Oakland’s teacher strike concludes its second day
on February 22, 2019
On Friday morning, Oakland teachers returned to the picket lines as their strike entered its second day.
The bargaining teams from the Oakland Education Association (OEA)—the teachers’ union—and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) met in the morning to resume negotiations but as of 4 pm Friday afternoon, had not come to any resolution.
The two sides have been negotiating on a new contract for over two years; teacher pay and class sizes have been the main sticking points in negotiations so far. Increasingly, though, on picket lines and at rallies, teachers and their supporters are pushing to expand the scope of the strike to include the growth of charter schools and the privatization of Oakland schools. According to OUSD data, there are over 40 charter schools in Oakland and over one-third of Oakland students attend them—one of the highest rates of charter attendance in the country.
At Skyline High School, teachers started picketing at 6 am. Bridget Rivezzo, the parent of two Skyline students who also works part-time for the communications office there—said that she is concerned about charter schools in Oakland. She said that the message coming from the federal government thanks to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—an advocate for charter schools and school choice—is an open attack on public education. “It’s very boldly out there to dismantle public schools with putting in charter schools that have very little accountability,” Rivezzo said.
Rivezzo believes that the strike in Oakland, along with recent strikes in other states, is part of a larger movement of teachers, parents, and students standing up for public education. Many Skyline teachers—and the others there supporting them—wore red as part of the national “Red for Ed” movement that has led to strikes in West Virginia, Denver and Los Angeles.
Working conditions for teachers have been at the center of the negotiations and strike. The union has emphasized Oakland’s “teacher retention crisis” in arguing for higher pay, smaller class sizes, and the hiring of more support staff for students. Last school year, about 18 percent of Oakland teachers left the district—a much higher rate than in other nearby school districts.
Nicholas Beasley, who teaches construction trades at Skyline High School, said that he was striking because he wants more stable schools and less teacher turnover. “We have teachers going to local cities, local school districts. They’re not switching careers; they’re just changing where they teach,” he said. According to Beasley, those other school districts are paying a living wage and Oakland is not—especially given the high housing costs in the city.
As Beasley looked over the picket line in front of Skyline, he said that out of the 100 or so people there, maybe only five had taught at Skyline for more than ten years. “We should have a huge block of our staff being ten-years-plus. They should be running programs. They should be the pillars of our school,” he said.
Jeff Rapson is one of those teachers. He’s taught at Skyline for 14 years and he said he was out on the picket line for the younger teachers. He said that he’ll be retiring in a few years, but he wants the younger teachers have better working conditions than he’s had. In addition to issues with pay, Rapson said that there are not enough resources to support new teachers in the classroom and that the buildings at Skyline are falling apart. “We’re in an emergency state,” Rapson said. “I’ve seen so much turnover—hundreds of teachers over my career. These are good people and they deserve to afford a house in Oakland and live and thrive.”
The teachers, parents, and students at Skyline gathered in a circle as they ended picketing for the morning. After the chanting stopped, they took a moment for each person to quietly feel their heartbeat. Then, they broke into a slow clap that quickly turned into cheers. The group dispersed, as many of them got in cars to head down to DeFremery Park for a public rally planned for later in the morning.
Meanwhile, teachers, parents, and students picketed in a circle in front of Oakland Technical High School. The group grew steadily as the morning progressed, with more students joining the picket lines and holding signs that read “Chop from the top” and “Fund our future.”
Ellen Dahlke, a tenth grade English teacher at Tech, said it’s been amazing to see how many community members are coming by to drop off food or offer encouragement. “It feels like we’ve got almost complete community support,” she said. “What we don’t have is the support of school board members whose campaigns are funded by corporate-minded folks.”
Dahlke said she and other teachers feel like there’s no communication between teachers and the board. “We’re too tired to go to board meetings because we have 160 or 175 papers to grade every night,” she said. “So you don’t hear our voices at the school board. You don’t hear us in Sacramento.”
As Dahlke spoke, a chant broke out on the picket line: “We need books. We need supplies. OUSD, stop your lies.”
Thousands of people converged on DeFremery Park at 11:30 this morning for a public rally. Forming a sea of red t-shirts, teachers and their supporters danced to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as they waited for the speakers to start. A full range of signs were on display, from a homemade one reading “I shouldn’t have to marry a sugar daddy to teach in Oakland!” to one painted with “Fight for the schools students deserve” to the hundreds of green and yellow OEA-distributed signs that simply say “ON STRIKE.”
During the rally, the speakers focused on privatization and charter schools. Manny Lopez, a teacher at Global Family Elementary School, decried private companies, which, he said, only see public education as an opportunity to make more money, rather than serve students. When he mentioned the California Charter School Association, which lobbies on behalf of charter schools, and GO Public Schools (GO), an Oakland nonprofit with funding and ties to charter advocates, the crowd responded with hisses and boos.
Catie Tombs and Nhi Truong, two charter school teachers, also spoke at the rally. They said that 70 percent of the teachers from their school, ARISE High School, walked out on Thursday and joined OEA teachers on the picket lines. Truong, who grew up in Oakland and went to McClymonds High School, condemned the OUSD’s plan to close or merge up to 24 schools over the next few years, asking the district to “prioritize public education and not privatize education.” She said that unity and collaboration among all Oakland educators is necessary. “As charter teachers, we’re here today because we are inspired by your work and we urge that all charter teachers in Oakland support this movement,” she said.
At the end of the rally, OEA President Keith Brown called on the teachers to march to GO Public Schools’ offices. The teachers and their supporters marched down Adeline Avenue. When they arrived at GO’s offices, they taped fake dollar bills onto the windows of the building.
In response, GO Executive Director Jessica Stewart released a public statement, writing that it was heartbreaking for her to see GO become the focus of the strike today. “No doubt, every story requires a villain. But we are not in a fight with Oakland’s teachers—many of whom are our friends and former colleagues,” she wrote. Stewart emphasized that GO supports teachers demands for higher pay and increased education spending.
In the district’s first update since the strike began, the OUSD communications team released a statement Thursday night. It noted that the district’s most recent proposal either meets or exceeds the recommendations of the neutral fact-finding report released last week by a three-person team. The statement also highlighted that union has not changed their bargaining position since May, 2018, which district officials called “not a financially sound option.”
Ismael Armendariz, the union’s first vice-president, said Friday that 85 percent of their members picketed on the first day of the strike, and that 95 percent did not cross the picket line. He said that the district is feeling the effect of the strike with many families choosing not to cross the picket line and send their kids to school. According to union officials, there were no students at West Oakland Middle School and only a handful at Fremont High School yesterday.
The district has not released attendance numbers since the strike began.
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