With a promise of more money and smaller classes, striking Oakland teachers return to school
Celebrating what they call a victory for educators and students, Oakland, California teachers will be back in class Monday after approving a contract to end a seven-day strike.
Yet their fight isn’t over, they said. They will continue to call for more classroom money, an end to school closures in black and Latino communities, and a ban on charter schools, which the teachers union says divert millions from the school district.
The victory “sends the message that educators will no longer let this school district starve our neighborhood schools of resources,” Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said after the Sunday vote at the Paramount Theatre. “Oakland educators spoke clearly today at our ratification vote that this agreement will not be the end of our struggle, and we will continue to fight in Oakland and Sacramento,” the state capital.
Prior to the vote, the school district hailed the pact. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said, “We cannot fix decades of chronic underinvestment in education with a single contract, but this is an important first step.”
Salaries up, class sizes down
Two tentative agreements compose the contract, the teachers’ union said. The first, which includes a 3% retroactive bonus, was approved 1,269 to 701. The second agreement includes raises for the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 school years and passed 1,141 to 832.
Oakland teachers are the lowest-paid in the Bay Area and have struggled to keep up with the wealth pouring into Silicon Valley, according to the union. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment would eat up 60% of a teacher’s salary, the union says.
More than 500 teachers leave the district annually, the union says. The district serves 36,000 students, almost three-quarters of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. (The teachers union, East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, private donors, and volunteers helped feed the students during the strike.)
In striking, the union said, teachers won an 11% increase plus a 3% bonus over four years. The school district was offering a 7% raise and a 1.5% bonus before the strike.
Teachers also made a victorious case for smaller class sizes. The district will lower the class size by one student next year in schools with the most need, and again by one student in all schools in 2021. Counselors will also see their caseloads reduced from 600 to 500 by the 2020-2021 school year.
Caseloads will drop also for speech therapists, psychologists and resource specialists, while nurses will get the teachers’ raise plus another 9%, and $10,000 bonuses in 2020 and 2021.
School closings and charter schools
The district also agreed to table a plan to close or consolidate up to 24 of the 86 district-run schools and collect more community input. Most of the schools slated for potential closure are in black and Latino neighborhoods, the union says.
“Oakland educators will continue to fight against school closures that hurt working-class neighborhoods in Oakland,” Brown said.
To that point, Brown said, teachers also will continue to oppose “the proliferation of unregulated charters,” many of which have taken up residence in schools closed by the school board.
Charter schools, of which the district currently has 34 serving almost 14,000 students, drain $57 million from the district, a study cited by the union found. The union says billionaires and outside interests have convinced Oakland school board members to support the privately managed, publicly funded charters.
The teachers kicked off their strike February 21 after two years of negotiations. Their contract expired in July 2017.
“We built power. We united the community during the seven days of the strike and we have won because of the power of parents, students uniting with the community and labor,” Brown said. “Through this powerful strike, the people of Oakland have spoken.”
Before the vote, Brown said he thought the teachers’ return to the classroom Monday would be “a joyous experience.”