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Gerson: "We Need to Organize a One-Day Statewide Strike of All Public Education"
Date 09/10/10/03:24

"We Need to Organize a One-Day Statewide Strike of All Public Education" OEA Leader Jack Gerson Speaks At Defend Our Education Conference

[Note: Following are major excerpts from the presentation by Jack Gerson, Executive Board member of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and member of the State Council of the California Teachers Association (CTA), to the Northern California Conference to Save Our Education, held on Sept. 29 at San Francisco State University.]

IT IS NO secret: They are out to decimate public education.

In September 2003, when I started teaching at Castlemont High School in Oakland, Calif., there were more than 40 classroom teachers. Of that initial group, only four teacher remain. The turnover rate is more than 40% per year. Those most adversely affected are the Black and Latino students. This should give you an idea of what they have in store for public education in the inner cities -- not just in Oakland, but across California.

The powerful University of California walkout on Sept. 24 is a beacon of hope for public education in this country. ...

They would like to push us to where we say, "Let's just fight to save what we've got." But what we've got is completely inadequate. There is great discrimination in our system against those who need quality education the most. What we have to do is fight for free, quality public education for all.

In the Oakland Education Association, we've been demanding that class size be reduced to 20 students in the Oakland schools and 15 in the low-achieving schools in the flatlands and poorer areas of Oakland.

Currently, we have a very discriminatory system in the city of Oakland, where the schools in the hills, with more funding and more parent support, are able to do better. So we have some distinguished public schools in Montclair and Rockridge, but in the flatland areas of Oakland things are getting worse and worse.

We were under state receivership in Oakland for almost seven years. The state has returned governance to the School Board in Oakland, but the state retains financial control. The state came in because, allegedly, Oakland couldn't run its finances, with $50 million in debt. Today, more than six years later, the state has returned governance -- and we now have a $118 million debt. They more than doubled the debt, while closing virtually every library in middle schools and in many secondary schools, including where I teach at Castlemont.

They have cut back elective programs across the board. In the first year of the receivership they laid off 40% of the custodians in Oakland. They've laid waste to the school district.

At the same time, they received 20% in cost-of-living money from the state. We, the teachers of Oakland, have seen less than 1% of that fund. Where has the money gone? They've been cutting like crazy. They haven't given the money to us. They turn their pockets inside-out and say, "No money!"

But we've found out that they've been able to spend $80 million each year in "undordered actuals" for consultants and out-sourcing. This money is going to the privatization of public education in Oakland -- a pattern that is being replicated across the state and across the country.

And we in the OEA have said, "It's time to put an end to that. ... We need quality public education. We need the money to go where it belongs!"

A Crisis of Priorities

There is not a funding crisis. There is a crisis of priorities. There are budget crises because of the upside-down priorities in this country. ...

We have to take the inspirational, unified fightback of staff, students and faculty on Sept. 24 at UC Berkeley and push it further. It was inspirational, but that inspiration will fade -- and it will not be truly meaningful -- unless we move forward from here.

We really need to discuss our next steps. I want to discuss two issues:

1) What action is needed? I think that the first thing that's on the agenda, especially for K-12 teachers, is to demand that our union leadership, that is, the CTA leadership, organize a one-day strike to defend public education in California. And we must call upon the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) -- which organizes some K-12 teachers and the Community Colleges -- to join with the CTA, the California Faculty Association, and other unions, so that we can have a walkout, a real strike, across the board. That's what we need to organize now.

I'm one of the delegates to the CTA State Council. We'll be meeting in Los Angeles in late October. We will bring in a motion calling on the CTA to organize such an action. But we will need everyone -- all K-12 teachers, parents, staff -- to lean of the CTA leadership to issue such a call. We need to put tremendous pressure on them.

The CTA came out with a statement of solidarity with the Sept. 24 UC walkout. But the statement was issued on Sept. 24. That's not the solidarity we need. We need solidarity that actively builds and organizes. We're glad that the CTA leadership came out with this statement of support; we hope this means that from this point on they're going to be building and organizing real solidarity.

2) We also need to know where this money come from.

There's a budget crisis, but this is really a crisis of the system, of the capitalist system, which is seeing its limits. We have a crisis of priorities. We need to say, "People First -- NOT the Profits of the Big Financial Institutions!"

The government put $13 trillion -- between the Treasury bailout money they've handed to the banks and the funding and guarantees from the Federal Reserve -- into the hands of the bankers. The Federal Reserve, which doesn't need Congressional authorization, has handed trillions of dollars to the banks. The Treasury bailout is close to $800 billion; the rest comes from the Federal Reserve. Obama's chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Timothy Geithner, is a tool of the bankers. This is all wrong. It is upside-down.

We need a second stimulus packet -- a packet that needs to be much larger than the first. We need to reverse the priorities: NOT funding the banks, but providing money for jobs and for working people. We need to guarantee, maintain, and expand vital social services that serve the public. That's what this administration should be doing -- NOT putting money into the hands of the banks.

We are told every day by the administration and by the politicians that our economy cannot survive unless the financial institutions thrive. We are told that we're dead without them. This is hogwash. This logic, in fact, will lead to a new capitulation and to another bubble that will blow up in their faces and that will, unfortunately, drown us all.

We need to change those priorities now. It is vital that we demand a second, real, stimulus package.

There is another dimension to this struggle. In the state of California, we can date back the crisis more than 30 years to when Prop 13 was passed. Since that date, public education in California went from being the best in the country to what is now arguably the worst K-12.

Prop 13 needs to be repealed, and what we need in its place is a split-roll tax, which will tax corporate property heavily. That's the state component of it. But that won't work without the federal component of it.

If we don't do this, we're going to see happening at every level what they're trying to do in the city of Oakland now, where they're talking about closing public libraries several days a week, or closing the animal shelter. They're trying to close down and close down and close down until there's no revenue base at all. The whole country is shutting down because we have to capitalize the banks!

This is absolutely the wrong way to go.

We have to be absolutely clear: We need to organize a statewide strike of all public education. We in the OEA are going to work for that. The money is there; we just have to go get it where it is.

Thank you.

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