Three thousand teachers from the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California, plan to go on strike Thursday.
The teachers’ union has been working without a contract since July 2017. It’s calling for higher wages and a greater investment in city schools. At a news conference Saturday, Oakland Education Association president Keith Brown said that the Oakland Unified School District “is failing our schools” and “our students do not have adequate support.” He was flanked by teachers, parents, and students.
Among the matters at hand, high housing costs loom as the largest crisis Oakland teachers currently face. According to Brown, teachers in increasing numbers are finding it impossible to afford to live in the city where they work. Housing costs have led to untenably high turnover in their profession: More than 18 percent of teachers leave each year.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, teacher salaries in Oakland range from $46,750 to $83,724 per year, according to school district data; the union says this is the lowest rate in Alameda County. “The pay is for 186 days a year, which works out to just more than 37, five-day weeks.”
The district is offering a five percent retroactive wage increase from 2017 to 2020, but the teachers’ union is fighting for more than twice that: a 12 percent raise over that same stretch of time. “Brown said teachers will strike for as long as it takes to reach a deal. In 1996, a strike by Oakland teachers lasted for five weeks.”
“We agree that our teachers deserve to be paid more. It’s just a matter of how much can we pay, given our financial reality,” John Sasaki, the school district’s spokesman, told the Chronicle.
The strike would affect 36,286 students in 87 schools, and the district has said it plans to keep schools open by hiring substitute teachers should the strike go forward.
Years of cuts and budget deficits preceded this strike announcement. This month, district officials warned that up to 150 administrative and support employees could be laid as the district tries to cut an additional $21.7 million. And last month, the school board voted to close an East Oakland school, Roots International Academy. An influx of donations to the tune of almost $350,000 is all that saved half of the high school sports programs from elimination. (Except for bowling; no one jumped in to save bowling.)
The Oakland strike comes in the wake of a strike by Los Angeles public school teachers, whose week-long efforts in January saw tens of thousands of teachers march through downtown L.A. and picket for six school days. Last month, the strike ended with a number of key gains for the second-largest public school system in the country: Caps on class sizes, the hiring of full-time nurses in every school, a librarian for every middle and high school by the fall of 2020, and a comprehensive plan to reduce the number of standardized tests by half. (The six percent pay raise won by teachers was the same as the increase the district had proposed before the strike.)
The L.A. strike was the eighth significant teacher walkout since the start of 2018. Teachers in states as far-flung as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado also went on strike — nearly 400,000 teachers in all in what became the biggest year for strikes since 1986.