Oakland, Calif., teachers strike!

From the March-April 2019 issue of News & Letters

Oakland, Calif.—On Feb. 22 over 3,000 teachers went on strike against Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), demanding better wages, smaller class sizes, more nurses and counselors and a stop to school closings. Many students and their families showed up on the picket lines. One parent called it a different kind of teaching moment for her young son. 

Striking Oakland teachers rally. Photo: Ron Kelch for News & Letters.

Only a trickle of the 37,000 impacted students showed up to watch PBS shows in school auditoriums, as hardly any substitute teachers crossed the picket lines. Most students went to “solidarity schools” in churches, libraries and recreation centers. Oakland’s revered Grand Lake Theater offered one dollar movie tickets for students.

BLATANT NEGLECT OF EDUCATION

There is near universal community support for the teachers. Just to pay the $2,330 rent on a one bedroom apartment in Oakland now takes 60% of a starting teacher’s salary. Teachers are in the middle of a blatant neglect of public education. Only raising $350,000 in outside donations prevented the planned elimination of half the sports programs in Oakland’s schools. 

Teachers are on the front lines between parents, who are rightly concerned about their children’s future, and administrators, who keep defunding and closing schools and eliminating resources. The stress level means OUSD has one of the highest teacher turnover rates, with over 24% of teaching positions now vacant. 

Oakland teacher Keith Brown, who is now president of the Oakland Education Association, says that out of state billionaires like Michael Bloomberg have injected their own agenda by pouring money in and electing charter school promoters to the school board. 

CHARTERS DRAIN PUBLIC BUDGET

Over $57 million a year goes to charter schools, while OUSD plans to close 24 out of 86 neighborhood schools. There’s not enough money to maintain neighborhood schools, while public buildings are leased very cheaply to charter schools. 

Yet charter school teachers experience a similar level of stress and lack of respect. Dr. Emily Frank, a pediatrician who teaches at an Oakland charter school, Life Academy, wrote in support of striking teachers in light of the shocking contrast between her working life as a doctor and a teacher. 

The main contrast is in the of lack of recognition for the important work of teachers, who are uncompensated for long hours of time in student support meetings, as well as answering morning and night emails from parents and students. 

‘ALMOST SCANDALOUS’

“Two overnight shifts at a San Francisco hospital,” she wrote, “will pay me the same as an entire month of my work as an Oakland public school teacher” (“Doctors, teachers—similar roles but scandalously different pay,” San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 22).

Dr. Frank calls this an “almost scandalous misallocation of our societal resources.” Her conclusion caught what this strike is about: “America, we must wake up! … A nation built to encourage every one of its citizens to be the best they can become is worth fighting for.”

—R.K.

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