Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Elect Benjie Achtenberg

Benjie Achtenberg

For Executive Board Seat #4
of the OEA Executive Board

**I want to do what’s good for teachers,
so teachers can do what’s good for kids. **

Benjie, a Bay Area native, teaches 8th grade Humanities at Melrose Leadership Academy. He has been his school site’s Representative to the OEA Rep Council for three years and has been active in organizing his site for all OEA actions.

Benjie’s goals:

--> Improve communication with and engagement of all OEA members
  • Build on the success of the Effective Teacher Task Force meetings in April to create more opportunities for constructive dialogue between all members about the real conditions necessary for our success
  • Build member engagement in our union through better email communication regarding meeting agendas, motions being considered, and decisions made by OEA leadership
--> Strategic collaboration to bring more resources into Oakland schools
  • Form strategic relationships with local community groups to support local revenue source
  • Bring the fight to the State level, and organize to reform the State tax code
--> Renew contract bargaining efforts, centered on improving our practices as professionals by calling for…

  • Increased teacher compensation
  • Built-in PLC (Professional Learning Communities) time at sites, sharing best practices
  • Built-in peer observation/ release days for newer teachers to observe more veteran/ master teachers
  • Built-in on-going mentor teacher relationships for all teachers at all school sites/ across school sites if necessary

I want to also encourage everyone to support and vote for
Toni Morozumi for Executive Board Seat #1,
Isabel Toscano for Executive Board Seat #3, 

and Kei Swensen for 2nd Vice President

We share a similar vision for positive change in the union, in the district and in our schools. I am in full support of their candidacies.

If you have any questions for me please do not hesitate to send me an email.

Thank you all for your support, time, effort, passion and devotion to teaching in Oakland. 


Benjie Achtenberg
8th Grade Humanities Teacher
Melrose Leadership Academy

Vote May 3rd through May 13th! 
Look for your ballots at your site starting May 3rd. 
Your rep should pick them up at Rep Council, Monday May 2nd.

Elect Mark Rendon

Mark Rendon for  
OEA Second Vice President
I am a Music Teacher at ASCEND & East Oakland Pride

  1. More members serving on OEA committees
  2. Cancel the debt!
  3. Tax the rich!

Elect Kei Swensen

Vote Kei Swensen OEA 2nd Vice President
13 years teaching in Oakland

  • OEA Executive Board member
  • OEA delegate to the NEA RA
  • CTA State Council Rep.

I have heard many stories about what drives OEA members to do the work that they do; what moves them to become active in union work.  Listening to others, sharing our stories:  building relationships...this is what makes our union stronger.
This my story...

I started my teaching career 13 years ago as an intern through the OUSD Cal State Hayward credential program. Experiencing the pressures of No Child Left Behind, years of program improvement, and the threat of school closure, I optimistically and naively opted to take a leave of absence from OUSD to work in a charter school on my site.

"They" said charter schools were not anti-union; to organize if need be. Promises made were not kept; contract language was interpreted as they saw fit; and if we didn't go with the flow, we were at-will employees- no due process, we could would find ourselves jobless if we didn't play by their arbitrary rules.

To make a long story short, our efforts to unionize were undermined.  I attempted a return to OUSD where I would actually have protected rights. It wasn’t until OEA stepped in however, to ensure my contractual rights to return were honored, that the District acted to find me a placement.

I was in my own safe bubble for so long, it wasn't until that bubble was burst that I realized what I had taken for granted:  the need for collective bargaining rights, protection through fair representation, and the power of a strong union.

This experience has propelled me into become active in our association.

Elect Mark Airgood, Tania Kappner, and Vincent Tolliver

Vote in the OEA Elections at your site May 9-13:

Defend Public Education as a Right and Not A Privilege for Every Young Person!

Mark Airgood
for OEA Treasurer
I am a special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School and a 13 year OEA Site-Rep. I am the current OEA Treasurer and have maintained fiscal stability for this organization throughout the last two years.

Tania Kappner
for Executive Board, Seat #1
I am a current OEA Executive Board member. I have taught at Oakland Tech for the past 11 years and am a fifteen- year OEA Site Rep. I am a long-time civil rights organizer, a long-time fighter against the expansion of charter schools and state takeover of the Oakland schools.

Vincent Tolliver
for Executive Board Seat #5

I am the Instrumental Music Teacher (Orchestra, Marching/Concert Band, Guitar Class, and Jazz Bands) at Skyline High School. I’m proud of Oakland and of the struggles that won free breakfast programs for children across the city and one of the largest instrument libraries in the country for youth music programs. I believe that all of these gains were secured because of the readiness of the people of Oakland to stand-up and fight together with and for the young people. In my 18 years as an educator I have always been active in student and parent empowerment individually and through group organizations. I have been a founder and co-founder of several groups specifically targeted at increasing the academic success of African-American males and have been an advocate and mentor of educators throughout my teaching career.


Elect Mark Airgood and Tania Kappner 
to CTA State Council!

Vote for Mark Rendon for OEA Vice-President & Craig Gordon for OEA Executive Board!

·   Preserve all Arts, Music, and Counseling Programs! No Increase in Class Sizes! Stop the Cuts in Early Childhood Education! Oakland Youth Won’t Go to the Back of the Bus!
·   No Teacher Layoffs, Program Cuts, and School Closings in Oakland! No Increase in Class Sizes!
·   Restore Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream for America!
·   Stop the Resegregation of Higher Education!
·   Pass the DREAM Act Now!
·   Unite with the New Youth Civil Rights Movement to Keep Public Education at All Levels a Right and Not a Privilege!

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) / Equal Opportunity Now (EON) Slate 510-717-6365


We Stand on the Side of Young People and the
Right of All to Public Education

This OEA election is critical for the defense of public education in Oakland. The election of an OEA leadership committed to building the independent power of our union allied with the youth and community of Oakland is key to determining if we are successful in saving public education in this city, or see it destroyed through school closings, layoffs and program cuts, charterization, and anti-teacher/anti-student attacks. A vote for the Mark Airgood, Tania Kappner, and Vincent Tolliver is a vote for independent leadership that makes the defense of public education for every young person the guiding principle of our actions. The EON/BAMN slate members stand-up for OEA members’ rights, but understand that if schools are closed or charterized – that even if teachers’ are able to transfer, even if they are unionized in the charters – the students have nowhere else to go.
There are already areas in West and East Oakland in which there is no public school within the neighborhood. And even more to the point, if we allow the right to every young person to public education to be taken-away, we will have suffered a historic setback to a central gain of the civil rights movement and in opportunity for the whole next generation of youth. Our union cannot let this be the outcome of the next period of struggle. We can win this fight. We must rely on the strength, boldness, and passion of the youth and their families as our true ally. There is no better place than Oakland to stop the attack on public education. The students and families of Oakland have proven time and time again that they will act in defense our public education and school programs. In the fights against school closings and program cuts, in defense of early childhood education centers, in defense of adult education – student and families – especially Latino and immigrant families, have mobilized hundreds to the OUSD Board meetings to demand the preservation of schools and programs. The OEA can be a powerful force in building these actions and the mass, independent civil rights movement that can save public education and defend the future of the young people of this nation. We will get the full support of our students if we act.
We must find the courage and dignity to act as an independent force in the society capable of defending our interests and the interests of our students. We do not believe that California, Oakland or this nation is “too poor" to support public education. The rich and powerful have viewed the economic crisis as an opportunity to lower the living standards and expectations of the vast majority of the population. From Arne Duncan to Jerry Brown, every Republican and Democratic politician says the opposite of what they mean on public education. The politicians who decry the achievement gap between Latina/o and black students and their white counterparts or America’s declining capacity to provide a first-class education for our youth, are promoting policies that can only accelerate the problems they profess to solve. The politicians cannot speak the truth. They know that almost no American believes that public education should be a privilege and not a right.
Our opponents in this election rely on the Democratic Party politicians and the good graces of Superintendent Smith and the OUSD administration. They seek to narrow our struggle to strictly trade-unionist boundaries. But the $14 billion of cuts to education and social services that the California Legislature just passed, were proposed by Jerry Brown and passed by a Democratic Party dominated legislature with barely a whisper of protest by the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) or virtually any other union in California.  Unless we build the strength of the independent civil rights movement and force the politicians to abandon their attacks, they are totally prepared to destroy public education and the future of Oakland’s youth. Superintendent Smith and the Board are already discussing mass school closings for the upcoming year, commissioning a study that claims the District has up to “40 campuses” of excess space. We owe it to ourselves and the students we teach to fight for our shared interests and needs. We cannot have the OEA end-up as just another organization that says one thing but does another – that is in-bed with those who are closing public schools and converting them to charters. We must stand on principle.
We are proud to stand-up with our students and to build the power of the oppressed to hold onto public education and to advance progress and renew prosperity. In 2006, the massive immigrant rights demonstrations that repeatedly shut down Los Angeles and other major cities gave birth to a new movement that stands squarely for increased democracy and reviving the struggle to make America a more equal less segregated and divided society. EON/BAMN candidates were leaders in building the mass immigrants’ rights marches in Oakland. It’s clear that the Latina/o and immigrant communities that led the massive actions in 2006 are staunch supporters and defenders of public education. A call to action by our union to defend our early childhood, K-12 schools, adult education, and community colleges and universities would be met with enthusiasm and massive support in action. We know that victory is possible. We call on anyone who refuses to condemn California’s Latina/o, black, immigrant and poor youth to a future devoid of educational opportunity, hope and dignity to join us in building a movement with the political perspective and social power to win.

