The Oakland Tribune hosted a public forum last night. Guests included Superintendent Tony Smith, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones, teachers and administrators (photo by Caitlin Esch).

Today is the last day for teachers at three troubled Oakland high schools to apply for their jobs. The issue is so hot, it came up at Wednesday night’s board meeting. It wasn’t on the agenda, but plenty of people showed up to air grievances during public comment.

Last night the Oakland Tribune hosted a community forum including guest speakers Superintendent Tony Smith, Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones, teachers and administrators. Teachers lined up after the panel discussion, peppering Smith with questions and expressing concern over losing their jobs.

The topic: A controversial new program implemented by Smith that’s pitting the OEA against the district. Teachers at Fremont, McClymonds and Castlemont high schools will be re-hired as “teachers on special assignment” next year. That designation will require them to work 11 months–instead of 10 months–for $4,000 to $7,000 more per year, depending on their current base salary, according to a district spokesman.

The current contract allows teachers to be categorized as TSAs, enabling them to fill temporary roles outside the classroom. But filling entire public high schools with TSA positions is unprecedented in Oakland.Smith said he believes the move is permitted under the teachers’ contract—and that it’s needed to improve the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“The reason to do this is that we haven’t done what we need to do for our kids and I really do think, in particular at these three schools McClymonds, Fremont and Castlemont–as those three schools go, so goes the future of Oakland.”

The drop-out rate across the three campuses ranges from 30-56 percent. District spokesman Troy Flint said low-performing schools need higher standards–that teachers need to spend more time developing lesson plans, collaborting with other educators, and meeting with students and parents.

“It’s work that many of the teachers are already doing, and it’s a program where they can get compensated for this work, and more importantly, in terms of students, what we’re doing is standardizing really high level practice that’s good for kids in terms of having more student conferences, more parent engagement, and more time for teachers to work together to share and trade notes… and also to do planing.”

Olson-Jones said the program violates the teachers contract and the union is in the process of filing an unfair labor practice with the state. She said the union was left out of the loop.

“This decision was made with absolutely no consultation with Oakland Education Association. We are the exclusive bargaining agent for the teachers in this district. And that means, we are the voice of the teachers. There was no consultation with us, there was no consulation with most of the teachers… I believe most people were taken completely by surprise by this.”

The OEA wants to negotiate with the district, but first, Olson-Jones says the district must make the changes optional.

“Teachers are already working above and beyond their duty days, and to imply that they’re not working hard enough and that it’s somehow their fault, is insulting,” said Olson-Jones.

Finally, Olson-Jones said the program will lead to greater instability within the schools that can least afford it.

Audio: Hear Superintendent Tony Smith (7 minutes)

Audio: Hear OEA President Betty Olson-Jones (9 minutes)

Deadline Looms for Teachers Reapplying for Their Jobs at 3 Oakland High Schools 30 March,2012Caitlin Esch

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