Contract Matters: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

What teachers are saying

Teachers in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) dedicate their lives to their students. This school year, in our one-to-ones and engagements with teachers, we’ve heard teachers lift up the importance of providing their students with rich, culturally relevant learning experiences and individual attention. They want to be supported by effective coaches and school leaders, have time to collaborate with their colleagues, and feel secure in their school sites’ plans to best serve their students. Oakland teachers want to do all this, and deserve  to be compensated at a rate that allows them to afford to live in one of the most expensive metropolitan area in the country.  


What we know about the budget challenges

Our community has been grappling with understanding the district’s financial situation. We consistently hear the questions: “Will we be taken over by the state again? Why did we need mid-year budget cuts and will they happen again?”

As we’ve written about in the last two blogs about the budget crisis, The Road Ahead, and Answers to your OUSD Budget Questions, OUSD has a history of overspending in multiple departments, and has not created budgets that accurately project its spending for the last few years. OUSD dipped into its already low reserve multiple times to cover program costs. OUSD houses several programs, all competing for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie. Yet, accurate program impact on students is not transparent enough to help leaders make informed decisions about our priorities.

At OUSD’s board retreat last week, the state trustee shared that we are not in immediate danger of being taken over by the state, so long as the district has the minimum cash required in its accounts or ability to get the cash necessary through additional cuts elsewhere. In that same meeting, school board members discussed the need to make additional adjustments to the 2018-19 budget in order to build confidence that schools would not experience a third year of mid-year cuts. Depending on how much more is cut from the central office, school sites may learn about budget cuts to their school sites this summer.

All is not completely lost, however. The district adopted the Smarter School Spending Framework, endorsed by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), known as a national best practice for school district budgeting. OUSD has started to rebuild the finance department with experts who can help move towards these best practices. If the district can budget for the 2018-19 school year more accurately AND put money into its reserve account as required, then we might be able to truly reach a budget that reflects the priorities of families, educators, and our district as a whole.


What we know about the latest contract negotiations.

Contract negotiations began in January 2017. The initial proposals from both the union and the district set out to make changes that would tackle the important subjects of teacher recruitment and retention, such as a raise in compensation, and additions to support for new teachers. Since then we’ve seen both sides come to agreements on adjusting the school calendar and affirmative action in hiring practices. In the latest bargaining update from the the Oakland Education Association, they outlined three areas where they feel proposals from each side are very far from agreement: Class size and Special Education Caseloads, Hours of Work, and Compensation. The latest bargaining update from the district offered information about compensation, support for new teachers, and evaluations, albeit with less emphasis on how far they are from agreement. Additionally, the union has been holding community marches and rallies to raise public awareness about contract negotiations.


What we hope for the future of bargaining.

Teacher retention is a significant struggle for OUSD. Not only does teacher turnover affect a school community’s morale, it’s also a drain on precious district resources. These negotiations should prioritize finding ways to address teacher recruitment and attrition, including – but not limited to – salary and class size. That being said, we cannot ignore the district’s current financial challenges. No matter what agreements are reached in this next contract, it must be an agreement that keeps us moving forward on the steep climb to fiscal solvency and away from the threat of state receivership. Finally, both sides should do whatever it takes to come to an agreement as soon as possible, with minimal disruption to students and families.


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