With the fact-finding report in, Oakland teachers ready to strike Thursday
on February 20, 2019
Oakland teachers are set to strike tomorrow. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) received official notice about the strike date from the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the teachers’ union, on Tuesday. The release of a fact-finding report last week failed to bring the two sides closer to a new contract, and a meeting on Wednesday afternoon also failed to result in a deal.
The fact-finding report was written by Najeeb Khoury, the neutral chairman of the three person fact-finding panel, which also included a member appointed by the union and one appointed by the district. Khoury, an attorney and the head of the City of Los Angeles Employee Relations Board, heard presentations from both bargaining teams about their contract proposals. His report takes a balanced approach to the negotiations, recognizing both the financial limitations that the district faces and the necessity of some of the union’s bargaining demands, which include boosting teacher pay and shrinking class sizes. The report does not set the terms of a new contract; Khoury just offers recommendations for settlements on issues that that can serve as a starting point for continued negotiations.
Over the weekend, the likelihood of the two sides restarting negotiations seemed low. According to a statement from OEA President Keith Brown, the union was waiting for a new contract proposal before they would return to the bargaining table. “For nearly three months, OUSD has said they have a ‘new,’ ‘improved,’ ‘substantial,’ and now ‘comprehensive’ proposal to make,” Brown wrote. “We haven’t seen it.”
In a press release issued Saturday, OUSD officials wrote that they have asked the union to return to negotiations and use the fact-finding report to guide negotiations. “We want it to be clear, the District has been and continues to be prepared with comprehensive solutions to address all issues and to reach an agreement,” read the statement. “Furthermore, we believe the recommendations in the report provide ideas that will facilitate the parties reaching a fair contract and avoiding the harm a strike would cause our school communities.”
The fact-finding report is expected to serve as a foundation for negotiations. On teacher pay, the report concluded that the OUSD’s original proposed 5 percent raise over three years is not enough and won’t keep pace with inflation. Given the district’s financial circumstances—OUSD officials project a deficit of up to $30 million next school year and is in the process of making about $21 million in budget cuts—the report does not conclude that that the union’s demand for a 12 percent raise over three years is feasible. The report recommends a compromise of a 6 percent retroactive raise covering the last two school years and then a renegotiation of teacher salary for the upcoming 2019-20 school year.
In the report, Khoury points toward the promise of increased state education funding thanks to Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget, which allocated a record $80.7 billion for K-12 education, and may enable teachers to get a larger raise in 2019-20.
On the class size issue, Khoury wrote that “lower class sizes will improve teacher retention and educational outcomes,” but, again, recognized that the OUSD’s financial situation limits the extent to which class sizes can be reduced. The union has been asking for a reduction of two students per class at all schools over the next two years. At schools with higher needs, the union has asked for a reduction of four students per class over the same time period. Originally, the district had countered with offering reductions in fourth and fifth grade, physical education, and fine arts classes only.
The fact-finding report recommends another compromise—a reduction of one student per class at all schools in Oakland, with the reduction to be rolled out over two years. By July 2019, 20 percent of schools should reduce their class size, with a focus on schools with the highest needs. Then, by July 2020, all schools should reduce their class sizes by one student. The report also recommends the creation of a joint taskforce to explore how to make further class size reductions after 2020.
In an interview Tuesday, Brown said that the report supported the teachers’ bargaining positions: That they need to be paid a living wage and that class size reductions are necessary. He said that the report’s recommendations were a step in the right direction. Still, the union wants the district “to move further to truly address the educational inequities in the city and address ending the teacher retention crisis,” Brown said.
On Wednesday, school district officials revived hopes for a settlement by offering a new proposal. Their new proposal offers teachers a higher total pay raise of 8.5 percent, but does not offer the union the opportunity to negotiate for an even higher raise in the future.
Under this plan, teachers would receive a 1.5 percent retroactive raise for the 2017-18 school year and a 3 percent retroactive raise for the 2018-19 school year. Going forward, teachers would receive a 2 percent raise in 2019-20 and another 2 percent raise in 2020-21.
In their new proposal, the OUSD bargaining team also offered a reduction of one student per class at schools with high needs in 2019-20. In 2020-21, all schools would reduce class size by one student, except for schools with an 80 percent or higher demand rate. Finally, in 2021-22, schools with high needs would reduce class size by one more student, for a total of two students over three years.
But the teachers rejected the new offer. At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Brown said that the district’s proposal “still does not address the needs of our students.” The two sides are set to resume negotiations at 9 am on Friday.
As of press time, school district spokespeople had not responded to a request for comment.
But in a press release, OUSD communications officials said that schools will remain open during the strike. Thursday will not resemble a typical school day, though. Staff from the district’s central office and emergency temporary teachers will be on campuses. While they will not teach specific lesson plans, they will use general instructional plans based on grade level.
Teachers and other union members—including school nurses, psychologists, counselors, and other staff—are expected to begin picketing at all school sites in Oakland at 6:30 on Thursday morning.
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