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.

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