Oakland teachers announce strike over pay, class sizes

Oakland school teachers announced plans to strike on Thursday, February 21. 

"This failure to fully fund our schools, at the levels our students deserve is undeniably a racial justice issue, in a school district that is overwhelmingly students of color,” said Oakland Education Association president, Keith Brown, at a press conference Saturday. 

The strike comes after a neutral fact finder endorsed the OEA’s core bargaining positions on Friday, writing: “Accordingly, I concur with the recommendation of the Panel Chair of a compensation increase of 3% in each of the first two years of a three-year agreement… I encourage the parties to focus the District’s limited resources on improving the salaries of Oakland’s teachers, since by almost any measure, they are among the lowest in Alameda County…”

"Oakland teachers cannot afford to live in Oakland,” said Brown. “One out of five leave each year."

Oakland teachers have spent the last two years bargaining with the Oakland Unified School District. The OEA said class sizes are too large, and that there is only one school nurse for every 750 students and one counselor for every 600 students. 

Oakland Unified School District says it is ready to go back to the table with OEA, but if the strike goes on, all Oakland schools will be remain open. 

"We do have central office staff going to our schools to support, our principals and other administration there, and also we have emergency temporary teachers that we're going to be having on site,” said OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki.

But many parents said they won’t have their children cross the picket line and stay home.

"I work and it's something that I would be able to do, and I plan to,” said Cinnamon Tolen, a mother of a 9 and 12 year-old.

“My grandfather would roll over in his grave if we crossed a picket line, so I will keep them at home. We'll work it out,” said Kara Mitzeo, whose daughters attend Kaiser Elementary School.

Teachers argue the district is spending three times the state average on consultants, but OUSD says that money cannot be used for teacher salaries.  

According to OUSD, it has more than $60 million in contracts and consultants: 

  • $40 million falls into the restricted category 
  • $4.5 million goes to school site contracts
  • $11 million is reserved solely for special education transportation. 
  • Remaining funds go to the business platform, such as payroll and computer programs.  

"To say that we have this giant pot of consultant or contract money that we can just get rid of, we can't,” said Sasaki.

“We can't get rid of the restricted, we can't get rid of the special education transportation, and we can't get rid of the school site contracts either."

For parents who have been through a teacher strike, they hope this one does not last long. OEA has not set an end date for the strike. 

"It's miserable, because my children want to be in school,” said Tolen. “Their teachers want to help them learn. It's unfortunate to not be able to watch that interaction happen the way it should."

Parents supporting the teachers said they will hold a community meeting on Tuesday night to address options for parents who cannot take off of work, such as sending children to “solidarity schools” being set up in libraries and in rec centers.