Oakland teachers have started their second week on strike as they push for their contract to include “common good” provisions such as using district property to help homeless students, addressing reparations for Black students, and improving school safety.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Oakland teachers started their second week on strike Thursday as they push for their contract to include “common good” provisions such as using district property to help homeless students, addressing reparations for Black students, and improving school safety.
There’s no end in sight for the strike by 3,000 educators, counselors and other workers in the Oakland Unified School District, who say the district has failed to bargain in good faith on a new three-year contract that also makes more traditional demands like higher salaries. Other common good demands include providing more mental health support, fixing deteriorating schools, and offering subsidized transportation for low-income students.
Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a message to parents Wednesday that the district, the state’s 11th largest, is offering raises of as much as 22% for some teachers but that the common good demands are not possible to meet because they would cost $1 billion. Issues like student homelessness are important but “demand multi-agency and government support,” she said.
But teachers say adding more support beyond the classroom would improve learning conditions and retain educators. About 20% of Oakland students have disabilities or need special education services, said Ismael Armendariz, a special education teacher and the Oakland Education Association’s interim president.
He said that the district loses about 25% of its teachers each year because they don’t have support, and that the district offers the lowest salaries in the region. The district also has one of the highest concentrations of non-credentialed teachers in the state, he said.
Armendariz said the union in Oakland is also pushing for teachers, parents and students to have decision-making power on how to spend $85 million in state grants for “community schools,” campuses that offer support for students, their families and communities.
The funds are part of the $4.1 billion California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved in the past two years to vastly expand the K-12 “community school” model in poor neighborhoods and offer free school meals, mental health support to students, tutoring, after-school programs, health care for families, and English classes for adults in the community near campus.
Experts say that bargaining beyond salary and working conditions by adding “common good” clauses to address community issues has become more common in the past decade, beginning in Chicago in 2012, when teachers went on strike and demanded a voice in improving schools. They won a nurse and social worker in every school, resources for unhoused students, and wage increases.
In California, a growing number of school districts have bargained common good demands with teacher unions, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school system. In a 2019 strike, the United Teachers Los Angeles won shared governance at “community schools.”
Shared decision-making would keep the district accountable, Armendariz said, pointing out that in 2021 the Oakland school board voted to commit more support to all schools with over 40% Black students and allocated funds, but that the district has yet to follow through.
Some parents said the teachers’ demands are not reasonable and are affecting kids already struggling mentally and academically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Oakland, only about 30% of students can do math or read at grade level, according to data from the California Department of Education.
Lakisha Young, who has a son in the seventh grade and is the founder and CEO of the literacy-focused nonprofit Oakland Reach, said she is not sending her child to school because she has the flexibility to keep him home. She is angry Oakland teachers are on strike for the third time since 2019, when they were out for a week after more than a year of contract negotiations. In April, teachers walked out for one day over plans to close several schools.
“Our kids are being used as pawns because teachers want more control over more things,” Young said.
The strike comes at the end of the school year, which wraps up May 25, but the district’s 80 schools remain open to the district’s 34,000 students, with meals being offered and office staff educating and supervising. Only about 1,200 students have shown up to school since the strike started May 4, said district spokesperson John Sasaki.
Like many parents, Leyla Ayers, who has a sophomore at Oakland Technical High School, wants the strike to end but she said she also understands that teachers are looking for solutions to problems that make it hard for kids to learn.
“Obviously the district can’t solve these problems on their own, so their solution is to just shrug and claim it’s too expensive,” she said. “District leaders should be demanding more help from elected officials, “not sending out finger-wagging emails essentially scolding the union for being too ambitious,” she added.
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