Walk­out fo­cuses on ed­u­ca­tion — and the fact many in­struc­tors can’t af­ford to live in the pricey Bay Area.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Maria L. La Ganga and Anita Chabria

OAK­LAND — Cal­i­for­nia’s hous­ing cri­sis col­lided with its school fund­ing cri­sis Thurs­day, as Oak­land teach­ers went on strike for smaller classes, more nurses and coun­selors in the schools and wages that will al­low them to live in the in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive San Fran­cisco Bay Area.

An es­ti­mated 3,000 mem­bers of the Oak­land Ed­u­ca­tion Assn. hit the picket line at all 86 schools in the dis­trict, which has about 36,000 stu­dents. They mo­bi­lized in the early morn­ing dark­ness bear­ing signs that at­tested to their twin trou­bles: “Keep Teach­ers in Oak­land” and “Fight for the schools stu­dents de­serve.”

Eighty-five per­cent of teach­ers went on strike, ac­cord­ing to union Pres­i­dent Keith Brown, and large num­bers of stu­dents stayed away. Only about 90 stu­dents showed up at Oak­land High School, which nor­mally has an at­ten­dance of about 1,500 stu­dents. By

midafter­noon, the school dis­trict had not re­leased at­ten­dance num­bers on the strike’s first day.

Kat­lyn Ready, 25, has been teach­ing English at Oak­land High School for the last three years. She makes about $48,000 a year. A onebed­room apart­ment in the city goes for $2,567 a month, ac­cord­ing to ren­tjun­gle.com. She and her fi­ance share a stu­dio within walk­ing dis­tance of her cam­pus. Half of her monthly take­home pay goes for rent.

“I’ve only been here three years,” she said, “but I’ve al­ready seen so many teach­ers leav­ing be­cause they can’t af­ford Oak­land.”

Will Corvin, a sec­ondyear Oak­land High teacher, hit the picket line with Ready on Thurs­day morn­ing. He makes an an­nual $47,400 and shares a three­bed­room, one-bath­room house with three other peo­ple.

“We have to get used to be­ing in the bath­room to­gether,” he said. “Other­wise we are not get­ting to work” on time.

Oak­land teacher salaries are among the low­est in the Bay Area, where rents and home prices have risen dra­mat­i­cally since the end of the Great Re­ces­sion. As a re­sult, the Oak­land Uni­fied School Dis­trict has strug­gled to re­tain teach­ers. At the same time, the dis­trict plans to close up to 24 schools be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

Janelle T. Scott, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at UC Berke­ley, said teach­ers who want to work in Oak­land schools must move far­ther and far­ther away from their cam­puses, which has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on their qual­ity of life. Some take mul­ti­ple jobs to af­ford to teach in the schools they love.

“Teach­ing in the Bay Area used to be a pro­fes­sion for which home own­er­ship was at­tain­able,” Scott said. “Younger teach­ers don’t even see that as a pos­si­bil­ity.”

But Scott, other ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts and union mem­bers were quick to point out that salary is just one of many is­sues fac­ing schools in Cal­i­for­nia to­day. And Oak­land is not the only dis­trict where teach­ers are mo­bi­liz­ing for smaller classes and bet­ter salaries and against char­ter schools, which they say erode the fi­nances of pub­lic school sys­tems.

United Teach­ers Los An­ge­les went on strike for six days in Jan­uary, rais­ing sim­i­lar is­sues.Their la­bor ac­tion, com­ing af­ter strikes in other parts of the coun­try, has em­bold­ened teach­ers unions in Cal­i­for­nia and height­ened de­bate on pub­lic school fund­ing and the im­pact of char­ters.

In fact, some UTLA mem­bers trav­eled to Oak­land to as­sist on the first day of the strike. Not sur­pris­ingly, Oak­land teach­ers and la­bor lead­ers used mes­sag­ing Thurs­day that echoed that of their Los An­ge­les coun­ter­parts, with a big em­pha­sis on the com­mon good of the walk­out. “Stu­dents, this strike is to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for you,” Brown said at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day evening.

Mem­bers of the Madera Uni­fied Teach­ers Assn. took a straw poll Wed­nes­day of its nearly 600 mem­bers. Close to 100% in­di­cated that they were will­ing to strike if nec­es­sary. In an ef­fort to at­tract and re­tain qual­i­fied teach­ers, they are ask­ing that their health ben­e­fits re­main un­touched and their salaries in­crease by 4.75%, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers Assn.

