On Wednesday evening, you might have seen teachers standing at various Oakland intersections holding thank-you signs. Those were meant for everyone who supported Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative.
The measure's success at the polls spared California school districts billions of dollars in midyear cuts. It's also opened the door to renewed contract negotiations between two groups that have long been at odds: Oakland Unified School District and its teachers.
That's right: A new teacher contract could be in OUSD's sights for the first time in -- could it be? -- nearly seven years. (The last mutually agreed contract, made in 2006, expired in 2008. The district unilaterally imposed a contract in 2010.)
Today, the Oakland Education Association's bargaining team sits down with representatives from the Oakland school district to talk about each side's contract proposals and ask clarifying questions.
"With the passing of Prop. 30, and with a $33 million reserve, the district is in a stable enough position to compensate their personnel, teachers and all of their workers," said OEA President Trish Gorham.
The OEA is asking for a 4 percent boost to the pay scale, much lower than the 20 percent the union called for in January 2008. OUSD's proposal calls for revamping teacher evaluations (based on "multiple student learning outcomes"), establishing a career ladder for outstanding teachers, and giving individual schools more of a say in the composition of their staff.
It seems both sides left plenty of room for negotiation, perhaps after watching the last attempt at reaching agreement go nowhere. As Gorham said, "Both proposals are short on specifics."
Twice-monthly sessions have been scheduled for the next three months, with Kei Swensen, a Sankofa Academy teacher, chairing the negotiations for the teachers.
Is it reasonable for teachers to hope that those nine scheduled sessions will be enough? "I think we will be very close to an agreement in three months," Gorham said.
I mentioned a few months ago that I was working with photojournalist Alison Yin on a project about childhood asthma and its disproportionate impact on families in Oakland and elsewhere along the Interstate 880-80 corridor. It's a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism.
Now we have some help! I'm happy to announce the names of our three reporting interns, who will be producing stories and videos for the project with a grant from Annenberg: Pamela Tapia, a recent McClymonds High School graduate; and Pearl Joy Balagot and Henry Jean-Philippe, both from Fremont High School.
Their adviser for the project will be Lisa Shafer, and I'm sure they'll get some support from Nadine Joseph, a writing coach who advises the McClymonds journalism club.
We met with them yesterday, along with some other McClymonds and Fremont high school students, who shared their stories about asthma and helped us brainstorm ways to reach students and families with the finished projects.
My favorite piece of advice came from Breannie Robinson, a no-nonsense Mack student-athlete (basketball star), who had asthma as a child.
After listening to us go back and forth about Twitter, Facebook, video screenings, newsletters and other ideas, she offered us this tip: "Make it interesting."
If anyone has an idea for the interns -- someone you know with a story to tell about asthma or an issue you feel needs attention -- please share it, either on the blog or to me, at email@example.com.
Congratulations, Pearl, Henry and Pamela. I can't wait to read (and watch) your work.