Oakland teachers authorize strike

February 9, 2010

Oakland Education Association member Jessie Muldoon reports on the union's fight for a new contract and its endorsement of the March 4 Day of Action.

MEMBERS OF the Oakland Education Association (OEA) voted by a 94 percent margin to authorize a one-day strike, and by an 89 percent margin to support the March 4 Day of Action against education budget cuts.

The union is in the stage of bargaining called fact-finding, which comes after the two sides reach an impasse. The move to authorize a strike comes after a year and a half of fruitless negotiations with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). In addition to authorizing a strike, members voted unanimously to oppose the district's "last, best and final offer."

The district's offer is based on the logic that there is no money, and only cuts are on the table. However, a document authored by the OEA's bargaining team proves that there is enough money to settle the contract. The problem is that the district's priorities are testing, corporate consultants and administrators, rather than teacher retention and quality education for students.

Here are a couple examples of spending where the money would be better used to reduce class sizes and pay teachers a competitive salary:

Rallying against budget cuts in Oakland
Rallying against budget cuts in Oakland

The OUSD spends $10 million a year for "benchmark testing" and test prep materials.

More than $5 million is paid out to consultants to outsource jobs like professional development and curriculum coaching.

The district makes annual payments of $6 million toward its debt to the state of California.

Perhaps most outrageous, OUSD pays million-dollar fines to the state for exceeding the 8-to-100 administrator-to-teacher ratio mandated by law.

The district's offer has a pay freeze for the 2009-2010 school year, but re-openers in the two subsequent years. At the least, these re-openers would put pay cuts on the table, but they could also open the door to attacks on health care.

The OEA bargaining team also suspects that the re-openers could be used to force the union to accept new contract provisions to make the district eligible under Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program. Race to the Top offers competitive grants to school districts, but only if teacher evaluations and pay are tied to test scores.

The OEA has officially opposed Race to the Top, and it is taking a stand for public education by voting to strike and endorsing the March 4 Day of Action, which will involve walkouts and protests by students, faculty, teachers and community members at all levels of public education in the state of California.

The attack on public education and the drive towards charters and privatization continues. In a shocking comment in an interview, Arne Duncan revealed his true colors:

The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable.

When the secretary of education can make such a callous statement, it shows the scale of the threat to public education. Stands like the ones the OEA is taking are small, but necessary steps in defending public education and opposing the draconian cuts and misplaced priorities of both the state of California and the federal government.

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