The following is an extended version of the letter I sent to the SF Chronicle this week:
Jill Tucker’s story on Oakland Unified’s attempt to get rid of seniority contains several false statements that inflame the public’s mistrust of teachers and their unions. She says that in education “seniority is what counts, not the perfect fit,” as if unions and their selfish resistance to the dismantling of seniority were causing schools to be filled with bad teachers. However, teachers apply to schools, not districts, and get hired by school administrators based almost entirely on “fit,” experience and skill. Seniority is irrelevant since applicants are new to the district and have no seniority. Furthermore, teachers aren’t even represented by unions until after they have been hired.
She also suggests that when schools are closed or districts downsized due to budget cuts “the teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school.” This is also untrue. The first priority is need: if a biology position is available and only one biology teacher was pink slipped, that teacher has priority regardless of seniority, even if that means some English, math and history teachers with more years of experience must remain in the unemployment line. Even other science teachers must be overlooked if they don’t possess credentials in biology.
Tucker quotes OEA President Betty Olsen-Jones calling the plan “union busting” without providing any context for the quote, as if the union was just crying over spilled milk. However, when one considers that the most veteran teachers are not only the most experienced, but also earn the highest salaries and are often the most outspoken advocates for students and colleagues, any attack on seniority starts to look like an attack on the union’s strongest and most active members. Ending seniority means that veteran teachers who are union activists or outspoken critics can be dumped in favor of cheaper, more pliable novices, weakening the union and robbing children of their most experienced teachers and most effective advocates.