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Oakland Teacher Strikes Continue Fight for Higher Wages

Oakland teachers continue their strike, which began on Thursday, February 21, as the teacher union and district bargain on a deal. Teachers, who have been without a contract since July 1, 2017, are striking for a contract that ensures a 12 percent raise over three years, smaller class sizes, and more nurses and counselors for students. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), which must make millions of dollars in cuts to avoid a budget deficit, is currently offering a 5 percent raise over the next three years.

“Joining the strike is really important because it’s holding the district accountable,” said Diane Calhoun, a second-grade teacher at Peralta Elementary School. OUSD teachers have the lowest starting salary, average salary, and maximum salary for credentialed teachers in Alameda County. The OUSD superintendent salary is the third highest in the county.

“We need to earn a wage that will allow us to live in our community,” said Susan Killebrew, a fourth grade teacher at Peralta Elementary School. As Oakland’s cost of living has risen, many of the district’s teachers have moved farther from the city, or stopped teaching in OUSD. “The district has an annual teacher turnover rate of 18 percent, which speaks volumes that it’s not a sustainable choice for people,” said Killebrew.

Schools in the flatlands have needs that are greater than those in the hills, according to Roberta Parker, a third grade teacher at Sankofa Academy. Students who attend schools in the flatland more often have parents who are transient or in jail, and teachers don’t have the resources to help that demographic. When it comes time to close schools, “it’s the schools in the flats,” said Parker. In the high-needs schools of Oakland, predominantly in the flatlands, the teachers are more burnt out, yet they receive less classroom support. In efforts to cut costs, OUSD is considering closing 24, of the 86 total,  different schools. “We need more resources for our schools, so we don’t further displace these students,” Parker said.

Each day of the strike costs the district roughly one million dollars. Only 6 percent of teachers have crossed picket lines and attended school during the strike. Teachers will continue to strike until they reach an agreement with the district. Following negotiations over the weekend, the district offered a 7 percent raise over two and a half years, as well as a one-time 1.5 percent bonus, upholding claims that it cannot afford a higher raise in the face of its financial troubles.

While teachers are striking, 16 Oakland community centers are open and hosting students. Students from Sankofa Academy have been going to the Bushrod Recreation Center. Parents at Peralta Elementary have organized trips to local parks and museums. Community institutions, such as the Oakland Zoo and Oakland Museum, are offering discounted admission for OUSD families while teachers are striking, allowing students to continue their learning. “I believe that kids are always learning, and the time during the strike gives them time to absorb what they’ve learned in school, and to explore other forms of learning,” said Ana Thomas, a fourth grade teacher at Peralta Elementary. Across all picket lines, teachers had the same message: “I’m striving for my students.”