Oakland teachers' strike expecting support from 'sick' charter school educators

Contract negotiations over the weekend failed to end Oakland teachers' strike.

February 24, 2019, 1:55 PM

As negotiations dragged on over the weekend to break a stalemate in the Oakland, California, teachers' strike, educators plan to be back on picket lines on Monday and could see support from unlikely allies -- their counterparts in charter schools, which the strikers claim are eroding public education.

With no word of a breakthrough in the contract talks, more than 3,000 public school teachers in Oakland are poised to head into their third day of the strike, the first in Oakland in 23 years.

"Just remember that it may rain on Monday, but we have 3,000 rain ponchos ordered so we will be prepared to fight on Monday," Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, said in a video statement posted on the union's website.

PHOTO: Roxana De La O Cortez, a teacher at Manzanita SEED Elementary School, marches with other teachers and supporters in Oakland, Calif., Feb. 21, 2019.
Roxana De La O Cortez, a teacher at Manzanita SEED Elementary School, marches with other teachers and supporters in Oakland, Calif., Feb. 21, 2019.
Jeff Chiu/AP

The teachers walked off the job on Thursday after two years of negotiations failed to land them a new contract.

Some teachers in the city's 34 charter schools have distributed fliers online calling for a wildcat sickout on Monday to support the striking public educators.

"We charter school teachers face the brunt of privatization. As you know, we're forced to work weekends, have huge workloads, bad benefits, no public pension, and we're often paid less than even the lowest paid public school teachers. Enough!" reads the flier posted online and on the Oakland Education Association website.

Maddie Ranson, a charter school kindergarten teacher, said she was one of 22 teachers at her school that participated in a "sick out" on Friday.

“As educators from charter schools, we stand in solidarity with you, OEA, and we won't back down until we win,” Ranson said during a strike rally on Friday.

The teachers' union is asking for a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller class sizes and more support staff, including nurses, counselors and librarians.

In its latest offer, the school district agreed to grant teachers an 8.5 percent wage hike, up from a previous offer of 5 percent. The new proposal would include a one-time 1.5 percent bonus.

The district also agreed to reduce class sizes by one student in all schools and by two students in schools with high concentrations of special needs students.

PHOTO: Teachers and supporters march outside of Manzanita Community School in Oakland, Calif., Feb. 21, 2019.
Teachers and supporters march outside of Manzanita Community School in Oakland, Calif., Feb. 21, 2019. Teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike Thursday in the country's latest walkout by educators over classroom conditions and pay.
Jeff Chiu/AP

The union rejected the offer a day before teachers, whose contract expired on June 30, 2017, went on strike.

Negotiations resumed on Friday and continued over the weekend.

All schools in Oakland have remained open, but many parents have held their children out of classes to march on the picket lines.

"We continue to support OEA's larger goals, but we know that their proposal is not a financially sound option," the school district said in a statement released on Friday.

The union and the school district began bargaining on a new contract in December 2016. But after 30 negotiating sessions encompassing 200 hours of bargaining, an impasse was declared on May 18. Both sides agreed to mediation but that failed to break the stalemate.

A state-appointed arbitrator assigned to look into the labor standoff submitted a fact-finding report earlier this month that said the school district can't afford to give the teachers a 12 percent pay hike over three years. The arbitrator, according to the report, recommended giving the teachers a 6 percent raise retroactive to the 2017-2018 school year and continue negotiations on future pay raises.

The arbitrator's report also showed an 18.7 percent annual teacher turnover rate in the school district.

The teachers' union also wants the school district to promise not to close schools. In January, the school district, which has seen student enrollment plummet to 37,000 students from 54,000 over the past 15 years, announced it is attempting to identify 24 schools across the district that may have to be closed over the next five years.

Union officials fear the closed schools would eventually be resurrected as charter schools.

On Friday, hundreds of striking teachers demonstrated outside the offices of GO Public Schools, the nonprofit group that supports charter schools in Oakland. The educators and their supporters taped phony dollar bills to the front door of the office to symbolize money being taken from public schools to fund charter schools.

"It is hard for me to express the heartbreak I felt at learning that the offices of GO PublicSchools Oakland – and even the homes of our leaders – had become the focus forstriking teachers today," Jessica Stewart, executive director of GO Public Schools, said in her statement on Friday.

"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," Stewart said. "We too are angry, and have been consistently and repeatedly vocal about, how underpaid our teachers are. We too are disgusted with the shameful underfunding of public education in California."

The Oakland strike came on the heels of a two-day strike by public school teachers in West Virginia over an omnibus education bill that would have created the first charter schools in the state and provided a limited number of vouchers for parents with children in private school. The West Virginia educators went back to work on Thursday after the state House of Delegates voted to table the bill indefinitely, effectively killing it.

The West Virginia teachers said the bill was in retaliation for their nine-day strike last February that won them a 5 percent pay raise and triggered a wave of teachers strikes across the nation.

Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Los Angeles and Denver have all gone on strike in the past year for higher wages and better classroom conditions.