By Tim Hunt
What you missed in media coverage of the Oakland teachers' strikeUploaded: Feb 26, 2019
Looking at the East Bay Times’ coverage of the Oakland teachers strike, I am amazed at the lack of depth.
The first two days, the main story on the front page carried five bylines. There were lots of comments from striking teachers, parents and the obligatory comment from the district. Coverage described the issues as pay, class size and more counselors and support staff. The district is offering an 8 ½ percent raise over four years, while teachers are demanding 12 percent over three years.
Nowhere to be found were the following facts:
• Teachers’ salaries range from about $46,500 to $83,700 plus fully paid health, dental and vision benefits. The health benefits alone, for a family are $1,667/month.
• Class sizes in Oakland average 23.6, about two students lower than the county average.
• The district receives $15,337 per student, about 125 percent of the statewide average of $12,229.
• The student population is challenging with 15,600 student learning English and about 28,200 receiving free or reduced-price lunch. The enrollment is about 35,000 students.
• The state funding formula that former Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through the Legislature in 2012 allocated additional resources to districts such as Oakland that are charged with educating disadvantaged students. It’s working in terms of resources—what’s lacking is management and oversight by the administration and the school trustees.
Last year, the Alameda County Grand Jury criticized the Oakland district for running consistent deficits. The report said that the district has run between $20 million and $30 million in debt for the past 15 years while suffering very high turnover in both teaching staff and superintendents (five in nine years). The district, given steadily increasing pension costs, is facing major deficits in the next couple of years without major changes—it’s wrestling to cut between $20-$30 million in the next fiscal year.
The problem in Oakland, one that home-grown Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell acknowledges, is that as enrollment has shrunk the district has not closed schools.
The Grand Jury report pointed out that enrollment has plunged from 54,000 to 37,000 (now 35,000) and there’s been no adjustment in the number of schools open. The district is now engaged in that process with the expected controversy from parents and students wanting to keep their neighborhood schools.
Oakland is running 87 schools weekly with an average enrollment of 412 students—remember that Pleasanton elementary schools are targeted at 650 kids with the middle schools at more than 1,000 and the high schools at more than 2,000.
The Fremont district, by contrast, has 35,000 students served by 42 schools.
Bottom line: the district likely has the resources to pay the teachers more and potentially hire more staff, but it must close many schools and consolidate sites. Each site can cost $750,000 to operate annually for administrators and support staff and utilities and maintenance.
Closing unnecessary sites and selling off the land would open up capital money to invest in other sites (proceeds from sales should only be used for capital projects, not ongoing salary expenses).