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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 21, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Striking teachers return to classrooms

Teachers in Oakland, California, returned to the classroom March 4 at the end of a seven-day strike. In what was dubbed a victorious conclusion, the strike ended when the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) approved a contract with the Oakland Education Association (OEA).

The strike started Feb. 21 as a result of the school district’s financial struggles and teachers’ salaries not funding necessities. According to the teachers’ union, Oakland teachers are the lowest paid in the Bay Area and their low salaries have caused them to struggle as wealth currently pouring into Silicon Valley. As the union said in a statement, rent for a one-bedroom apartment local to their school district would require approximately 60 percent of their current salaries.

The contract signed March 3 is composed of two tentative agreements between the OUSD and OEA, agreements that the teachers’ union voted on March 3. The first includes a 3 percent retroactive bonus for teachers, while the second agreement includes raises for the 2018–19 and 2020–21 school years.

Teachers also succeeded in the case for smaller class sizes. The district agreed to lower class sizes by one student next academic year in schools with the most need and will later be decreasing them by another student in 2021. Going beyond teachers, the district also agreed to lower the caseloads for speech therapists, psychologists and resource specialists. School nurses will also be receiving the teachers’ raise in addition to another 9 percent increase and $10,000 bonuses in 2020 and 2021.

While the teachers’ union did not have all of its initial demands met by the school district, it celebrated being able to achieve more than what the district first offered. Before the strike, the district offered a 7 percent raise and 1.5 percent bonus during two years of negotiating with the union. At the end of the strike, the union and the district agreed on an 11 percent plus a 3 percent bonus over four years.

Aimee Eng, the board of education president, said she is pleased that the OUSD and OEA were able to find common ground on the issues the strike addressed.

“We are thrilled we were able to work with our colleagues on the OEA team to craft a solution that both honors our teachers and allows us to remain financially stable,” Eng said. “This contract is a compromise made by people who worked together to focus more of our energy and resources in the classroom. This agreement does exactly that.”

Although the changes made to the Oakland school district are being celebrated, teachers in the union said they are far from done trying to rectify issues in the district. The union said it will continue to work to limit the number of charter schools allowed in the district and fight for ways to improve the district for both teachers and students.

Prior to the vote March 3, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said while the contract will not fully solve larger issues within the district, it is a crucial step in furthering the conversation about problems in the education system.

“We cannot fix decades of underinvestment in education with a single contract, but this is an important first step,” Johnson-Trammell said.

Keith Brown, president of the teachers’ union, said he is proud of what the strike has accomplished and how it unified the community.

“We built power,” Brown said. “We united the community during the seven days of the strike and we have won because of the power of parents, students uniting with the community and labor. Through this powerful strike, the people of Oakland have spoken.”

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke