and poor funding decisions at the state level. But it also results from poor decisions at the district level. These decisions can be reversed. The lay-off notices can be rescinded before May 15. We need every teacher, every parent, and every student in OUSD at Oakland High School at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. Take the day off work if you must, as is your right under state law (see below).OUSD needs to understand that they can't balance cuts on the backs of students and teachers. More importantly, the teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESPs) who have received layoff notices need to know that they have our support.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s time for OUSD to put students first. First of all, no employee in this district should make more than the top teacher salary while 538 teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESPs) receive layoff notices. How can we justify downtown administrators—many of whom never see a child throughout a work day—making six figures while 538 teachers and ESPs get laid off? I’m not saying downtown administrators don’t do anything useful. But is what they do more important than what teachers do? No.
Second of all, no outside contractor not providing essential services (school lunches, etc.) should have their contract continued next school year until every single lay-off notice is rescinded. Is it useful to see our district test data laid out for us on color print-outs thanks to Edusoft? Maybe. Is it more useful than teachers in the classroom? No. Is it useful to have Si Swun Math available as a supplementary program at many sites on top of the regular state math curriculum? Maybe. Is it more useful than teachers in the classroom? No.
Some District officials, some in the media, and some principals may try and distract us by bringing up seniority, small schools, and a yet-to-be-approved 2% raise like a magician throwing smoke bombs on the stage. Or perhaps they will put their arm around us, nodding somberly, and shedding crocodile tears while they cry poverty. We cannot fall for the okeydoke. We must remain focused on the fact that if OUSD was serious about continuing to boost student achievement and putting students first, they would enact measures like those outlined above to keep teachers in classrooms and keep class sizes down.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Friends, families, colleagues, students, Oakland, do not be silent. Stand with us. We need YOU there on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Oakland High. And it cannot stop there. The OEA is strike-legal. At the next Rep Council meeting we will be voting on whether or not to strike. Parents have power too. I am not advocating anything. But when we’re talking about laying off 538 teachers and ESPs and cramming even more students into every already overcrowded classroom, while at the same time millions of dollars continue to go to outside contractors and six-figure administrator salaries, there is NO ACTION that should be off the table.
Superintendent's Office
1025 2nd Avenue, Room 301
Oakland, CA 94606
Phone (510) 879-8200
Fax (510) 879-8800

Governing Board 
Oakland Unified School District
1025 2nd Avenue, Suite 320
Oakland, CA 94606-2212
Office E-mail:
Office Main Number 510 879-8199
Office Fax Number 510 879-8000

Directors - E-mail
Vice President Jody London - District 1 -
David Kakishiba - District 2 -
Jumoke Hinton Hodge - District 3 -
President Gary Yee - District 4
Noel Gallo - District 5 -
Christopher Dobbins - District 6
Alice Spearman - District 7

State Law on Missing Work for School Activities: The Family-School Partnership Act is a California law that allows parents, grandparents, and guardians to take time off from work to participate in their children's school or child care activities. The law (Labor Code Section 230.8) first took effect in 1995. Its provisions were expanded in 1997 to add licensed child day care facilities to the kindergarten-through-grade-twelve levels included in the original legislation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tony Smith Backs Out!

Tony Smith Backs Out! 

OEA was approached by Region 2 principals several weeks ago about a joint effort to highlight the budget crisis facing Oakland and the state by holding a rally in Sacramento on March 2. A week later, a joint committee was formed with the Superintendent, union leaders, principals, and other district staff to plan these events. At that time I agreed to survey our members to see what level of interest there was in going to Sacramento March 2. The very next week the joint committee decided March 14 would be a better date for a variety of reasons, including the fact that community colleges and others are mobilizing in Sacramento that day to protest cuts to their institutions.
Based on this information, and up against a narrow time line, your OEA Crisis Action Team began organizing for a district-wide mobilization to Sacramento on March 14 as well as local actions on March 2. Many of you have already received several announcements about these events.
On Friday, February 25, district spokesman Troy Flint, in Superintendent Tony Smith’s absence, announced that OUSD would not participate in organizing for a Sacramento rally on March 14 since it wasn’t clear if the initiative to extend taxes would be on the ballot or not, and therefore it wasn’t clear what the purpose of rallying or lobbying should be.

I am frustrated that the district and Superintendent Smith have squandered an opportunity to unite the workers of OUSD around a common cause. Regardless of what happens with the initiative, a number of us on the joint committee have consistently raised the importance of mobilizing large numbers of people to educate the public around the drastic cuts to education and social services, and around the crying need for progressive forms of taxation.

While OEA’s plans for a mass mobilization in Sacramento on March 14 have ended, this can still be an opportunity to rally and build momentum for future actions.  Many of you have already made individual or site plans to rally on March 14 with the community colleges against budget cuts. Some have already planned field trips for that day, and we encourage those plans to continue and be carried out. We will help coordinate a meeting place in Sacramento; however, without district organizational and financial support, we cannot arrange for transportation. Of course, we expect that District will honor personal days taken to participate in the day’s events.

Two other events are scheduled for March (see below), pink slips are expected, and the OEA Executive Board is held an emergency meeting on Monday, February 28th. It is imperative that you visit the OEA website ( frequently for the latest information.

We face a continuing crisis in education at the local, state, and national level. Our most vital resource in responding to the onslaught is an informed organization that can respond with quickness, creativity, and flexibility. 
Betty Olson-Jones
In Solidarity,
President, Oakland Education Association

Monday, March 7, 2011

California budget disaster!

