Letter from Hillcrest Parent

Teachers and “work to rule”–why we should care (and continue to take action to support our wonderful teachers!)

Stephanie McGraw
Oakland, CA

Feb 8, 2015 — Thank you to everyone who has signed this petition thus far. When I started it a few weeks ago, I never imagined that thousands of people would sign it so quickly. I especially want to thank OUSD Director Jody London for her thoughtful responses; it’s heartening to know that the OUSD Governing Board is engaging in this important conversation with us. I am updating this petition because the wonderful teachers at my children’s school (Hillcrest) have voted to “work-to-rule” beginning next week. As a teacher myself, I can 100% guarantee that this will adversely impact our children’s learning. However, it is imperative–now, more than ever–that we support our teachers as they advocate for a livable raise by putting more pressure on the OUSD Governing Board to listen to the teachers’ demands: if you’ve already signed this petition, please email it to your friends and ask them to sign it; if you haven’t done so yet, please post (or re-post) a link to the survey on your facebook page so that we can continue pressuring the OUSD Governing Board to offer a fair contract to our teachers.

To provide some background, about 20 OUSD schools are doing some type of work-to-rule. Seven schools are doing it daily thus far (Montera, Joaquin Miller, Montclair, Cleveland, Melrose, Glenview and Hillcrest), while others are doing it every-other-week or off and on. What “working to rule” means is that our teachers will only work the hours stipulated in their contracts (for most elementary school teachers, this is 8:15-3:05). This is a powerful way for the teachers to demonstrate just how much work they do without going out on strike. As a teacher (not for OUSD), I know that much of the work that we parents value (grading homework, providing students with extra support after school, communicating with parents, planning field trips and major projects, etc.) happens after the school day ends. My first grade daughter has been participating in a wonderful after-school-reading program put on by her amazing teacher, Mary Jardine. Beginning tomorrow, this program will no longer meet. Furthermore, I regularly meet with my children’s teachers well after the school day ends as they’re working to prepare the next day’s class or grading homework. For us at Hillcrest, this won’t be possible beginning tomorrow.

I understand that many parents are frustrated by this and wish that our teachers wouldn’t “work to rule.” However, it is imperative that we all band together and support our teachers who, when you think about it, are only asking to be paid a livable wage. They aren’t asking for a huge sum of money–they just want to be paid as professionals, and they deserve this given the amazing work they do. It’s important to realize that OUSD pays its teachers (salaries and benefits combined) less than ANY DISTRICT in Alameda County. Yet it spends more than most any other school district on administrative and contract services. Newly appointed Superintendent Antwan Wilson was given a huge pay raise over the interim superintendent (http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_25662079/oakland-school-board-vote-280-000-year-contract). Our teachers likewise deserve to be paid competitively for the incredible work they do. They also deserve the other concessions they are hoping for (limits on special education class size, increased counseling and support services, educator input into professional development options, and increased support for high-need populations).

Thank you all for your support, and for continuing to support our phenomenal OUSD teachers. Again, please help spread the word so that we can collectively pressure the OUSD Governing Board to listen to our teachers’ demands. Our teachers, as well as our children, need us.

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4 thoughts on “Letter from Hillcrest Parent

  1. Thanks for this. I am the parent of an OUSD kindergartner, and I wholeheartedly agree that our teachers deserve a significant raise and that it’s long overdue! I’m curious why “work to rule” is the best tactic for teachers to use to advance this position. Adults are disagreeing about the terms of the contract – why are we putting our kids in the crossfire? I love Oakland teachers, and I know they love our kids too – can’t we find a way to get them the raise they deserve without hurting the kids?

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  2. Andrew, thank you for your comment. I understand your frustration with Work to Rule as a tactic in the contract negotiations. I think your question at the end sort of answers for me why Work to Rule is necessary – these contract negotiations have been going on for nearly a year and a half, our teachers continue to teach our children without a contract, and yet parents have largely been unaware of the struggle to agree on terms. It has been since Work to Rule that many parents (myself included) have started to educate themselves on how woefully underpaid and undersupported our teachers are. I am very concerned that our teachers and the District are reaching an impasse, not so much about compensation which even the District admits is not adequate, but about some of the other issues surrounding class size caps and Article 12 governing what happens when a teacher is involuntarily reassigned or returns from long-term leave. As the parent of a high school child in that all important Junior year (for college purposes), I am very concerned about the possibility of a prolonged strike toward the end of the school year, and so am doing everything I can to get parents educated, involved and vocal about what is at stake here in hopes of putting pressure on the District to work this out with the teachers. So while I am not crazy about having Work to Rule at my daughter’s elementary school, I recognize its value to teachers as they seek a fair contract. This Wednesday evening the Montclair PTA is sponsoring an information session for parents interested in learning more about the teacher and OEA positions (a follow up to last week’s session with the District and Board member Nina Senn) beginning at 7pm at the Montclair Women’s Club (1650 Mountain Blvd), I encourage you to attend if you can.

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    1. Thank you for engaging on this question. So it sounds like a communications question: how do we (teachers and people like us who care about teachers) best raise awareness of an issue? But is there no effective communications strategy that avoids hurting children? E.g., op-eds, letters to the editor, protests, community meetings, social media campaigns, letter writing, parent outreach emails, etc. (some of which have been happening already, although I guess ineffectively).

      And just because “work-to-rule” might get parents’ attention – that doesn’t make it right! Lots of bad ideas could get parents’ attention; to create an exaggerated thought experiment, what if teachers said: “For each day these negotiations continue, we’re going to fail one HS senior in a core subject, forestalling any college plans for the fall.” It would clearly get parents’ attention and get people to rally for closure to negotiations, but it’d also hurt kids. And would be a bad idea.

      Then, like you, I worry about a strike. Just like work-to-rule, a strike is a coordinated negotiation tactic to generate public outcry, in the process hurting children. The only difference is it’s even worse for kids. You say you’d prefer work-to-rule instead of a strike. But it’s not either-or; I say let’s do neither. Let’s try other means that don’t put kids in the crossfire.

      I’ll try to make it on Wednesday – thank you for the invitation!

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      1. Andrew, this was my perspective on Work to Rule, obviously we each need to decide how we feel about the impact and necessity of the action, and I appreciate your perspective. Exchange of information and ideas are a good portion of why I started this site in the first place.

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