Oakland Teachers OK Contract, Concerns Continue

Suzanne La Barre
Friday May 12, 2006

Oakland teachers approved a tentative contract agreement Wednesday, but union officials aren’t celebrating.  

Ending a divisive two-year battle for fair contracts, teachers, counselors and other members of the 3,200-member union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), voted 931-639 in favor of a tentative agreement that union President Ben Visnick is calling “the best we could get.” 

State Administrator Randolph Ward, who was appointed to run the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in 2003, sang a different tune Thursday, lauding the agreement as a “turning point and a new beginning” for Oakland. 

“This contract keeps Oakland Unified School District on the road to fiscal stability,” Ward said, citing declining enrollment, budgetary uncertainties and contract negotiations as the primary challenges the district has faced in the past few years. 

The contract, retroactive to last year, raises salaries 6.25 percent over three years, increases substitute teacher pay, ends free health care, and increases the mandatory student-counselor ratio from 500:1 to 700:1. 

On Thursday, Visnick commended the contract for preserving family health care, restoring a previous 4 percent pay cut and other features, but said salaries still aren’t competitive enough to keep teachers working in Oakland.  

“We’re going to lose a lot of teachers to other districts,” he said. 

Additional concerns include school consolidations and the involuntary transfer of teachers to other schools, funding for counselors and the ongoing approval of charter schools, he said. 

Both sides agreed to work collaboratively to improve conditions in the school district. 

“I think the community, the teachers and everyone who’s been involved only wanted one thing and that’s the best schools with the best teachers,” Ward said.  

Visnick is looking forward to the next round of contract negotiations in 2008.  

“Now is not the time to relax,” he said. “Together we will build on this contract so that in 2008, we can make teacher turnover an exception to the rule.””