Oakland teachers go on strike, demand raises and hiring more staff
Teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike Thursday, part of an ongoing national wave of discontent by educators over classroom conditions, pay and other issues. Recent walkouts have taken place in West Virginia, Los Angeles and Denver.
The city’s 3,000 teachers want a 12-percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are the among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area. They also want the district to hire more counselors to support students and more full-time nurses.
A union leader said the educators were forced to strike because he said administrators did not listen to their demands for two years.
“For two years we have been negotiating with the Oakland Unified School District to make our students a priority over outside consultants and central office administrators,” said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown. “It’s time for them to listen to the voices of the community.”
The walkout affects 36,000 students at 86 schools.
The district said schools would remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, parents should not expect school as usual, it said.
“We’re hopeful that we can find a resolution as soon as possible,” said district spokesman John Sasaki.
Teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and have said their salaries have not kept up with the cost of living.
A starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year and the average salary is $63,000, according to the union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley and the average salary is $ 75,000, the union said.
Initially, the district offered a 5-percent raise covering 2017 to 2020, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.
In negotiations Wednesday aimed at averting a strike, the district increased its proposal to a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. The offer went higher than the recommendation of an independent fact-finding report that suggested the sides agree to a compromise 6-percent retroactive raise.
But union officials rejected the offer.
Kindergarten teacher Kaki Blackburn, 30, was among dozens of educators picketing outside Manzanita Community School, an elementary school, with signs saying “On strike For a Living Wage.”
Blackburn, who teaches 29 kids, said her main concerns were class size and wages.
She said her salary makes it impossible to afford an apartment on her own.
“There’s no way I’d be able to live here without a roommate,” she said. “This is not what I went to Brown University to get a Masters for.”
Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which has said the district cannot retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers.
The union has also called for the district to scrap a plan to close as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union fears the move would likely lead to further losses of students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from Oakland public schools.