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Oakland Unified Announces Improved Contract Offer After Striking Teachers Shut Down School Board Meeting

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Teachers outside Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland drum up support for the picket line from passing motorists on Feb. 21, 2019. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Update Thursday, 9 p.m.

This article was originally published by EdSource

In a show of union force, hundreds of striking teachers and their supporters picketed in the rain, shutting down an Oakland school board meeting, where members were set to vote on a plan to cut millions from next year's budget.

Oakland teachers, who have been on strike since Feb. 21, encircled La Escuelita Elementary School, blocking board members from entering. The board was expected to vote on $20.2 million in cuts to balance its 2019-20 budget.

“Continuing to hold the meeting would be irresponsible and would jeopardize the ability to settle a fair contract for our students,” said Chaz Garcia, second vice president of the Oakland Education Association, during the protest.

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Soon after the meeting had been canceled, the district released a statement disclosing its latest offer, including a 2 percent one-time bonus and an 8 percent raise through 2021. Its last offer, announced the day before the strike and swiftly rejected by the union, proposed a 1.5 percent bonus and a 7 percent raise over the same time period.

The Oakland Education Association, the union representing some 3,000 teachers, nurses and counselors, is demanding a 12 percent raise over the time period from 2017 to 2020. Because teachers have been working without a contract since July 2017, the union wants raises to be applied retroactively. Union negotiators are also demanding smaller class sizes, more counselors, nurses and librarians, and an end to the district’s plan to close or consolidate up to 24 schools over the next five years.

But at a rally on Thursday, Oakland Education Association first vice president Ismael Armendariz told throngs of teachers and supporters that the end may be in sight. “We are on day six and we are making movement," he said. "I’m asking you to stay strong on the lines, we are almost there,” at a rally Thursday.

The average teacher in Oakland, who makes about $63,000 a year, is already out more than $2,000 in wages for missing six of the 186 working days of the school year.

Oakland teachers are among the lowest-paid educators in the Bay Area and haven't had a raise in several years.

“Collectively, we could end this strike now," the district said in a statement on Wednesday. "We look forward to receiving a new proposal from OEA and remain hopeful that we will reach an agreement soon.”

The district is losing about $1 million for every day of the strike, crucial funding that could be used to help finance a contract settlement.

The board had planned to vote on budget cuts to meet Friday's deadline for submitting a fiscal plan to the Alameda County Office of Education and the state, a prerequisite for receiving a possible state bailout for the coming school year that would cover a portion of its mounting deficit. Unless big cuts are made, the district's shortfall is estimated to climb upwards of $56 million by the 2020-21 school.

The board also has to vote on administrative layoffs in order to send out notices to affected staff members by the March 15 deadline.

But the union argues that broad cuts are not are fair or prudent way to proceed.

“Taking a clumsy budget ax to important programs for our schools and our students would push us farther away, not closer, to a settlement,” said Keith Brown, OEA president, in a statement. “We’re going to continue to negotiate for a fair agreement, so we can return to our schools and the students we love.”

The board will attempt to meet again on Friday afternoon, although union officials called on their members to again shut it down.

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