Teachers reject district's latest offer; question where new money came from

Hundreds of Oakland teachers and supporters marched from Frank Ogawa Plaza to the state building downtown on Thursday, where contract negotiations in their sixth day are all but certain to extend into the strike's first full week. 

Among the supporters were fellow teachers from San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany and San Lorenzo, who staged sick outs to be here.

"We want the world to know that we teachers are all connected. We are working together. We are here for our students," said Anne Ryan, a teacher from San Francisco.

The teacher’s union negotiators have rejected the district's latest offer: A 10 percent pay increase over four years that includes a two percent bonus.

That's double the district's offer from just a week ago when the strike began.

"It is clear they have a lot more money than they initially let on. And I think it is arbitrary they jumped to that offer. So I am optimistic they can find what they need to support the students," said Oakland teacher Paul Antony-Levine. 

"We've been told there is a line past where we cannot go. The county knows what we have and don't have. The state knows what we have and don't have," said Oakland Unified School District spokesman John Sasaki.

The teachers are demanding 12 percent over three years, plus smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors. They say that's the only way to stop massive teacher turnover in Oakland schools.

"What we are asking is barely enough to keep up with inflation in the Bay Area," said teacher Lydia Craighill. 

On Wednesday picketing teachers forced the regularly scheduled Oakland school board meeting at La Escuelita to be canceled. The board was expected to vote on a plan to cut $21.75 million from the budget.

That meeting has been rescheduled for Friday.

"If we can't do the meeting tomorrow, we can't do the budget cuts and potentially the pay increases," said Sasaki.

In a statement issued Thursday the district elaborated: "To be clear, if the Board does not meet, we cannot make the difficult the difficult but necessary financial decisions to honor our teachers and students, and finally bring an end to the strike."

OUSD said the board meeting was also of importance because the district is at risk of losing a $1.3 million block grant if the plan isn't adopted by March 1. 

Nonetheless, the teachers union-- Oakland Education Association planned to picket the rescheduled meeting at 11 a.m. Friday. "Our strike continues. And the OUSD board is once again attempting to hold a meeting to make decisions about our budget without having settled a contract. We're prepared to shut it down," OEA said on Twitter. 

The strike has forced schools to cancel sports, music and other programs, plus help students with college placement tests.

"We have six days of not going to school. Learning has completely stopped," said high school senior Rocio Circano.

The school district says the strike is costing it about $1 million a day. After six days, that's $6 million in losses and counting.