Principals support Oakland teachers, head to Sacramento to find more funding

A total of 75 principals in Oakland wrote an open letter to EdSource this week, saying they support the teachers who have called for a strike on Thursday, but they also implored the state of California to step up funding for schools.

And on Wednesday, about 30 of them planned to head to Sacramento, to implore legislators for more funding. They also plan to meet with state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond's team.

"If we don't change the way our schools are funded across the California, we're not going to solve our problems in Oakland and we're going to have problems across the state," Katherine Carter, principal at Oakland SOL said. "I am definitely in support of our teachers. The fight isn't at the city level, it's at the state level." 

Read fact-finding report regarding Oakland teachers

That’s also a similar sentiment an independent fact-finder found while trying to negotiate between the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association. 

“California’s current educational funding system is complicated and flawed in a number of ways,” Najeeb N. Khoury wrote. “These flaws make finding resolutions to this contract and other teacher contracts throughout the state very difficult.”  

How much do teachers get paid? 

 According to the National Education Association, California spent only $10,420 per pupil in 2018, which is below the national average of $11,934.  Teachers in Oakland earn between $46,000 and $85,000, the lowest paid in Alameda County. 

California ranks among the top states for average teacher salaries but also for cost of living. For example, per pupil expenditures are $21,118 in New Jersey, $21,731 in Connecticut, and $23,519 in New York -- more than double California's. By contrast, California continues to top the nation in prison spending, the principals pointed out.

In the short term, the principals wrote that they want to see the Legislature forgive the balance of the 2003 state loan to the district. They also want California’s annual per pupil spending should reflect the high cost of living to be commensurate with states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut.

In Oakland, the imbalance between teachers’ salaries and their purchasing power is even more stark than in other parts of California, the principals said. With average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment running at $2,500, a new teacher with a master’s degree and pre-tax earnings of $47,311 “cannot realistically afford housing in Oakland. Nor can they find substantially cheaper housing in surrounding communities,” the letter states.

“The salaries of public school teachers in districts across California are grossly inadequate,” the principals wrote. “We do not pay teachers enough to compensate them fairly for their hard work and the expertise required to teach our children.  

The principals said the teachers in the district deserve the 12 percent raise they are asking for. 

The district is offering a 5 percent raise and is facing a budget deficit that is expected to reach $56 million by the 2020-2021 school year.

In January, Supt.  Kyla Johnson-Trammel, who was a teacher herself, said she "firmly" believes that educators should earn more.

Still, she said, "any raise for our staff will mean we will have to make budget reductions, potentially including layoffs and reductions to programs or services elsewhere to pay for it."

Each 1 percent raise that teachers receive, she said, equals an additional $1.9 million per year in costs to the district for their additional wages and benefits. Taking into account all the represented employees, such as support staff, she said the costs rise to about $3.5 million per year for each 1 percent raise.

KTVU's Allie Rasmus contributed to this report.