Oakland Teachers End Strike, But the Fight Continues

Oakland Technical High School teacher Cris Bautista pickets in front of his school, Friday, March 1, 2019, in Oakland, California. Bautista teaches high school in Oakland, but to afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, he commutes an hour or more to an apartment he shares with another teacher and works weekends at a coffee shop. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

After a week-long strike and a year of contract negotiations, Oakland teachers agreed to go back to work with an 11 percent pay raise and a 3 percent bonus, Vox reports. But the story’s not over.

On Monday, a day after 70 percent of union members voted to accept the contract, the Oakland School Board approved $22 million in cuts, KQED reports. The district says those cuts are necessary to pay for the teachers’ raises.

The district is also paying for agreed-upon hires: more school counselors, psychologists and special ed teachers, raises for school nurses.

“The real victory of our historic strike for the schools our students deserve lies in the power and unity we built at our school sites, in our union, and in the city of Oakland,” said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association labor union, during a press conference Friday, as reported by Vox. “Tens of thousands of Oaklanders of all ages joined us on our picket lines and at our mass rallies and actions.”

“Words cannot express how deeply grateful I am that this strike has come to a close,” Oakland Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, calling the contract “an important step toward greater investment in our classrooms.”

That was Sunday. Monday, the board voted 4-3 to make the cuts.

Hundreds of students attended the school board meeting March 4 to protest the cuts, which will eliminate 90 administrative jobs and 60 support service positions. Included in the cuts are foster youth counselors and the district’s popular restorative justice program. (Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she’s committed $1 million to save the program, if the city council adopts her budget in May, KQED education reporter Vanessa Rancaño tweeted.)

Teachers and parents called the board “incompetent and uncaring as well as more vitriolic descriptions,” the Chronicle wrote.

The Oakland district faces a $9-million deficit this year and further deficits in the following years, even before accounting for the teachers’ raises, according to an independent analysis by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.

Mike Fine, FCMAT’s chief financial officer, told the Chronicle the cuts were necessary.

“They will be broke without budget cuts,” he said.

When adjusted for the cost of living, California’s expenditures per pupil is among the lowest in the nation, mainly because, Vox says, the state’s Proposition 13 places strict limits on property tax increases.

Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction, spent 30 hours mediating the strike, the Chronicle said. His next step: A 2020 ballot measure to update Prop 13.

Students said they’re taking the fight to Sacramento, too, according to Rancaño. They also threatened to organize a citywide strike, the Chronicle reported separately.

Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: oaklandunionseducationstrikes