Elect Ben Visnick

Statement of 
Ben Visnick
Candidate for OEA Treasurer 

Monday, April 4, 2011

(The following is an edited version of the candidate’s statement to Rep Council)

I’m Ben Visnick, a history and driver education teacher at Oakland High and the parent of an OUSD student at Montera Middle School. 

I started my career in Oakland Public as a substitute teacher at Frick Junior High in 1977.
There was a 9-day strike that year which reduced secondary class size from 35 to 32 students per class.  In the late 70’s, I became directly involved in CTA as an organizer of substitute teachers in both Richmond and Oakland where the bargaining units were legally expanded to include per diem employees.

I received my first Oakland contract in 1982 and taught for 10 years at both Calvin Simmons and Madison middle schools.  During that time, I successfully advocated to include temporary teachers in the District health plans and to force OUSD to issue more probationary contracts.  OEA struck again in 1986 for 19 days and won a 20% raise.

In 1992, I was elected OEA President and the union initiated the 3 R’s campaign.
The OEA took the lead in demanding that OPS Reduce class size, Raise teacher salaries, and Reallocate resources to the classroom.  

Oakland was successful in sparking the state-wide K-3 class size reduction program, but it took a 26-day strike in 1995-96 to help accomplish it two years later.

I returned to the classroom in 1996 and watched the energy that OEA helped develop in the community dissipate by the turn of the century.  So I became First Vice President (again) in 2002 and opposed the 4% furlough/pay cut negotiated with State Administrator Randolph Ward by an OEA President who went on to become a principal in Vallejo.

In 2004, the OEA membership returned me to the presidency.  Our main goal was to restore the 4% pay cut, maintain a real choice of Kaiser and Health Net, guarantee at least one staffed elementary specialty period, and secure an actual raise for both contracted and substitute teachers.

Little did we know, as we conclude the 2010-11 school year, that the small 2007 salary increase would be the last raise Oakland educators would receive in four (4) years!

As I move closer to retirement and look back on our successes and failures within OEA, why would a 58 year-old teacher with a 12 year-old son want to become an elected OEA leader once again?

