Sunday, March 10, 2019

We fight, we win! Win what?

Now that the seven-day Oakland teachers’ strike is over my son has gone back to his high school and the local parent-teacher’s association list serve it telling us what we can do with the wooden sticks that had been used for picket signs. 
The union leadership has been on the air and on line claiming a victory. 
The district management tells a story where everything is back to normal, nothing to see here. 
And on line, there is grumbling.  Only about 60% ratified the contract in a vote that had lower turn out and a lower margin than the strike vote. 
Why the grumbling? 
Let’s start with the money.  What the teachers were asking for was not that much to being with.  They wanted 12% over the next 3 years, and about 4% back over the year and a half that they had worked without a contract.  Given the local cost of living inflation, driven by ever higher rents, the union proposal was just barely above breaking even, maybe. 
What they got was a 3% ratification raise and 11% over 4 years.
Not bad for collective bargaining, not great for paying rent if you teach. 
But that is only some of the dissatisfaction.  There were more issues on the table of importance to the teachers and the public in general. 
They were:
·        the loss of funding and real estate to a charter movement running roughshod over our public schools,
·        distrust in the district's financial reporting,
·        school closures and
·        the high cost of upper school management. 
The group of school officials who stood in front of the press to give us their version of the settlement probably cost the public over a million a year, and back in their offices are many more like them. 
So, let’s step back and take a look at the bigger picture. 
This settlement is a big win GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. 
Circumstance number one is that the majority of the school board members are friends of Great Oakland Public Schools (called GO and GO Advocates for the PAC).  Despite the name, they are really advocates of a school choice and charter version of our school district making our education system Balkanized at best.  In practice, many privileged people in Oakland send their kids to either a preferred school or a charter and some of our schools are being allowed to fail based on some sociopathic Social Darwinism ideas and practices.  And of course, working class students, especially working class students of color, are getting the short end of the charter movement stick. 
This fact, Circumstance One, casts a shadow and influences every other aspect of our local problems. 
Closing schools?  That publicly owned real-estate suddenly becomes available.  The charters and the developers are first in line for the ugly land grab, and in the Bay Area, anything to do with real estate development, acquisition or use has become very ugly.
High priced staff?  An amazing percentage of our high price staff and superintendents of recent years comes from that same GO charter movement.  Every voter in Oakland should know the name of Eli Broad and know about his academy where he trains administrators to “reform” school districts according to this privet business model.  All kinds of people kicking around GO and the OUSD have this kind of “training”.  If we just fired them, we could have our libraries staffed. 
And one could go on and on about GO and its deceptive antics in our local schools, and I often do talk about these corporate raiders, but let’s step back and look at a bigger issue still.
All across our nation, schools are not getting the resources that they need.  Not the K-12, not the trade schools, not the Junior Colleges and not the state university systems. 
Because rich people have decided to stop paying taxes.
In California we have our property tax “reform” called Prop 13, which is something of a scam, and the state Democrats do not have the backbone to either straighten it out, or simply stop taxing real estate just for value and find some other, more equitable way to raise money.  In any case, they have not raised taxes where money is being made and they have not provided an alternative way to fund schools, libraries, parks, health centers, the arts, youth activities or much of anything that serves the greater public. 
The long and short of it is lower taxes on the rich translates to austerity in public services. 
Some people think that this is too big a problem to fix.  Somehow, we should do some more minor, practical thing first, and…. well I have good reasons not to be a Democrat.  Let’s just note that currently the Dems hold both houses of the state legislature and the governorship and have appointed most of our state court justices, yet somehow, they are not able to submit some kind of comprehensive tax and equalization system to the voters? 
The Republicans had no such self-limiting hesitations when they pushed their anti-social shift of taxes from the rich to the middle and lower classes.  They still talk BS about Prop 13 as if it saved us somehow and the Trump tax cut as if it was the engine of our economy. 
So, thinking about how we live in a time when public spending is always leaving our basic needs begging and the politics does not really support the “public” in public schools, what the Oakland Education Association got as a settlement is not bad indeed. 
They got more money than was offered.
The got some movement on class size and made it a bargaining item. 
And they got the school board to hold off on school closure decisions and commit to hold a vote on a charter moratorium.  (a vote of the board, not the people of Oakland) District staff tried to say that those items were not subject to collective bargaining, but they were and the union got a small step. 
State wide, this strike and the one in Los Angeles just before it has made a shift in the public discourse.  The state Dems might want to pass the buck on school spending back to the property tax deprived counties and cities, but the public wants state action and some has come forward.  It is not enough money and some of the motives have nothing to do with teachers’ strikes, but there is motion after a long period of neglect and throwing up their hands at the dreaded Prop 13. 
And locally something great happened. The public came out in support of their teachers. 
Here in Oakland we had solid student and parent presence on picket lines and among the general public there is a consensus that they need higher pay, much higher than 11% over 4 years. 
And after many years of not getting the attention from the public and press that it deserved, this walking scandal of a trojan horse school board is getting some scrutiny. 
On the fist day after the strike, the school board met to vote even more questionable budget cuts and try to qualify for a dubious state assistance under law 1840.  Hundreds of parents were there to complain, as were hundreds of students who skipped their freshly re-opened schools to be at the meeting and demand to be heard. 
The board did not listen, but the greater involvement of the public can only be a step towards a better group of decision makers getting elected next year. Then maybe we get the long overdue independent forensic audit we need BEFOR deciding what needs to be cut or closed. 
I would call all of those things a partial win, all things considered.
The state Dems have already come up with a deflective half measure that they are calling a “start”.  If we had a dollar for every one of their first steps never followed by a second step, we could fully fund the schools.  This time it is some kind of lame law to make the charters “more transparent”
What we really need is real district control over district charters. What we have now is private or nonprofit schools operating with public money on public real estate.

A real public-school charter:
·        can be denied
·        is subject to oversight
·        accepts registered public-school students assigned to it.
·        participates in district programs.
·        has public dispute resolution.
·        Hires union member staff.

There is lots of room for experimentation and different types of school. That is what a real charter could be. What we have is not that. What we have is people opting out and taking public resources with them. A lot of them are not professionals. They run these "charters" like startups, and akin to a small business, many fail. Then the students come back to the normal schools who have the obligation to take all students who register.

These fake charters need to either come back and become public schools, or just go off and be private schools that pay their own way as other private school already do.
And all the schools need more funding, probably about double what they get now.
And to do that, the rich need to go back to paying taxes.


  1. More clear-visioned people like you needed to RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD!!!

  2. Amen to every word.
    On a positive note: There is a movement building to revise much of Prop 13, focusing on the corporate tax end of it. I am a part of Alameda Education Association, and we are collaborating with other teachers' unions in the state to push for this and to lobby on behalf of it. It needs to happen!!!