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Oakland Teachers' Strike Continues Despite Incremental Gains at Bargaining Table

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Oakland Unified School District teachers, parents and students rally outside Glenview Elementary in Oakland on May 11, 2023, during a teacher strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This article will no longer be updated.

Update, 2 p.m. Friday: As the standoff between striking educators and the Oakland Unified School District continues into its seventh school day, a major sticking point remains the “common good” demands from the union, with both sides citing wildly varying figures on the costs of implementing them.

In an emailed statement Thursday evening, OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki told KQED that the Oakland Education Association’s proposal is “cost prohibitive” and that the overall price tag could run upwards of $1 billion. Sasaki said many of the “common good” demands would fall under OUSD’s Facilities Master Plan (PDF), which “shows the District has a total of $3.4 billion in upgrades and other changes that must happen to get all schools upgraded and modernized,” adding that OEA’s proposal is “far too costly for the District to handle” and that it should not be included in any collective bargaining agreement.

But Rachel Warino of the California Teachers Association — which has expressed its solidarity with the OEA — said OUSD’s numbers are “months old” and “ridiculous.”

“The goals we are committed to winning would cost an estimated $500,000 annually — this would be to pay for staffing increases including counselors,” Warino said, in a statement emailed to KQED on Thursday evening. “It’s unfortunate that the district is spending time sending out outlandish claims about proposals that are months old when we are 6 days into a strike. It’s unfair and unhelpful for our Oakland community.”

Warino did not provide cost estimates for the rest of the “common good” proposals, which include housing unhoused students in vacant school buildings and replacing HVAC systems in aging school buildings. On Wednesday, OEA Interim President Ismael Armendariz argued the union’s common good proposals “reflect the priorities identified by Oakland educators and in conversations with thousands of OUSD parents and community members,” and that several of them “would not cost the district a dime.”

a group of people which appears to be multi-ethnic in composition walks down a street carrying a large banner reading 'ready to strike for a fair contract' in both English and Spanish
OUSD educators and their supporters rally outside Glenview Elementary in Oakland on May 11. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

On Friday morning, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who has been mediating the negotiations since last Thursday, praised both parties for “working incredibly hard” and said the talks had been “productive,” but added that it’s ultimately up to the two sides to come to an agreement.

“The state is providing right now historic levels of funding that can be used to provide these services for students: $4 billion for community schools, $8 billion for the Learning Recovery Emergency Block Grant, $3.5 billion dollars for arts, financial literacy and basically giving districts discretion to do as they will, $4 billion for expanded learning — after-school programs, before-school programs,” said Thurmond, in a press conference at Burbank Elementary School in Hayward. “We have not seen funding at this level before. [W]e are seeing the state provide districts with resources that they can use for programs that would support the common good of students. Ultimately, it’s up to the board of every one of our 1,000 school districts, including Oakland, to decide how those resources might get used.”

Thurmond said he had no idea how long the strike would last, adding that he wouldn’t be mediating if he “thought the strike would take up the whole school year.”

“I’m a believer that we can all win, that we can find an agreement that compensates educators the way they deserve to be compensated, that we can find a way to provide programs that support students who’ve been disadvantaged, and we can do it in a way where we prioritize getting our students back into the classroom — and that is the priority,” he said.

Update, 6 p.m. Thursday: As the Oakland teachers’ strike continues to grind on, the number of students attending their teacherless schools — which have remained open, behind the picket lines — has steadily dipped.

On Wednesday, the fifth day of the ongoing walkout, just 1,200 of OUSD’s more than 34,000 students attended one of its 77 school sites, where food and other basic services and activities are still being offered, according to district spokesperson John Sasaki.

Meanwhile, Oakland city officials say they’ve seen a 75% drop in attendance in city-run after-school programs since the strike began last Thursday. The teachers union and parent volunteers also have organized pop-up care centers — called “solidarity schools” — at various sites throughout the city, but it’s unclear how many students are attending them.

