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Adult education program axed amid teachers' contract fight
Battle in Oakland schools

By Jessie Muldoon, OEA | March 4, 2005 | Page 15

OAKLAND, Calif.--The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is facing a crisis unlike any we've seen in public education in years.

Oakland teachers have been in negotiations with the OUSD for nearly a year now, and have been working under an extension of the old contract since its expiration in June 2004.

Health care is one of many sticking points for the union. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) has stated its intention to maintain the union's current health benefit package as is, with no caps on coverage. But the district is pushing toward a system in which OEA members would pay a monthly contribution to offset premium increases in health care. This would amount to an ongoing pay cut, as health care costs go up annually.

What's making these negotiations particularly trying is that we're negotiating this contract in the context of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that governs public education. Under NCLB, a school that fails to meet academic goals for four years in a row faces restructuring, including being transformed into a charter school.

In December 2004, Randolph Ward, the state administrator in charge of the OUSD, announced that 13 elementary schools have not met their goals and will be reopened in 2005-06 as charter schools. Oakland already has one of the highest concentrations of charter schools in the state of California, and Ward's plan would have affected up to 500 teachers and 10,000 students.

Teachers at the affected schools organized several meetings in an attempt to stop the "charterization" of their schools. In a limited but important victory, Ward announced last month that eight rather than 13 of the schools would go charter. Even so, this is a major attack on the OEA. At charter schools, union representation and issues such as pay and the length of the workday are open questions.

Ward is attacking on another front as well: on February 22, he announced the wholesale closure of adult education. There are no financial reasons for this. Adult ed has a balanced budget and is funded through the state, with no bearing on the K-12 budget.

OUSD's adult ed program serves up to 30,000 adults and employs 360 teachers, among countless other workers. It provides a valuable service to the diverse community of immigrants struggling to learn English, as well as adults seeking their General Equivalency Diploma and seniors wanting to stay connected to others.

Ward's reasons for closing adult ed are entirely political--he stated in the Oakland Tribune that he would close the adult ed program if the OEA didn't accept concessions at the bargaining table. At a quickly organized protest at the administration building the next day, several hundred adult ed students and teachers voiced their outrage at the plan.

Whether Ward will follow through on his threat is uncertain. One thing we know for sure though, is that this fight in Oakland is only the first of many in districts around the country.

NCLB has at its core the dismantling of public education and union busting. It sets schools up to "fail" and face partial or total privatization. That's why at the heart of the fight in Oakland is the fight to defend the right to public education.

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