It was an emotion packed, standing room only setting as Oakdale Joint Unified School Board called to session its first meeting of the New Year. The meeting was hosted Monday evening in City Council Chambers. The agenda listed routine consent items as well as some procedure/policy modifications. But the issue that brought the crowd was not on the agenda as an action item.
District teachers gathered in solidarity to ensure the board understood the seriousness in which they are taking current, ongoing labor negotiations.
OJUSD Board President Diane Gilbert called the meeting to order promptly at 6:30 p.m., noting that no action had been taken in closed session.
“We’re obviously being joined by a number of Oakdale teachers this evening,” she acknowledged. Gilbert welcomed Public Comments, requesting persons properly identify themselves when stepping to the microphone and making note of the customary ‘no actions to be taken on matters presented, but may be considered for placement on a future agenda.’
Close to two dozen teachers varying in length of service with the district took to the mic. Maintaining a voice of respect and calm, the emotion of the situation was more evident for some than others. Some offered quotes of affirmation of their work effort and praise citing quotes as given by an ‘Oakdale Joint Unified School Board Member.’
Magnolia Transitional Kindergarten teacher Michelle Jones opened her address with a favorite quote, followed by, “Look at this room. Look at this turn out. We love our job. We love our work. We just want to feel a little bit of love in our pocketbook.”
Educators of the District took a substantial pay cut in the 2007-2008 school year. An amount which was properly restored whole at this time last year, when furlough days were finally lifted from the calendar. But the actual pay, teachers indicate, lags behind.
“We’re on the low end of the scale folks,” Oakdale High counselor John Arsenio stated, noting that OJUSD ranks 17th out of 24 in the way of pay for Stanislaus County. “We need to make Oakdale teachers number one.”
Arsenio also offered testimony of his wife, fellow educator Chris Arsenio encouraging a new teacher to apply with OJUSD, referencing that the candidate offered she could earn more for the same work with Ceres. She’s currently employed there.
OHS math teacher and advisor to the undefeated OHS Aca Dec team Linda Dodge echoed the sentiments of the others.
“I’m concerned about the long term viability of our achievements,” she stated. “To continue to attract the cream of the crop we need to pay teachers accordingly.”
In addition to lack of pay, the past two years have brought great transition to educators statewide with the addition of Common Core Curriculum and trainings.
“I am a damn good teacher,” Cloverland second grade teacher Terry Trowbridge said, “but I spend my Saturday and Sundays preparing for my second graders.”
Trowbridge additionally noted the large reserve the district has made a practice of maintaining stating, “That money belongs to the teachers.”
At the closing of Public Comments, President Gilbert thanked the group adding, “We value all of you. We value what you do.”
“I’m not the voice of OTA tonight,” Oakdale Teacher Association Representative Graham said during her OTA report. “They’re behind me.”
Graham has had one table meeting of negotiations with Assistant Superintendent Terri Taylor to date. Another is scheduled for later this month.
In other action at the board meeting, Oakdale High School senior Quinn Gagos was acknowledged for her achievement of a $1,000 scholarship for the American Heritage Essay Award.
Monday, Jan. 19 all schools will be closed in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The next board meeting is set for Monday, Feb. 2 at the Technology and Staff Development Center, 331 Hinkley Ave., Oakdale. Open Session begins at 6:30 p.m.