In the foreground is what appears to be a middle school student in a full-body, bright green Oscar the Grouch costume, with a fuzzy brown unibrow, big googly eyes, and the person's face inside the mouth, holding a cardboard sign on a flat wooden stick that says, 'OUSD, Stop bringing us proposals that belong in the trash!' Oscar is in a crowd of people in a street, including someone to their right playing a trombone.
Oakland Unified School District teachers, parents and students rally outside Glenview Elementary in Oakland on May 11, 2023, during a teacher strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

That massive disappearing act offers some indication of just how disruptive this strike has been for Oakland students and their families, who still have no idea when — or if — school will open again before the year ends in just two weeks.

On Thursday, the sixth day of the district-wide strike, tense negotiations continued between the teachers union and school district officials, with the union’s “common good” demands for more community services remaining the major sticking point, even as the two sides appeared close to an agreement over compensation.

Rosa Gonzalez, vice president of her ninth grade class at Castlemont High School in East Oakland, came out Thursday to support her teachers on the picket line, even as most of her classmates stayed home.

 

“I feel bored at home,” she said. “I decided to come and strike with my teachers because they work hard. They plan lessons. They take time out of their personal lives to grade and stuff like that, and they deserve what they’re asking for.”

At an Oakland City Council committee hearing on Thursday, a stream of attendees spoke of the decrepit conditions they’ve witnessed in many of the district’s schools, and implored city officials to get involved in the negotiations.

OUSD teacher Edgar Sanchez, whose daughter attends United for Success Academy, told council members of the school’s rodent problems and “the issue of the sewage coming into the classroom.”

“They’ve been asking for that to be fixed for a year and a half,” he said.

Sanchez added that the school where he teaches doesn’t have air-conditioning in the classrooms, and said that during last year’s heat wave, teachers had to constantly move students to cooler areas of the building just to maintain a safe learning environment.

“So on Day Six of our strike, you all need to stand with us and push the district to do what’s right for our kids,” he said.

In a statement Thursday, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, who has remained largely quiet during the labor dispute, urged the school district and teachers union to “work together to settle the strike.”

Update, 8 a.m. Thursday: Thousands of Oakland teachers, counselors and librarians, along with their supporters, once again formed picket lines in front of schools on Thursday, the sixth day of a district-wide strike that has emptied out classrooms and ground instruction to a halt, with little more than two weeks remaining in the school year and a deal still out of reach.

As heated negotiations continue between the district and the teachers union — including a Tuesday session that ran until 1 a.m. — both sides say they are inching closer to a tentative contract agreement, but have given little indication as to how soon the walkout might end. Meanwhile, as an immediate resolution seemed increasingly unlikely, the district canceled its regularly scheduled Wednesday evening school board meeting.

Vilma Serrano, a teacher at Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy, and the bargaining co-chair for the Oakland Education Association, said her team is standing firm on its list of demands. She said the district this week delivered “a fuller package” counteroffer that, for the first time, suggests it is willing to consider some of the union’s common good proposals in the new contract.

But “we still have many issues on the table that are unresolved. So there’s still a lot of work ahead of us to reach a tentative agreement,” Serrano said. “We want to be back in our classrooms, back in our schools. But we’ll do whatever it takes to really get a strong, tentative agreement that improves teaching and learning conditions for our kids and for our members.”

More support for special education teachers and their students is among the many outstanding demands on which the union refuses to budge, said Timothy Douglas, the other co-chair of OEA’s bargaining team, and a fifth grade teacher at International Community School in East Oakland.

“There are a lot of issues in special education that we find unacceptable and potentially illegal,” he said. “So we are really working with the district to implement a more sustainable and healthier workload model for our educators.”

Among those educators is Gena Rinaldi, a special education teacher at Kaiser Early Childhood Center in the Oakland hills.

“One of the things that we’re really focused on right now is increasing our support staff to ensure the safety of students in our classrooms,” she said, during a spirited rally Wednesday at Burbank Elementary in East Oakland. “Many of our teachers and our para-educators are not getting their lunch breaks right now because we don’t have enough staff for teachers to leave and still have supervision for our students. So we’re trying to convince the district that our youngest students need more support and we’re hopeful we can come to an agreement to make that happen.”

