By JOCELYN GECKER | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN FRANCISCO — Teachers in Oakland, California, will become the latest educators in the country to strike over pay and classroom conditions.
Union officials representing 3,000 teachers confirmed a strike will start Thursday after last-minute negotiations with the school district fell apart Wednesday.
The walkout will affect 36,000 students at 86 schools.
In a message to parents, the Oakland Unified School District said schools will remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, picket lines were expected and parents should not expect school as usual, it said.
“We’re hopeful that we can find a resolution as soon as possible,” district spokesman John Sasaki said.
Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and say their salaries are not keeping up with the exorbitant cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
They want smaller class sizes, more counselors and full-time nurses, and a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they said have been some of the lowest salaries among public school teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Initially, the district offered a 5 percent raise over the same period, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.
In negotiations Wednesday aimed at averting a strike, the district increased its proposal to a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus.
The offer went higher than the recommendation of an independent fact-finding report that suggested the two sides agree to a compromise 6 percent retroactive raise.
Union officials with the Oakland Education Association rejected the offer Wednesday.
Union president Keith Brown said the latest offer does not address the high cost of living that is driving educators out of Oakland.
Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which says the district can’t retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.
A teacher’s starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year and the average salary is $63,000, according to the union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley and the average salary is $75,000, the union said.
Pension and health care benefits are free for full-time workers. The Oakland district spends an additional $13,487 per teacher annually for health benefits for educators and their families.
Roughly 30 of Oakland’s more than 80 school principals traveled to the state Capitol on Wednesday to advocate for better school funding ahead of the strike. The principals are not in the same union as the teachers and plan to be in schools Thursday. The group wore read T-shirts reading “teachers are the heart of Oakland.”
“Our formal role is to run the school buildings for whatever students are there, mostly because their families can’t afford to have them out of school,” said Cliff Hong, an Oakland middle school principal. But, he said, “pretty much every principal is in support of the teachers having higher pay.”
Katherine Carter, an Oakland middle school principal and 22-year educator, said the problems in Oakland are symbolic of funding issues for schools across the state. Beyond seeking solutions for Oakland’s funding challenges, the teachers want more accountability and transparency for charter schools.
“We’re here to talk about the bigger issues around state funding that we feel are particularly urgent in Oakland,” Carter said. “But we think it’s bigger than Oakland.”
The group met with lawmakers and other state officials, including state schools chief Tony Thurmond.
The union has also called for the district to scrap a plan to close as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union fears the move would likely lead to further losses of students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from Oakland public schools.
Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. In West Virginia, educators on Wednesday ended their second statewide walkout in less than a year. Last week, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a tentative deal raising their wages.
Teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district in Los Angeles 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.