Why I’m Running

1) Since 2002, OEA has lost over 500 members.  This decrease is due to both demographic changes in the city, subcontracting of bargaining unit work, and the growth of non-union charter schools.

To better organize in the community against lay-offs and cutbacks to our Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School, Adult Ed and Special Education programs, we need to be on stronger financial ground.  OEA Reps will receive shortly (as part of my campaign) a detailed plan to begin organizing the charters, stopping subcontracting, and collecting the appropriate dues from every possible unit member.

2) While our local OEA dues have remained constant, CTA and NEA dues continue to rise to the point where we are paying $1,019 per year to our unified local, state, and national organizations.  This amount would not be unreasonable if we were receiving the necessary support from CTA and NEA.  Instead, much of our Oakland dues are being used to operate a duplicate CTA office on the estuary at a cost of $120,000 per year!  This money could fund two OEA/CTA organizers to visit schools and form alliances in the neighborhoods of Oakland.  This redundant office must be closed and we must return to a full-service and one-stop center on East 12th Street and 3rd Avenue.  Soon, I will provide a detailed plan to make the OEA Center an efficient office housing both OEA employees and the CTA staff assigned to serve the OEA/CTA/NEA members working in the Oakland Unified School District.

3) As Chair of both the OEA Scholarship and Hardship/Solidarity committees, I have the proven fiduciary skills necessary to be your next treasurer.  Not only will I provide monthly updates to Rep Council on our union’s finances, but will function (as one of five (5) OEA officers) as a team player to help our union transition to a younger generation of leaders.  Even my detractors recognize the wealth of knowledge I possess as a veteran of over 30 years of struggle to make OEA the most dynamic urban teachers’ union local in California and across the USA.

So please vote for Ben Visnick during the week of May 9-13 and look for the above plans to make OEA a stronger union for the future battles ahead. Together we will defend what we have achieved since the advent of collective bargaining in the 1970s and move forward in the current decade to enhance teaching and learning conditions in Oakland for our students and the dedicated educators who are the members of OEA.

labor donated/4-18-11

What Has Ben Visnick Done for OEA Lately?
May 2, 2011

1)      Ben reminds you to enroll any dependents under 26 years old into your negotiated Kaiser or Health Net medical plan.  Your young adult does not have to be a college student to receive this coverage!  The deadline is May 31 to change plans and/or add dependents.

2)      Ben, as Chair, has expanded the annual OEA Scholarship Program to support 7 deserving OUSD graduates who desire to become future public educators.

3)      Ben, as Chair, has written the amendment to allow the OEA Hardship Fund to support “solidarity” cases such as our $500 grants to Wisconsin teachers and the locked-out (for over a year) Castlewood Country Club workers in Pleasanton.

4)      Ben has encouraged the adoption of the Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) Letter to require OUSD to hire more career Exceptional Educators for our Exceptional Children (over 10% of our students in OUSD).

5)      Ben hosted the meeting for our March 15 RIF recipients at Oakland High for over 538 OEA members receiving those needless/wasteful certified letters.
He continues to urge you to wear your buttons demanding “No Cutbacks, No               Layoffs” to Save Quality Public Education in Oakland.

6)      Ben advocates for the remaining laid-off/consolidated members whether they are Adult Ed, Counselors, Early Childhood, Foreign/World Language, Psychologists, Core, or Vocational Ed/ROP colleagues.

7)      Ben favors the rehiring of qualified temporary teachers from 2010-11 for 2011-12 positions in OUSD before any new employees are hired through outside agencies that are not designed to recruit and retain career educators.

8)      Ben is both a teacher and parent within OUSD.  Therefore, he knows what families and educators want in our public schools.  He strongly believes that best practices currently exist in all of our schools which must be replicated district-wide without the use of consultants or charter management organizations.

