Archive for February, 2019

Oakland Teachers Shut It Down

Teachers say: ‘Get up. Get down. Oakland is a union town!’

Oakland teachers on strike. Photo by Ken Epstein .

By Ken Epstein

Oakland teachers went on strike Thursday, Feb. 21 smaller class sizes, more support for students, a 12 percent wage increase and to halt to destructive school closures

 “Bargaining with the district has not — in two years — produced an agreement that will pay teachers enough to allow them to stay in Oakland or make class sizes more conducive to teaching and learning or provide our students with the supports they need to thrive,” OEA President Keith Brown said, speaking last Saturday at a press conference announcing the strike.

“The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve, and to take control of our school district back from the control of billionaire campaign donors, is for the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association to go on strike,” Brown said.

The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), can legally strike any time after a neutral state-appointed fact-finder issued a report on Friday, Feb. 15.  The report, which is nonbinding, does not go far enough, according to the union.

While the factfinder proposes a 6 percent raise, Oakland educators are seeking 12 percent over three years to help halt what they are calling a “teacher retention crisis.” The report also supports hiring more counselors and reducing the student-to-counselor ratio from 600:1 to 500, while OEA had sought a 250:1 ratio.

“There is only one party in our bargaining with Oakland Unified School District that is pushing to improve our public schools for 36,000 Oakland students, and that is the Oakland Education Association,” said Brown. “It is time for the Oakland school board and our superintendent to make a choice – are they on the side of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and are pushing for more draconian budget cuts and school closures that will further hurt our kids, or are they on the side of teachers, students, and parents fighting for the schools Oakland students deserve?”

Responding to the strike threat, OUSD issued a statement over the weekend. District Communications Director John Sasaki said, “We want it to be clear, the district has been and continues to be prepared with comprehensive solutions to address all issues and to reach an agreement,” the statement said. “Furthermore, we believe the recommendations in the report provide ideas that will facilitate the parties reaching a fair contract and avoiding the harm a strike would cause our school communities.”

OUSD is also saying that all schools will be open during the strike.

“Qualified OUSD central office employees and screened temporary teachers will join school principals and site staff to supervise, care for and educate OUSD students.

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

In an open letter to Oakland teachers, parents and students last Friday, Brown criticized school board members who were backed by billionaires for pushing a competition-based “portfolio” model for Oakland that “has led to a patchwork of privatization, school closures, and unimproved student outcomes in districts like New Orleans, Newark and Detroit.”

The fact-finder’s report is posted on the union’s website: www.oaklandea.org. The full and comprehensive OEA presentation to the fact-finder – titled “Remedying Educational Malpractice,” with extensive data supporting the union’s positions – is also posted on the website.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017 and are the lowest-paid in Alameda County.

The news conference announcing the strike can be viewed art https://www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/

Published February 24 2019, courtesy of the Oakland  Post

State Pushes School District to Shut Schools, Sell “Surplus” Property

Parents and community meeting rally against school closings in Oakland Friday Feb. 15 at Roots International Academy in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Parents at targeted schools are beginning to come together to demand the school district and the state halt the proposed closing of as many as 24 Oakland schools in the next few years.

The first speaker at a rally last Friday on a cold and blustery morning in front of one of the targeted schools, Roots International Academy, was Tamella Jackson, educator and parent at Kaiser Elementary School, which is on the school board’s closure list.

“Something that I can’t get out of my mind (is the saying), ‘If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.’ We’re not falling – we’re standing for equality. We are standing for our city. We’re standing for our kids,” she said.

“Closing schools displaces (students) and causes family strains so parents can’t take of their kids. We’re slowly understanding and letting more and more people know that this system is set up to fail us,” Jackson said.

“None of us here are going to stand for letting you displace us or choose which teachers you want and what type of schools (we will have),” she said. “I’m speaking directly to the State of California.  Give us our damn schools back.”

Roots parent leader Ady Rios has been active in the fight to save her son’s school since December when the district first announced that Roots would close in June.

“We’re here to fight for our kids. We’re here to keep our schools open,” she said.  “We know that another 23 schools will be going through this. We’re not going to let them take those schools.  We’re going to fight. This is just the beginning.”

Teacher education professor Kitty Kelly Epstein said she was inspired by the commitment and perseverance of Roots parents and teachers “to fight with the school board to show them that their assessment of their school is totally wrong.”

The board justifies its decision based on “bogus” numbers, she said, racially biased test scores that do not prove what they claim to prove, and assertions that closing schools save money, which has been shown to be false in urban school districts across the country.

The district claims it would save a small amount of money – $325,00 – by closing Roots, a neighborhood school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard, currently serving 309 students.

But in a report issued last Friday to the state-appointed fact finder, OUSD wrote that “the district’s attempts to close schools have been difficult and have not led to significant reductions in cost over time.”

When OUSD officials realized that this statement was included in the report, they asked everyone in the room to rip that page out of their binders and return it to the district.

Meanwhile, the school district is moving ahead with plans to lease school property to charter schools for as long as 40 years and has set up a surplus property committee to sell public school parcels to developers and charters.

The pressure to dispose of public property district comes directly from the state and raises the question of what state legislators are doing to defend the existence of public education in Oakland and other urban districts.

According to community members speaking at Friday’s rally, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks and State Senator Nancy Skinner have a responsibility to intervene against school closings and the selling and leasing of public-school land,

A state law passed last year, AB 1840, encourages the dismantling of Oakland’s public-school system.

According to the law, OUSD can get a loan from the state if it “sell(s’) or lease(s) surplus real property… owned by the school district and uses the proceeds from the sale or lease to service, reduce, or retire the debt on the emergency apportionment loan, or for capital improvements.”

The state law also hands over significant decision-making control over school district finances to the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).

The law said the district is required, “in collaboration with and with the concurrence of the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and the … Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, to take certain actions by March 1, 2019 regarding its financial plans and school district construction plans.”

Though the wording of AB 1840 says the district “may” sell school property, rather than “shall” school property, the state’s overseers at FCMAT and the County Office of Education have made it clear that they expect the district to close schools and sell the property.

Published February 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post