Update!  From the March 7th Rep Council Meeting

After a report on the Executive Board's vote February 28 to reconsider their original motion (to oppose Brown's budget and tax extensions), we voted overwhelmingly to uphold their substitute motion:
"I move that the basic themes for the OEA's mobilization to Sacramento be: 
(1) opposition to cuts in educaiton, pre-K to college, and in social services, 
(2) the need for progressive means of taxation to fully fund education and social services."
This was followed by another overwhelming vote in favor of the following motion:
"I move that OEA Rep Council:
1. States that all current budget proposals are inadequate
2. Opposes the Brown's budget cuts to education and social services
3. Takes the position of "let the voters decide" on the proposed tax extensions
4. Postpones a decision on the merits of any tax extension initiative until the April 4 Rep Council, after it is known whether or not there will be a special election and Reps have had discussions with their members."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Open Letter to Bill Gates: Higher Class Sizes will Drive Teachers Out

After 18 years as a science teacher in inner-city Oakland, Calif., Anthony Cody now works with a team of experienced science teacher-coaches who support the many novice teachers in his school district. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody's work, visit his Web site,Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

 Anthony Cody


Dear Mr. Gates,
I am writing to you because you have been getting a great deal of attention for your ideas about education, and from my perspective here on the ground in an impoverished urban district, I think you might be making some mistakes.
I read your recent commentary in the Washington Post (How Teacher Development Could Revolutionize Our Schools), and reports from your presentation to governors, where you advised them to raise class sizes in the rooms of the most effective teachers.
In your comments to the governors, you said "there are too many areas where the system fails. The place where you really see the inequity is the inner city. "
You presumably are hoping to redress this inequity when you make this proposal:
What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise.
I am glad you are aware of the inequities. But your suggestion that caps on class sizes be lifted does not suggest to me that you actually have much understanding of the nature of these inequities. First of all, do you actually believe that in the short time frame in which these governors are trying to balance their budgets, they are going to magically revamp their teacher evaluation systems so as to not only identify the best teachers, but also make sure that ONLY the best teachers have class size increases?
What is actually happening is that, partly buoyed by your suggestion that class sizes should not matter, there are going to be wholesale increases in class size across the board, for every teacher, at every grade level. In Oakland, principals have been told to prepare for cuts ranging from $300 to $900 per student. The only way to achieve such savings will be to lay off teachers and significantly boost class size. And there is no mechanism that can be put in place to reliably identify the top 25% of our teachers, no money to pay them extra for taking on these students, and if the class size increases were only limited to a fourth of the teachers, the savings this would provide would be inadequate. *(see update below)
In point of fact, the teacher turnover rate is one of the biggest problems we face in Oakland's schools. This instability makes it difficult to build the kind of caring, collaborative, reflective community that allows us to improve as professionals. This turnover is not a function of our teacher evaluation system. While improving our evaluation system is worth doing, it will not fix this problem. Getting rid of ineffective teachers is not the key. The key is keeping the good ones and helping them become better. A good evaluation system is part of this, but it is much more than this. We need to pay attention to the working conditions, and make sure teachers are well-supported.
One of the most important working conditions, especially in high poverty schools, is small class size. As a middle school teacher, my student load was capped at 160 a day. That meant about 32 students in each of my five classes. Just imagine 160 papers to grade every day, and you get a picture. It is not uncommon for teachers to spend half of their weekends grading papers. The quality of the attention we can give our students is diluted every time you add to that number. And if you are in a high poverty school, the chances are pretty much 100% that in every class you will have students who are currently experiencing traumatic events in their lives. I am talking about domestic and neighborhood violence, homelessness, eviction, parents incarcerated. As this report indicates, as many as a third of students in our tough neighborhoods suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. These problems all seep into the classroom, sometimes overtly, and sometimes through acting out behaviors. And larger class sizes make these behaviors even more difficult to handle.
This is not just my opinion. There is a large body of research that supports a strong link between class size and student achievement. And I would be very surprised if the private schools your children attend have large class sizes. On average, private schools attended by the children of the wealthy have class sizes roughly half those in neighboring public schools.
As class sizes increase across the board, as they are likely to do, we are going to see turnover rates rise among teachers. I serve as a mentor for beginning science teachers, and have built a program to try to support and retain them in Oakland. Sadly, more than half of my own mentees are leaving this year, after working only two or three years as teachers. If you ask them why, they will tell you, that the stress and challenge of the job is simply overwhelming. All of them are promising, bright young teachers. They all have huge gifts to offer their students. But the challenges they face leave them feeling defeated. Increasing their class size will only make this worse.
You are one of the wealthiest men in our nation. Do you see the challenges our poor communities face due to inadequate resources? Are you aware that the top one percent of our people have more than a third of the net worth of our nation? And they keep getting more and more tax breaks? The best thing you could do for schools would be to launch a campaign aimed at getting wealthy corporations and individuals to pay their fair share of taxes, so that the public schools, which rely on tax dollars, are not primarily funded by the middle class, which is hurting so badly now.
Update: I was thinking about the math involved in Mr. Gates' proposal. Let's take a school staffed by 40 teachers. You identify 25% as the "best," and give these ten teachers four students more each. That means you have served an extra 40 students, allowing you to reduce your staff by ONE teacher. That saves you approximately $75,000 a year, in salary and benefits. But according to this proposal we need to pay these teachers more, so if we pay them say $5,000 each, we have an expense of $50,000. So our net savings is $25,000. This is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the cuts our schools are facing. Please check your math, Mr. Gates.
What do you think? What would you like to say to Mr. Gates?