9)      As OEA Treasurer, Ben will provide Reps with monthly updates on the status of:

          a) Wells Fargo General Account; 
          b) Provident Membership Assistance/Solidarity Fund; 
          c) Loan “owed” to CTA;  and 
          d) Executive Board expenditures over $500.

10)   Finally, as Treasurer, Ben will continue to advocate that OEA prioritize opposition to the sub-contracting of our positions and organize the current charter schools to stop the attrition of our OEA bargaining unit which has lost over 500 members in the past decade.    

 (labor donated)

Elect Craig Gordon

Re-Elect Craig Gordon 

for OEA Board Seat #4 

OEA members face a stark choice: Continue to hope that collaboration with administration and Democratic “allies” enable us to save public schools in Oakland or begin to fight hard for the resources students and teachers need for quality education for all.

I began teaching in Oakland in 1990. For five years I focused exclusively on developing as a classroom teacher and didn’t get involved in OEA. So I understand why union activity is a low priority for many of our members, especially new teachers. Nevertheless, we must now engage many more members if public education is to survive in Oakland. But even if we get more members involved, the question remains: What must OEA do to defend and improve public schools?

Some in OEA, including my opponent in this election, emphasize OEA collaboration with the district.  This approach suggests that OEA should convey our views and rely on district administration and promises to make needed changes. I strongly disagree.  I greatly respect OEA’s participants in the recent Quality Teaching task forces and convention (and I have participated in other OUSD task forces), but we should have no illusions that such meetings will bring concrete change. 

Reliance on collaboration has left OEA unprepared to fight cuts that have worsened conditions in our schools for years.  Has collaboration brought a raise, restored counselors, nurses, librarians, or assured current class size limits for next year? Only last year's one-day strike slowed the district’s plans to increase class size. Even with the recent withdrawal of most pink slips, 95 layoffs remain, more than 350 certificated positions are slated for elimination, and Adult Education, serving 25,000 people—parents of our pre-K through 12 students—has been destroyed.

It’s particularly important now to have leaders who clearly understand that—despite sincere-sounding claims to the contrary—District administration is not on our side. The privatizers in GO Public Schools are cultivating members to lead our union into more collaboration with those decimating our union, our schools, and our students’ futures. Our members have a clear choice in this election: 

Ø      Either collaborate with the privatizers or fight ongoing cuts, increasing class size, and violations of the OEA contract.  

Ø      Either accept excuses that “the money isn’t there” or join efforts to build a campaign for a bailout of public schools and services instead of banks and corporations.

Throughout history, each movement for social justice has been derided as crazy. Then the tide turns: some people fight back, a critical mass grows, and suddenly abolition, women’s suffrage, desegregation, and stopping of a war are accepted as common sense. Today we are told that to demand what students and teachers need is “unrealistic,” and that we must accept the “new normal” of worsening educational conditions. But growing numbers of people around the U.S. and the world are fighting back, saying, “no, we won’t pay for the banks crisis.” The choice is ours.  

Also endorsing :  Mark Rendon for 2nd VP / Mark Airgood for Treasurer
Tania Kappner for E-Board Seat 1 / Vincent Tolliver for E-Board Seat 5

A few accomplishments as an OEA leader and activist, E-Board member and Site Rep:
Co-founded the oaklandteachers listserve in 2006/ Initiated and supported efforts to maximize bargaining transparency / Led OEA’s effort to protect rights and educational conditions in new small schools / Co-authored OEA’s Create Success Vision/ Have helped lead the Schools-Not-Banks campaign and actions and the campaign to make large Oakland-based corporations pay for public education / Led fight to save Paul Robeson High School / Have vigorously and effectively represented many members at my site and others/ Pushed for legal challenge to Results Based Budgeting /Led fight to defend seniority and rights of consolidated teachers

I welcome your ideas and questions about how OEA can move forward. Please email me at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Most Aggressive Defense Of Teachers You'll Hear This Year!

The guy who asked teacher Taylor Mali, “What do you make?” at a dinner party certainly never thought he’d get this answer.