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Nearly 500 teachers, parents and students march for higher salaries for teachers

on April 1, 2015

Wearing bright shirts that say “Fighting for the Schools that Oakland Students Deserve” and holding supportive posters, nearly 500 parents, students, teachers and community members rallied at San Antonio Park on Tuesday before marching to the Oakland Unified School District headquarters on Broadway.

Contract negotiations between the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and the school district have been going on for a year, and after meeting for three days for nearly nine hours each day, the union and district bargaining teams were unable to make any agreements.

The focus of the march was on contracts that include smaller class sizes and better pay for teachers, but marchers also spoke about other contract negotiation issues such as the district spending more money on school sites rather than administration salaries, hiring more counselors instead of school security officers, and placing limits, or “hard caps,” on the student-to-teacher ratio in special education class.

“Today, and our organizing around the ‘Schools that Oakland Students Deserve,’ is more about a contract, though,” OEA president Trish Gorham said of the rally and march on Tuesday. “It is really about supporting the value of public education for the public good. That is what the coalition of parents, community and teachers will build even after a contract is settled.”

According to National Center for Education statistics, the estimated average teaching salary in the US is $56,383 a year. In California its $69,324. In Oakland’s school district, on average teachers make $55,000 a year, according to the California Department of Education.

The district has offered teachers a 13.5 percent wage increase over the next 18 months. The increase includes a 10.5 percent base pay raise. In addition, the district has offered to lower class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade from 27 to 24 students per teacher. But the two bargaining teams have yet to reach an agreement on special education class sizes and ratios between counselors and students.

“Although we haven’t proposed hard caps—and there are very sound financial reasons for that—we do have targets and a review process to ensure that we’re holding to those targets, if at all possible,” said district spokesman Troy Flint. “So we’re offering substantially more money, more money than any other school district has offered, in terms of a raise during this round of negotiations in Alameda County. It’s not going to get us to where we want our teachers to be, but it took more than a decade to get to this point. It won’t be corrected overnight, but this is a strong step in the right direction.”

As negotiations continue, teachers at 38 schools in the district are “working to rule,” meaning that they work only the hours required by their contract. Teachers work from 8 am to 3 pm, and not before, after, or during lunch. Before “work to rule,” many teachers came into school early to prepare lesson plans, left late due to after-school activities, and worked during lunch and at home in the evenings to grade papers and report cards. Since the protest has started, all of this work is either being done within the contracted time or not at all.

Though many parents and students are supporting the teachers, they hope the two sides can reach an agreement soon. “We hope that they come to mutual agreements,” said march participant Maria Garcia, a parent of two students in the district. “Labor and management should understand that they work together as one force. We are one team.”

The next bargaining meeting is on April 19.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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