The Cen­tral Uni­fied School Dis­trict in Fresno is in me­di­a­tion with its teach­ers union, which is or­ga­niz­ing in case a strike is nec­es­sary, said Judee Martinez, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tral Uni­fied Teach­ers Assn. Salary is only part of the im­passe.

“Over the past few years, we have tried to bar­gain for smaller class size,” Martinez said. “We have over­flow schools.… We don’t have ad­e­quate sup­port for our stu­dents — coun­selors, nurses, psy­chol­o­gists, speech ther­a­pists.”

John Rogers, a UCLA ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor who di­rects the school’s In­sti­tute for Democ­racy, Ed­u­ca­tion and Ac­cess, sees th­ese la­bor ac­tions, along with oth­ers in Den­ver and West Vir­ginia, as feed­ing on one an­other’s en­ergy, with union mem­bers see­ing an in­crease in pub­lic sup­port as an op­por­tu­nity to make their voices heard.

“There’s a change afoot that we see,” he said. “And I think teach­ers prob­a­bly rec­og­nize that there’s an open­ing for their ideas to be heard.”

With Mo­town clas­sics blast­ing in the back­ground and oat­meal raisin cook­ies on a card ta­ble, teach­ers at Oak­land High School mo­bi­lized early. By mid­morn­ing they were headed to­ward down­town with hun­dreds of other teach­ers, par­ents, stu­dents and other sup­port­ers from through­out the dis­trict.

They ral­lied at Frank Ogawa Plaza, many in bright #RedForEd shirts. They were joined by a pha­lanx of nurses, mem­bers of other unions and fam­i­lies with kids in tow. The crowd kept mov­ing, push­ing down Broad­way, shut­ting down busy in­ter­sec­tions and end­ing up at the of­fice of the Oak­land Uni­fied School Dis­trict.

Guards locked down the lobby of the build­ing in which the dis­trict has of­fices. Su­per­in­ten­dent Kyla John­son-Tram­mell did not re­spond to an email re­quest for com­ment.

The dis­trict has of­fered the teach­ers a 5% per­cent raise over three years, less than the 12% the union is seek­ing.

Becky Pringle, vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Assn., at­tended the Oak­land rally. She’d also trav­eled last year to West Vir­ginia, where teach­ers held a two-day strike, their sec­ond in two years. Pringle said teach­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and West Vir­ginia have sim­i­lar mes­sages be­cause they have sim­i­lar prob­lems.

She said teach­ers in West Vir­ginia told her they were be­ing forced out of that state by liv­ing costs. The mes­sage “doesn’t need to be co­or­di­nated,” Pringle said. “It’s the same story be­ing played out ev­ery­where.”

Some Oak­land churches opened their doors to stu­dents so par­ents would not have to cross picket lines. At Tay­lor Memo­rial United Methodist Church west of down­town, Ira San­de­fur came to pick up his two boys, Matthew and Luke, 9 and 11. San­de­fur said his boys wanted to go to school Thurs­day morn­ing, but he does not cross picket lines.

He said he sym­pa­thizes with the teach­ers: “I can see the teach­ers are like frus­trated, be­cause too many kids you can’t watch them all. I think the teach­ers need a raise.”

It is un­known how long the strike may last, but teach­ers will con­tinue their walk­out Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to the union.

As in Los An­ge­les, the la­bor ac­tion is dis­rupt­ing the lives of thou­sands of par­ents, but many seem to be sup­port­ing the teach­ers. Oc­tavio Suarez, who has a 10-year-old daugh­ter in Oak­land schools, said he sym­pa­thized with the teach­ers’ po­si­tion, but it was dif­fi­cult to have his child out of class. “It’s bad,” he said.

Jeff Chiu As­so­ci­ated Press

STU­DENT Damyha Gates, 9, speaks through a bull­horn next to her mother, teacher Myeisha Jones, cen­ter left, at a rally by teach­ers, par­ents and sup­port­ers out­side Man­zanita Com­mu­nity School in Oak­land.

Jeff Chiu As­so­ci­ated Press

TEACHER Este­fana Ramos at the rally. Oak­land teacher salaries are among the low­est in the Bay Area, where rents and home prices have risen dra­mat­i­cally.

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