News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

March 10, 2023

“People will be held accountable”

Teachers and Community Defeat Stealth OUSD School Closure and Layoff Plan

By Michael Sebastian

On Tuesday February 28, with only 24 hours notice, OUSD board president Mike Hutchinson called a special meeting to consider resolutions relating to “Budget Adjustments” and a “Classified Employee Reduction in Work Force.” These resolutions, which Hutchinson negotiated in private with the district superintendent in the midst of teacher contract talks, would have cut 100 classified positions (translators, social workers, restorative justice counselors), enacted a district-wide hiring freeze, and merged ten schools in the district. Rapid-response organizing by Oakland teachers and the community helped defeat both resolutions, with candidates endorsed by the Oakland Education Association (OEA), Bachelor, Brouhard, and Williams, voting against. Board member Thompson joined Board President Hutchinson in the votes, while board member Davis abstained. 

Tuesday’s emergency meeting comes on the heels of the recent victory reversing planned school closures. Hutchinson had supported that earlier resolution, but angered many when he joined the superintendent in bringing forward the latest austerity proposal. At a time when OUSD has ample funding, the community loudly rejected the idea of cutting resources, schools, and jobs for the district instead of directing that funding to meet the needs of our students, as demanded by OEA.

OEA has presented the district with a list of common good demands to strengthen Oakland’s public schools and protect students as they bargain for a new contract. The resolutions presented on Tuesday are viewed as pitting teachers against other staff employees in order to unfairly strengthen the district’s hand at the bargaining table. “Tuesday’s proposal, cutting mainly from SEIU and AFSCME jobs within the district, was meant to create false antagonism between workers and weaken support for teachers and their demands,” said Lexi Ross, who co-chairs East Bay DSA’s OEA solidarity group. “OUSD has received $54 million in new state funding this year. Allocating that funding to fulfill teacher’s demands and cutting from the bloated administrative budget would eliminate any need for the cuts presented on Tuesday.” 

The magnitude of OUSD’s administrative expenditures has been a major point of contention. Comparing Oakland’s administrative budget to Santa Ana Unified, a district with 10,000 more students, Oakland spends $20 million more on administrative salaries. Instead of cutting needed jobs and resources from our schools, the district could “chop from the top”, cut the administrative bloat and be able to provide the common good demands that OEA is bargaining for.

OUSD central office spending compared with other districts. Credit: Kim Davis

At the meeting, community members voiced unanimous opposition to the cuts. Most public comments expressed dismay and exasperation that the district continues to fight to defund our schools when there are safety and resource issues district wide. Many mentioned the egregious amount that OUSD spends on administrative positions and its central office. Shane Ruiz, co-chair of East Bay DSA had this warning for board members voting in support of this budget at Tuesday’s meeting: “Networks are forming, people are watching, and come November people will be held accountable.”

The district’s efforts to pit educators against other essential school workers, and its claims that a long-deserved raise for teachers must come at the cost of layoffs, school closures or mergers may run afoul of state labor laws. Last year, OEA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) when Budget and Finance Director Lisa Grant Dawson sent an email stating that the district would have to close and merge 12 schools to give teachers a raise. 

In a recent Oaklandside article, followed by a Facebook live stream, Mike Hutchinson stated: “Unfortunately for our budget, it’s a zero-sum game. In order for us to create resources to prioritize new and different things, we have to create those resources by making budget adjustments.” On his Facebook live stream Hutchinson also claimed that he was going to deliver an “historic” raise for teachers, but unless the budget with layoffs was approved the district wouldn’t have the money for those raises. Statements like these could set up an impasse similar to the unfair labor practice charge that OEA filed last year. 

The current round of contract negotiations have apparently stalled, with the district not meeting with OEA, the teachers’ union, since February 15, due to a lack of new proposals to bargain over. With little to show for months of negotiations with the district, OEA and its sister union, United Teachers of Los Angeles, are planning to walk out of “PD” or professional development sessions to attend simultaneous community rallies.

The community is invited to join educators at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater on Wednesday, March 15 from 2pm-6pm to demand that OUSD bargain in good faith.