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Oakland Teachers Make Opening Proposals in Contract Negotiations

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday January 22, 2008

Oakland teachers fired the first shot in the upcoming Oakland Unified School District contract negotiations, with more than 100 representatives braving chilly afternoon temperatures last Thursday to present their contract proposals at a press conference in front of Castlemont High School in East Oakland. 

Among the proposals are a reduction in class size, reductions in caseloads for support staff, pay raises, and a release from strict adherence to Oakland Unified’s highly standardized teaching curriculum.  

The first three proposals would cost the district money and come during the same week that Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut—including education—because of the economic downturn. 

“We are presenting bold proposals, what some might call ‘unrealistic’ in the current budget crisis,” OEA President Betty Olsen-Jones said in a prepared statement read at the press conference. “But if we don’t set our expectations high, we’ll be accepting the status quo, and the next time around we’ll be told the same thing, that ‘there’s not enough.’ We’re here to say the conversation about reforming public education has to be changed from one of scarcity to one of how we are going to solve the problem! If the district, as currently run by the California Department of Education and wealthy patrons like Eli Broad, is truly interested in fulfilling their obligation to educate all—not just some—of our children, then we challenge them to find the resources for doing so.” 

Behind Olsen-Jones, teachers held up a banner reading “Education Is A Civil Right! Corporate Oakland Pay Your Share.” 

With formal proposals expected to be presented by both sides at the Jan. 30 OUSD administrator-board meeting, OEA officials did not provide details of their contract proposals at last week’s press conference. The contract between the OEA and OUSD expires in June. 

OUSD Public Information Officer Troy Flint said by telephone a day after the OEA press conference that the OUSD state administrator’s office supports OEA’s goals in principle.  

“OEA is fighting for very important goals,” Flint said. “We support an increase in teacher compensation and a reduction in classroom size.”  

But Flint added that “we are operating in a restrictive financial environment, and there will have to be a compromise that is within the realm of realism.” 

After years of state receivership, Oakland Unified is moving into limited local control in several areas, including personnel management, and the first steps are being taken to hire a local superintendent.  

The State of California still maintains control over Oakland Unified’s fiscal decisions, however, and the contract negotiations will be conducted between the OEA and the office of interim OUSD state administrator Vincent Matthews.