Last night, the Oakland Unified School District's Special Committee on School-Based Management and Budgeting met with teachers, parents and union representatives to discuss turning over more control to local schools.
Many teachers and administrators want greater autonomy in areas like staffing, budgeting and curriculum, which they say is necessary to meet the needs of their unique schools. Committee chair David Kakishiba said the board has wanted to cede more control for years, and now that problems like transitioning from state receivership and balancing last year’s difficult budget are out of the way, the time is right to take the issue up.
Life Academy Principal Preston Thomas was one of about 50 people advocating greater independence at a pre-meeting press conference. Thomas said that in a system where teachers are pink-slipped based on seniority, parents and schools need to be involved in hiring.
“I think it’s really essential for our school community," Thomas said. "That’s teachers, it’s students, it’s parents—to-be involved in that hiring process. So that we’re really making thoughtful decisions and bringing in people who are the right fit for our kids.”
President of the Oakland Education Association Betty Olson-Jones said she agrees with the idea of autonomy in curriculum and instruction, but she doesn't want to see schools become "islands unto themselves." Olson-Jones worries if school sites have too much of a say in the hiring process, more senior teachers with higher salaries will face discrimination. She said the whole discussion of autonomy is a "distraction," and that the seniority issue is especially heated as schools close and veteran teachers are displaced.
"How is autonomy going to change the basic fact that there’s not enough money, not enough experienced leadership, and there's no system in place for mentoring and supporting the teachers we do have? If everyone has their own scheduling and hiring, … what’s the role for the unified district? What’s the role for the union?"
Annie Hatch has taught tenth-grade English and history at Life Academy for the past two-and-a-half years. She was pink-slipped last year and expects to be let go again this year. She said she has confidence in her principal, and wants all budgeting and staffing decisions made at the school level, not the district.
“I love where I work, and I think I’m a perfect fit. To me, it’s indicative that the system is broken. When teachers like me and others get pink-slipped, it just seems like the system is broken.”
But first-grade teacher Marva McInnis, who works at EnCompass Academy in East Oakland, worries many schools aren’t ready for more responsibility.
“I would love to say that every site can govern itself, but that’s just not reality,” she said. “And some kids are going to fall through the cracks, because those sites haven’t focused on the needs of a specific subgroup. Now, I really believe in my particular administrator, and her ability to govern. But I’ve had ten principals over the course of my 18-year-career, and I would have to say that out of those ten... only one would I trust to govern a site.”
The committee will meet again in two weeks to revise the proposal. The full board is set to vote in April.