Tentative agreement reached in week-long Oakland teachers strike

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Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Striking teachers in Oakland, California, celebrated after reaching a tentative contract agreement Friday with school administrators to end a seven-day walkout.

To cheers and applause, union leaders from the Oakland Education Association announced that teachers had won everything they demanded -- higher pay, smaller classes and more school resources -- in a week of marathon negotiating sessions with the district.

"This is a historic contract with a win in every major proposal we made," the Oakland Education Association said in a statement. 

"We have achieved so much in the seven days of our historic strike in Oakland," union President Keith Brown told a news conference. "Our power in the streets prevailed."

The deal includes an 11 percent salary increase and a one-time 3 percent bonus, once the deal is ratified, Brown said. 

Teachers were expected to vote Saturday, and if the deal is approved, return to classrooms next week.

"On Monday, March 4, we look forward to everyone being together again in the classroom," Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement. "The contract will help ensure more teachers stay in Oakland and that more come to teach in our classrooms and support our students."

Oakland's 3,000 teachers walked off the job Feb. 21, effectively shutting the city's 86 schools.

The district kept Oakland schools open during the strike staffed by a skeleton crew of substitutes. But most students stayed away in support of their striking teachers. The district said about 6 percent of students came to class during the weeklong action.

The walkout affected 36,000 students.

Highlights of the tentative agreement 

  • Lower class sizes: Phased-in class size reductions at all schools
  • School closures: 5-month pause in any school closures
  • More student supports: Lower caseloads for special education teachers and counselors
  • A charter cap: The school board will vote to push the state for a charter school moratorium

The Oakland Education Association said educators were forced to strike because administrators had not listened to their demands for two years. Teachers had been working without a contract since 2017.

Among their demands was a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area.

A starting salary for teachers at Oakland schools is $46,500 a year and the average salary in the district is $63,000 a year.

Brown said the new proposed salary will allow teachers to earn "a living wage."

"Experienced teachers will now be able to stay in the classroom," he said. 

Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which said the district was not able to retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.

The union also won a "five-month pause" on school closures after protesting a district plan to shut as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union had argued that closing the schools would send more students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from the district.

The union rejected two earlier salary proposals from the district, which initially offered a 5 percent raise covering 2017 to 2020.

The deal also requires the district to reduce class sizes and hire more student support staff, including special education teachers, psychologists and nurses.

The talks did not center on pension or health care benefits, which are free for full-time workers and their beneficiaries. The Oakland district spends an additional $13,487 per teacher annually for health benefits for educators and their families.

Oakland teachers were the latest educators in the country to strike over pay and classroom conditions.

Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. Unions for West Virginia teachers, who staged a nine-day walkout last year, ended another two-day strike last week. 

Last month, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a deal raising their wages.

Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, staged a six-day strike last month that ended when they settled on a 6-percent raise with promises of smaller class sizes and the addition of nurses and counselors.

Each day that students didn’t attend school cost the district about $1.1 to $1.2 million, for a total of about $7 million. 

This is a breaking story, check back for updates.