OUSD Responds to Grand Jury Findings

Photo Courtesy of Oakland Local.

Photo Courtesy of Oakland Local.

By Barbara Grady

Stating it is already at work to revamp teacher evaluation processes along with several other changes, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) this week responded to the county Civil Grand Jury complaints about “challenges” the district faces.

The district’s board of education approved a plan Wednesday that calls for continuing work started since the Alameda County Civl Grand Jury investigated teacher retention, teacher pay and teacher placement challenges in Oakland Unified.

Saying it generally agreed with the Grand Jury findings, the district response noted these big changes under way this year.

The school district and its teachers union, the Oakland Education Association, finally reached a new contract agreement after a 10-year impasse.

In the agreement, the district agreed to give teachers an immediate 2.3 percent bonus and then annual pay raises of 1.5 percent – answering a Grand Jury complaint that teachers in Oakland were paid less than teachers in other Alameda County districts.

The teachers union, on the other hand, agreed to be more flexible in teacher assignments to schools, which the Grand Jury had complained were dictated by union rules on teacher seniority giving the most senior teachers complete say. Now, school administrators, parents and other teachers will have a say and school needs will be a chief criteria along with assuring that all students in the district have quality teachers. The new staffing system under development has “the goal of creating and maintaining school community cultures that integrate and acknowledge the unique staffing needs of the school as defined by the school site plan and allowing schools to equitably serve all Oakland students,” the district told the Grand Jury.

“The mere fact that the District and OEA reached an agreement is a remarkable achievement and an opportunity for continued progress in meeting the needs of the children of Oakland,” the district said. The agreement means the district can move ahead on several fronts, like revamping teacher evaluation and professional development policies.

Three new teacher evaluation systems are in trial, it said, answering the Grand Jury complaint that a 20-year-old evaluation system is broken and ineffective. All of them would take in a range of opinions – from peers, parents, administrators and even students – on a array of criteria not just student test scores.

The district agreed that evaluations need to be more frequent and be touch points for offering support and professional development. In the past, evaluations were done randomly and rarely and largely ignored, the Grand Jury had found.

Where the district expressed hesitation to agree with the Grand Jury was on a finding that the district should increase its student -to teacher ratio. The Grand Jury found that Oakland classrooms were smaller than the county average and that if Oakland increased the teacher case load, or student to teacher ratio, it would be better able to pay teachers higher salaries. Oakland Unified said that teachers, parents, voters had all expressed interest in smaller classroom sizes, so it would need to study the issue further. It noted that winning parcel tax measures typically included small classroom sizes as among the things funded.

Moreover, new state funding provided by a switch to the Local Control Funding Formula approved by the legislature after a long campaign by the governor means that Oakland will get more money. Oakland Unified anticipates getting $12 million more in state funding this year, it said. Its annual budget is about $520 million including a general fund budget for of $393 million.

Lastly, it said that its continued pursuit of its “Thriving Students” strategic plan should accomplish much of what the Grand Jury recommended. The five goals in the strategic plan are 1. providing safe, healthy and supportive schools for all children, 2, preparing students for success in college and careers, 3, delivering high quality and effective instruction, becoming a “full service community district” and holding the district accountable for quality.

Cross Posting with Oakland Local

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