Saturday, February 16, 2019
Priorities Remain – Smaller Class Sizes, More Support for Students, Living Wages and a Halt to Destructive School Closures
OAKLAND – To stand and fight for the quality schools that all Oakland students deserve, educators in Oakland Unified School District will go on strike on Thursday, Feb. 21, the president of the 3,000-member Oakland Education Association (OEA) announced at a news conference today where he was flanked by parents, students and teachers standing in solidarity.
“Bargaining with the district has not — in two years — produced an agreement that will pay teachers enough to allow them to stay in Oakland, or make class sizes more conducive to teaching and learning, or provide our students with the supports they need to thrive,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve, and to take control of our school district back from the control of billionaire campaign donors, is for the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association to go on strike.”
In key areas such as salaries and hiring more counselors to support students, a new report by a neutral state-appointed fact-finder comes somewhat closer to what educators are demanding than what the district is offering, but still does not go far enough, Brown said. The new report is non-binding. It’s release means that educators can legally strike.
For example, the report by fact-finder Najeeb Khoury recommends 6 percent in retroactive raises – 3 percent in 2017-18 school year and 3 percent this year – but no guaranteed raise for 2019-2020, while the last final offer by the district was only 5 percent over three years. Oakland educators are seeking 12 percent over three years to help halt the district’s teacher retention crisis. The report also supports hiring more counselors and reducing the student-to-counselor ratio from 600:1 to 500:1. OEA had sought a 250:1 ratio.
Years of district neglect, overspending at the top, and the unregulated growth of the charter industry have starved Oakland schools of necessary resources, OEA President Brown said. One in five Oakland educators leaves the district each year due to low pay, leaving nearly 600 classrooms without an experienced teacher last school year. Class sizes are high, and students are without full-time nurses and an adequate number of counselors. Yet, OUSD received $23 million in additional revenue this year, and receives 25 percent more funding per student than the average unified school district statewide, Brown said.
“There is only one party in our bargaining with Oakland Unified School District that is pushing to improve our public schools for 36,000 Oakland students, and that is the Oakland Education Association,” said Brown. “It is time for the Oakland school board and our superintendent to make a choice – are they on the side of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and are pushing for more draconian budget cuts and school closures that will further hurt our kids, or are they on the side of teachers, students, and parents fighting for the schools Oakland students deserve?”
In an open letter to Oakland teachers, parents and students on Friday, Brown declared, “We are in a struggle for the soul of public education in Oakland, and billionaires can’t teach our kids.” He criticized school board members who were backed by billionaires for pushing a competition-based “portfolio” model for Oakland that “has led to a patchwork of privatization, school closures, and unimproved student outcomes in districts like New Orleans, Newark and Detroit.”
Brown said the fact-finder supports OEA’s bargaining goals by finding that the district’s “teacher retention crisis is much worse than the state average and must be addressed, that lower class sizes will help improve educational outcomes for students, and that more supports for students are possible. Further, the report affirms that the unchecked growth of charter schools is creating a systemic inequity that is starving our public schools of the resources they need to thrive.”
The entire fact-finder’s report is posted on the union’s website: www.oaklandea.org. The full and comprehensive OEA presentation to the fact-finder – titled “Remedying Educational Malpractice,” with extensive data supporting the union’s positions – is also posted on the website and can be found here.
Oakland educators plan to strike for smaller class sizes, more school counselors and nurses to adequately support students, and living wages to allow educators to stay in Oakland. Teachers are also calling for a halt to a billionaire-backed plan to close up to 24 neighborhood schools in primarily African American and Latinx Oakland neighborhoods. In addition to being disruptive and destabilizing for students and communities, school closures will also lead to further loss of students to charter schools – privately managed, but publicly funded schools that make up 30 percent of student enrollment in Oakland, and are already costing Oakland schools over $57 million a year, according to a key study.
The OEA union announced Feb. 4 that 95 percent of educators who took part in a strike authorization vote cast ballots in favor of allowing their union leaders to call a strike, if necessary, and strike preparations are continuing. The OEA Executive Board backed the strike option.
There is a groundswell of community support for Oakland educators. OEA is a co-sponsor of the Bread For Ed campaign that has raised more than $46,000 to feed students in a district where an overwhelming number of children are low-income and depend on free or reduced-price meals during school. The OEA Membership Assistance Fund has raised more than $20,000 through a Go Fund Me drive. In addition, over 25 Bay Area CTA teachers’ union chapters have donated more than $20,000 to the Membership Assistance Fund as well.
The OEA is affiliated with the California Teachers Association, which coordinated a statewide #RedForEd day of action at public schools on Friday, Feb. 15, to show support for Oakland educators in their fight for the quality schools all students deserve – see more information here. The Oakland showdown comes after many recent teacher strikes around the nation about protecting public schools and students, including the successful January strike in Los Angeles Unified School District by more than 30,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union.
Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017 and are the lowest-paid in Alameda County.
The news conference today was broadcast live on the Oakland Education Association Facebook page and is archived there: https://www.facebook.com/OaklandEA/
“We will strike with our parents, whose overwhelming support in the last few weeks has been felt by every single teacher in Oakland,” said OEA President Brown, who is a teacher at Bret Harte Middle School. “We will strike for our students, we will strike for educational justice, we will strike for racial justice, and we will strike for the future of public education in Oakland. Our students, families, and community are the center of everything Oakland educators do, and we are all in the fight for the schools Oakland students deserve together.”
The Oakland Education Association represents 3,000 OUSD educators, including teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, therapists, substitutes, and early childhood and adult teachers. OEA is affiliated with the 325,000-member California Teachers Association and the 3 million-member National Education Association.