It was a standing room only crowd the evening of Monday, Dec. 9 as the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board convened for their monthly meeting.
The evening’s business began with an action item pertinent to monthly board operations. Board President Mike House noted the end of his term as President and called for board action to elect a new member to the seat.
Diane Gilbert will now serve as Board President, while board member Tina Shatswell will now step in as clerk and Barbara Shook was nominated for the seat as board representative to the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization.
The reason for the high attendance and standing room only audience then became clear as Oakdale Teachers Association President Keith Burns took to the podium for Organization Reports. Prior to delving into his speech, Burns shared his typical short report of past meetings would be cashed in as he felt the need to make some acknowledgements as well as share thoughts.
In an open contract year for OTA many topics have been opened for discussion with board representative Assistant Superintendent Dave Kline.
“I want to thank all of the union members who are here tonight for coming to hear what I have to say,” Burns said, “and foremost for supporting our negotiations team.”
Burns also acknowledged Superintendent Marc Malone as well as the administration and OJUSD board members for their tireless commitment and “caring stewardship” of the district.
“I am in my 33rd year of teaching and my last year as Union President,” he said. “Like Marc I am thinking about my legacy.”
This point made, launched the President’s focus into a lengthy comparison of OJUSD versus other districts within Stanislaus County. During this time, Burns recognized the superior quality of teaching on staff at OJUSD, noting the most recent release of the district earning the highest test scores in Stanislaus County. Burns acknowledged Malone as well as Rapinchuk as key factors for the accomplishments.
“How did we get there?” he said of the achievement. “Because we had a shared language and a shared understanding. It also led to shared goals. Goals for instruction, student engagement and student outcomes.”
Burns then proceeded to share additional findings which are of concern to himself as well as OTA members. Items like being ranked 15th in the county on a pay scale; lack of compensation for class size overage, as well as benefits.
“Budgeting money is always a matter of finding the balance between what you want, what you need and what the future may hold,” he said to the board and audience.
Burns offered kudos to the board for maintaining fiscal responsibility, acknowledging the conservative nature in which the budget is maintained.
“The balance and the negotiation dance is partly around how big that reserve needs to be,” he said. “We have often been told the sky is falling only to find the next year that it did not.”
The OTA Representative also spoke on clarification of contract benefits; advocating for students and the need to attract and retain employees. The latter being of importance, as he indicated a large number of the current OJUSD teachers are nearing retirement age.
“When you look at a scattergram of the ages of our teachers you will see that many of us are at or nearing the age of retirement over the next few years,” he said. “Just as the economy will not remain forever strong, neither will Oakdale remain the powerhouse it is if we do not compete for quality new teachers.”
Burns supported his concern with a list of tenured salaries from other districts in Stanislaus County including Riverbank, Modesto and Ceres, each with pay higher than Oakdale.
“Does pay matter?” he questioned. “Our district’s administration group is very stable. Administrators come and seldom leave. Oakdale’s administrative pay is in the top half of the top ten in the county. I have had numerous colleagues leave to other schools in the county and every time pay and benefits was a large incentive when you really talked to them.”
With negations still on the table, Burns’ address to the board was not an item of action, but perhaps a bit of food for thought as the board looks forward.
“The district that can score number one in the county, compete in sports like no one’s business and take home awards every time we compete can certainly rise to the occasion and set and share attainable goals for future negotiations as well,” Burns said in closing.
He thanked the board for their time, as well as negotiators for their conversation and dedication.
As is customary the meeting began with students leading the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Sierra View students Maeve Greenlee, Luke Kirkpatrick and Austin Speiller did the honors.
The next meeting will be hosted on Monday, Jan. 12 at the OJUSD Tech Center, 331 Hinkley Ave., Oakdale. Open session begins at 6:30 p.m.