Oakland teachers strike Thursday; school still in session
on April 28, 2010
A majority of the Oakland Unified School District’s close to 2,400 teachers are expected to participate in a one day strike Thursday according to both Betty Olson-Jones, the head of the teachers’ union, and Troy Flint, the spokesperson for the district. The teachers’ complaint is that they have not received a raise since 2003, and despite two years of contract negotiations with the district, will not be offered a raise for the 2010-2011 school year either.
“[Striking] is not something we want to do,” Oakland Education Association president Olson-Jones said earlier in the week. “Every day you lose, you lose a day’s pay, you’re away from your children… Teachers get into the business to teach.”
Thursday’s strike, which has been planned since early March and is the first teacher strike in Oakland since 1996, comes after negotiations with the district ended last week with the release of a third party fact-finding report conducted by an independent auditor noting that the district’s financial state is “woeful.” The report suggested a shorter school year and other measure to effectively increase teacher pay.
Neither the district nor the union entirely agreed with the conclusions made by the fact-finding report. On Monday, the school board voted to impose the district’s “best, last and final” offer despite not having reached an agreement with the teachers’ union on the contract’s terms. By law, now that the fact-finding process is complete the district has this right, just as the union has the right to strike. Both groups are required to continue working towards an agreement.
At a press conference on Tuesday explaining the decision to impose a contract, Smith said he did not think teachers were paid fairly and publicly committed to increasing teacher salaries over the next few years, but said such increases were not possible right now. The recently imposed contract maintains current salary levels and covers the rising cost of benefits. It also allows for larger class sizes and cuts the minimum number of full-time Adult Education teachers.
“We know that teachers in OUSD make less than their counterparts in neighboring districts,” reads a statement on the district’s website. “But we also know that at this time OUSD lacks the money to pay our teachers what they deserve.”
“We are not greedy. No teacher goes into it for the money,” Olson-Jones said on Tuesday. She said teachers understand there is a budget crisis, but that they are the lowest paid teachers in Alameda County and they deserve to be paid a higher salary.
Despite the strike, school will be in session tomorrow. “All class, child care programs, and cafeteria schedules will be in operation as usual,” reads a statement for parents about the strike on the district’s website. “The District has a contingency plan to operate schools in the event of a strike and is the process of hiring personnel to ensure that there is minimal interruption in learning for our students.”
Though the district began hiring “emergency temporary teachers” close to a month ago, only 300 such teachers have been cleared to work tomorrow, according to Flint, who said applicants must undergo a background check, have a negative tuberculosis test and hold a bachelors degree.
In addition to the 300 emergency replacement teachers, the non-teaching staff and about seventy employees from the central office will be in schools tomorrow attending to the children who arrive said Flint. Lesson plans will be provided by the district, Flint said, and children will be safe.
Nevertheless many parents intend to keep their children home from school. Jesse, who declined to give his last name, said that he hopes to keep his child home tomorrow instead of sending the child to Emerson Elementary School in North Oakland. He said he is worried about discipline issues.
“The on-campus aftercare is wonderful,” Jesse wrote in an email. “The afterschool director is amazing, as is her staff, and the staff of the school, and our principal. I simply fear that the adult to child ratio will be absurd and untenable for safe care for anyone.”
Jesse is not alone. Christopher Waters, a parent of a student who attends Peralta Elementary in North Oakland plans to keep his son home and to watch the children of friends who must work. “I have either six or seven kids spending the day with me and my son’s mom,” Waters wrote in an email. “We will all spend the first part of the morning on the picket lines with our teachers, then walk back to my house to spend the day together.”
While the “well-heeled are more likely to stay home,” Flint said, he expects lower-income parents without alternative child care options to be more likely to send their children to school.
For those who do keep their children home, on Thursday the Grand Lake Theater will be offering a special kids’ matinee. Tickets for one of the mid-day shows will be $5 and come with free popcorn said theater owner Allen Michaan, who said he wanted to provide something for kids to do as a way to support the striking teachers. “We are opening specially for this,” Michaan said.
Teachers will be picketing in the morning at their school sites and then heading to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza for a rally in front of City Hall at noon before returning to their school sites in the afternoon.
Smith told Cy Musiker of KQED in an interview on Monday that he plans to keep his own child home. According to the teachers union’s website, Smith has requested a meeting with the teachers union for next week to get back to negotiations.
For the district’s director of labor management and employee relations, Troy Christmas, this push to come to an agreement is more important than the strike itself. “My job is not about a strike,” Christmas said. “It’s about what do we need to do to create conditions for students that are successful. I know that the union shares this goal but we have had some disagreements about what resources are available to reach it.”
The real news, Christmas said, is not the strike, but the work of getting past it, which he hopes will begin next week. In the meantime, tomorrow will be, as Flint put it, “not a normal day.”
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