Boots Riley gives Oakland teachers a boost as strike heads into day 5

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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond will return Wednesday for a third day as a mediator in negotiations between the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association as the teachers strike enters its fifth day.

Thurmond, who took part in lengthy bargaining sessions Monday and again through Tuesday night, will once again try to broker a settlement between the district and its teachers union, the OUSD said in a news release.

In a statement, Thurmond said: "My top priority is keeping them at the table to get this resolved." 

Oakland schools said on Tuesday they remain optimistic a bargaining agreement, "will end the strike in a way that honors our educators and ensures the Districts' fiscal stability for decades to come."  

At their daily evening news conference, OEA teachers said a majority of black and Latino schools are being targeted to close. They claimed studies show displaced students do not perform well and that there is pressure on the district to privatize and shift to a charter school model.

High school teachers in the district called for no privatization and no more school closures, while a parent and supporter of the teachers said the teachers deserve a raise and smaller class sizes. 

"It's time to give back to the students and teachers so they can afford housing," said Miriam Jones.  

Union vice president Chaz Garcia said Thurmond's presence was "helping" with the bargaining process. 

District spokesman John Sasaki said, "We are waiting for the union to offer a counter-proposal. Something they haven't done in quite a few months. So hopefully we can find some common ground."

The district previously offered a 5 percent raise over three years, but last week made a new offer of 7 percent over three years with a 1.5 percent retroactive bonus. The teachers want a 12 percent raise over three years.   

A state fiscal overseer said he won’t allow the union to get its proposed raise unless the district cuts substantially more from its budget than planned.

“I will stay or rescind any agreement that would put the district in financial distress; a 12 percent salary increase would do just that,” state fiscal oversight trustee Chris Learned said in a written statement released by the district Sunday. “What the district has on the table now is what the district can afford.”

Learned is an appointed state representative.

An OUSD negotiation update also touched on accusations of rumors and misinformation. Both sides have claimed they are the source for facts and the best way to stay informed. On Tuesday OUSD said 6 percent of students have attended school each day since the strike began, but OEA had that number as low as 3 percent. 

Meanwhile, Oakland activist and filmmaker Boots Riley joined the picket lines Tuesday and spoke at rally in front of Roots International Academy, one of 24 school slated to close to save the district money.

He encouraged poncho-clad teachers and their supporters as they stood in the rain. 

"It wouldn't be a fight if they just gave in right away. That'd be too easy. Y'all are in the thick of it and I'm glad ya'll are staying in that fight," Riley said. He told picketing teachers they were setting a great example. "What happens here is going to have a lot to do with what people do all around the country and all around the world. I thank you for what you’re doing, because without y’all they will privatize everything!"  

The teachers' strike began on Thursday after two years of failed negotiations between the union and the school district and is the first multi-day walkout by Oakland teachers since 1996, when they went on strike for more than two months.

KTVU's Jana Katsuyama, Lisa Fernandez, Allie Rasmus, Andre Torrez and Bay City News' Craig Lazzeretti contributed to this report.