Day 7: Calls to stop charter school growth, both sides say progress being made

 As the Oakland teachers strike enters Day 7 on Friday, a group of Oakland charter school teachers released a statement saying  that they intend to call for an “immediate stop” to charter school growth in Oakland.

"We need to invest in the students who are now attending Oakland charters, instead of growing beyond our capacity to deliver quality education,” said Trish Liguori, a new teacher at Leadership Public Schools Oakland R&D, according to the Bay Area News Group. “We’re calling for a moratorium on the expansion of new charters in Oakland – because it makes no sense to open up new schools while shutting down others.”

Charter schools have been partly blamed for the school district’s financial problems because they have enrolled many the city’s students, reducing the amount of state funding that otherwise would go to the district.

This week, Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach) and several Democrats introduced a package of bills that would impose severe restrictions on the growth of charter schools, EdSource reported. 

One of the bills, AB 1405, would give districts where a charter school would be located the sole authority for approval or denial. Another bill, AB 1506, would remove the current, liberal allowance for the growth of charter schools and impose a cap. The original charter law permitted 100 charters. That was increased in 1998 to 250, with 100 new charters permitted annually after that — creating unused capacity for hundreds of charter schools, EdSource reported.

California passed its charter school law in 1992, calling public charter schools a way to increase student opportunity, promote innovative teaching methods and provide "vigorous competition" for public schools. Beyond California, a debate has raged nationally over whether charter schools enhance student opportunities or diminish the overall quality of public schools.

Meanwhile, both the Oakland Education Association and the Oakland Unified School District hinted on Thursday that they are inching closer to some kind of agreement. 

In a news release issued Thursday morning, the Oakland Education Association said talks were “bringing some progress.”

“We’re certainly still very hopeful," district spokesman John Sasaki said on Friday. "I think this week we’ve had a lot of long negotiations, so we’re very hopeful that we come to an agreement here. Everybody knows that this has gone on long enough. Teachers want to be back in class. Students want to be back in class." 

The teachers are asking for a 12-percent pay raise over three years.

“You look at a school 10 years ago, you look at that school today and it is an entirely different school, " Skyline High School history teacher Harley Lietzelman said Friday at a rally. "Students cannot learn. A school cannot function if it does not retain its teachers. And that is what Oakland unified has failed to do. That is why we are on strike."

The district originally was offering a 5-percent raise and has now twice upped its offer. On Monday, the district offered an 8 percent raise over three school years and a 2 percent bonus for the 2017-2018 school year, which the teachers rejected.

A neutral fact-finder said the district could not afford what the teachers were asking for and said the district could only financially offer a 6-percent raise.

It's unclear exactly where the money will come from to pay the teachers and what the school board will have to cut in order to compensate them.

Teachers talking on the strike lines have said that they have heard that positions like restorative justice leaders will be let go and it will be up to PTAs to support these positions. That information has not been confirmed by the district. The district has said earlier this month, though, that they are poised to lay off 150 employees to address the budget deficit, the Chronicle reported. 

OUSD faces a budget shortfall that will reach an estimated $56 million by the 2020-21 school year if no big cuts are made.

School board director Jody London, who is considered a swing vote, wrote a newsletter this week, reminding her constituents that she has consistently voted no on charters and supports teachers making more money. But she warned that if a district's reserves fall too low, state receivers come in and take over, which means that the state's fiscal management team will be in charge of decisions that should be made at the local level.

"A further increase in compensation would require either a risk of bankruptcy and state receivership," London said, "or further cuts to support programs that are not directly teaching our children in classrooms."

The school board is scheduled to meet Friday at 2 p.m. to discuss cutting $21.75 million from the 2019-20 budget in part to reduce that shortfall and also to cover for anticipated pay raises. The proposed cuts include:$11.9 million in central administrative costs; $3.75 million in central services to sites; $1.47 million in contract reductions and $3 million to discretionary funds to school sites.

KTVU's Jesse Gary contributed to this report.