After years of Oakland teachers salaries being the lowest in the region and causing a debilitating turnover, Oakland’s new superintendent is offering teachers a double-digit pay raise in negotiations that could be a game changer not only for teachers for but students as well.

Teacher turnover has hampered past efforts to improve schools here, according to two agencies that looked at the issue, and has broken hearts among a student population particularly in need of dependable adults in their lives.

But now, Superintendent of Schools Antwan Wilson said he wants to raise teachers’ pay by at least 10 percent and possibly as much as 13.7 percent over three years, as part of his strategic plan he said is aimed at making sure “every student thrives.” 

Those percentages are on the table as the Oakland Unified School District and its teachers union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), negotiate a three-year contract. Wilson said the higher pay raise offer is contingent upon increases in state education funding, but he also said it is so important that the district will make “some sacrifices” elsewhere to make it happen.

“The foundational principles of putting students first means recognizing that students come to us with great gifts and we need to put their needs first when making decisions. It means we must give every student what they need,” Wilson said. “Our work starts with our people. We must recruit the best talent, create a system that cultivates their growth,” and incites effective teachers to stay on, he said.

For years, teachers in Oakland have complained that low pay causes many of them to view their jobs in Oakland as short-lived, as a place to come for a year or two to get experience. The average salary in the district is $55,000, which is 16 percent lower than the state average and 20 percent lower than the county average. Experienced teachers can make $10,000 more a year just by taking a job in the next town.

As a consequence, 13 percent of Oakland’s teaching force leaves each year and 70 percent leave within five years. While teaching in the United States generally has become a high burnout, high turnover profession, Oakland’s rate is nearly double the state and national averages. Those teachers who want to stay in Oakland say the turnover is demoralizing.

“I’m so tired of teaching new teachers how we do stuff here. You can’t have successful schools when most teachers and students don’t know each other’s names and the students know the processes better than the teachers,” said Jana Maiuri, who teaches sixth grade at Edna Brewer Middle School. “But I know it’s not my place to ask people to stay later, come earlier, put off having their second kid, sell their car to make it work.” 

As much as a double-digit pay raise for teachers is a welcome offer, Oakland almost has no choice but to significantly raise salaries if it is to keep or attract teachers. Given the reviving economy and that nearby San Francisco Unified has raised its teachers’ salaries by 12 percent, Oakland will have to raise salaries to have a staff. Rents in Oakland have risen 10 percent in the last year, based on September numbers, which puts even the most dedicated teachers in binds.

Maiuri said her rent has more than doubled in the nine years she has been teaching in Oakland. With her monthly rent up $725 compared with nine years ago, her salary only went up $400 during that same time.

 “A double-digit salary increase would increase the hope of making an equitable salary in Oakland, but it would not come close to what is needed in reality to make Oakland salaries competitive with surrounding districts,” said Trish Gorham, the OEA president.

Recruiting has becomes tougher in these conditions of a reviving economy and pay raises in nearby districts.

“This past summer, I watched as my school lost teacher candidate after teacher candidate to higher-paying school districts. As a result, we’ve been battling with the harmful ramifications of long term vacancies since September,” said Skyline High School English teacher and teacher coach Lisa Rothbard.

Those harmful ramifications land on students. When substitutes fill a vacancy or a teacher leaves midyear, that means students don’t receive consistent instruction and face ever-changing expectations. On a more fundamental level, losing a teacher or seeing a teacher leave at the end of a school year means watching an adult in their life give up on them. For a number of Oakland students who come from stressful family situations where, for example, a single parent is too busy working or parents are missing altogether, teachers mean a lot.

“High teacher turnover within OUSD affects continuity and stability for students,” said the Alameda County civil grand jury last year after it launched an investigation into this turnover and its causes. “The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has been faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdles, preventing it from making significant gains in student achievement,” the Grand Jury said, adding that in the context of those struggles, reducing teacher turnover is urgent. 

The National Council on Teacher Quality also criticized Oakland’s teacher turnover rate as well as its low teacher pay. This month, the council ranked Oakland’s teachers salaries as near the bottom among 125 large school districts when adjusted for local cost of living. San Francisco also ranked near the bottom when the very high cost of living in San Francisco is factored in.

While learning is highly influenced by things outside of school, such as whether a child faces trauma or is hungry, many educational reform theorists say teaching trumps all else in the things a school can control — more than class sizes, newness of texts or even curriculum.  

Access to good, experienced teachers is at the heart of the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit, filed against the state of California in May 2012 to strike down laws that put seniority over talent in teacher job placements. The plaintiffs won on the grounds that students’ constitutional rights were being violated because school districts did not put the best teachers in the classroom. 

The importance of teachers is also at the core of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, in that it ties teaching rewards to proof of student learning. Both the Vergara law suit and the Race to the Top program have been controversial, but they and other reform efforts all point to the central value of teaching as most important variable in a school.

About The Author

Barbara Grady is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach her at barbara@oaklandlocal.com

2 Responses

  1. Jim Mordecai

    Oakland’s School Board’s spending priorities reflect strangely enough growing separation between the wealthiest and the poorest in the American economy.

    Thus, in Oakland Public School the poor are the teachers and even more poorly paid the non-certificated teaching support staff making u the 99%.

    The 1% at thetop of the Oakland School Board inverted pay pyramid is the downtown administrators lead by rookie Superintendent Antwan Wilson making in base salary $100,000 more than the Governor of California at $280,000 vs. $176,000.

    Most of Superintendent Wilson’s downtown assistant administrators make well over $100,000; while most of the school site principals are under that mark.

    And, the Oakland School Board in its financial wisdom (or lack of same) adds to these inflated top shelf salaries a contracted perk of having the District pay downtown administrators’ individual contribution to the State retirement system.

    In nine years full payment of Superintendent Wilson’s salary will cost the District just short of 30% of his base pay. Governor Brown has already signed legislation that in gradual steps increases individual, state, and districts contribution over next nine years to make the retirement system solvent. A good action for teachers and administrators but clearly means payment of this downtown administrator perk will drain money from other parts of the budget including potential teacher wage increases.

    If you think in nine years, Mr. Wilson, or whomever is superintendent of OUSD, will be receiving from Oakland School Board merely his current $280,000 as Superintendent and thus the multiple for determining the District’s annual retirement payment, you haven’t been following how much Oakland superintendent base pay has increased over the years.

    Reply
  2. 5th grade teacher

    A raise is not a raise if it is contingent upon future funding.

    “Hey, I’ll pay you back when I get the money. I swear I’m good for it!” Yeah, right.

    Support the Oakland teacher’s union and demand that teachers get a real raise, now, without this language of “contingency.”

    Reply

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