Teacher quality and effectiveness have a profound impact on the growth and achievement of children, yet securing the talent necessary to maintain consistent improvements is no easy task. To attract and retain the very best teachers, districts not only need the vision of high quality teaching, they need the resources to see it through—to provide competitive salaries and to invest in programs to keep outstanding teachers. This is often a challenge for cash-strapped districts like Oakland.
The “Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students Tax” proposed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell attempts to provide an opportunity for Oakland schools to meet this challenge by raising funds for teacher salaries. It proposes a 10-year, $120 annual parcel tax on the November ballot to boost the district’s recruitment and retention efforts. Of the $12 million the tax levy would raise, 85 percent would go to teacher salaries and 15 percent would be directed to charter schools in the district.
While it is my administrative duty as superintendent of Alameda County schools to sign the resolution to call for the parcel tax election, I do so reluctantly. The measure lacks input and support from the Oakland educational community and leaves more questions than answers on how the funds will be utilized.
Rallying the community to support teachers by providing competitive funds is a good idea. Oakland residents have demonstrated time and again that they strongly support their children and their teachers. However, community input is critical for an action of this magnitude. The timing, during summer break, has virtually excluded the voices of key players and has provoked a groundswell of opposition. As a result, this proposal lacks the strength and clarity that healthy community debate provides.
During a hastily called meeting on Monday, the school board and the community were presented a final version of the proposed text. The salient concerns were expressed by board members and community representatives. There is no clarity on how the money would be distributed to district teachers and the 15 percent allocated to charters is left entirely without direction. There is also no designation for any of the funds to be used to help pay down Oakland’s debt to the state. As a county superintendent with fiscal oversight responsibilities, I need to question whether ongoing increased expenses in the form of higher salaries would be sustainable in the absence of new revenues (paying off the loan would certainly provide additional ongoing revenues).
We all recognize that the primary goal is to provide a creative, healthy and high-quality learning environment for all students. This is not possible without a healthy fiscal plan and an ongoing dialogue with all the stakeholders. Communication with parents, teachers and students is vital if the community is to have confidence in the district and its fiscal stability.
The “Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students Tax” has the right vision of supporting teachers to improve Oakland schools, but it makes no sense to put forward a flawed plan that, if defeated, will be yet another costly and unnecessary expense for this beleaguered district.
Sheila Jordan is the Alameda County superintendent of schools.