More Oakland Schools coverage

Meanwhile, district officials have reiterated that they’ve offered teachers an unprecedented compensation package — yielding significant pay increases of as much as 22%, plus back pay — and do not have the financial capacity or legal authority to negotiate many of the union’s key “common good” proposals.

“We appear close to an agreement for a robust compensation package, which would give teachers a historic raise … thereby supporting the critical goal of attracting and retaining excellent teachers,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a video message sent to families on Wednesday evening. “The remaining issue is how best to work on the common good proposal, which seeks to assign the school district with addressing such broad societal issues as housing for homeless [students] and drought-tolerant landscaping.”

These are critical issues, Johnson-Trammell noted, but they “demand multiagency and government support,” and certainly can’t be single-handedly tackled through the school district’s limited budget. Fully implementing the proposals, district officials said, would cost more than $1 billion.

“Moreover, as laudable as common good causes may be, they should not hold children’s learning hostage or deprive students of the services that schools provide,” she said. “OUSD wants to find a way other than the bargaining table to take on these issues and move forward with getting students back in the classroom and putting a significant raise into employees’ paychecks now.”

But in an email response sent late Wednesday to KQED, Ismael Armendariz, OEA’s interim president, argued the union’s common good proposals “reflect the priorities identified by Oakland educators and in conversations with thousands of OUSD parents and community members,” and said several of them “would not cost the district a dime.”

“All of these issues are critical to supporting our schools,” he said. “We urge the district to spend more time negotiating in good faith and less time making outlandish claims about the total cost of the proposals in email blasts to the community.”

And although scores of families in the district during the walkout have continued to staunchly support teachers — and their demands — some parent leaders are lambasting the union, accusing its negotiators of pushing for unrealistic goals at the expense of the most vulnerable students.

“There’s a false assumption going around that this ongoing strike is meant to help Black and brown students. It’s not. Instead, this strike is proving the opposite,” Lakisha Young, co-founder of The Oakland Reach, a parent-run group, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Without school in session, the flatlands of Oakland are a ghost town, where our lower income Black and brown students already have some of the lowest reading and math scores in California and an absenteeism rate close to 50% among Black students.”

“The longer this strike continues,” she added, “the more it will cost us — physically, emotionally, academically, and in literal dollars.”

Update, 7:25 p.m. Tuesday: For Laura Kaneko, a middle school teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy in East Oakland, this strike is about much more than demanding a much-needed raise.

“It’s been kind of rejuvenating … to remember that our community is here supporting us not only for our compensation, but really for the common good for everybody,” said Kaneko, while attending a teacher support rally outside her school on Tuesday, the fourth day of a district-wide walkout. “They’ve made so much progress in the negotiations for a contract for our salary, but there’s still so much more.”

Just look at the school’s defective HVAC system, Kaneko said. “Our heater here at the site has been broken for 10 years. So it’s either too hot on warm days or it’s off on really cold days. And there’s no way for us to control that,” she said.

“And so one of the common good demands that we’re asking for is for a plan for there to be climate control in every classroom. Seems like a fairly reasonable thing to ask for our students’ learning conditions.”

Indeed, the district has largely conceded to the union’s demands for a significant pay raise, offering up to a 22% salary increase, along with a retroactive bump and a one-time payout as part of a nearly $70 million compensation package. The sticking point, though, and apparent reason the strike is still on — with just 12 days left in the school year — is the impasse over those “common good” proposals: things like building housing for the district’s many unhoused students on surplus district land, offering reparations to historically underserved Black students, addressing long-neglected safety and infrastructure issues at school sites and allowing for shared governance of the district’s community schools.

As the Oakland Education Association’s negotiating team on Tuesday continued to grapple with district officials behind closed doors over the terms of a new contract — with little indication of resolution anytime soon — union leaders and teachers on the picket line made clear that those demands were just as essential for a fair contract as the most generous salary increase.

“My message to the community is that you are here with us today. You have been with us through the years and we are with you at the bargaining table,” interim OEA President Ismael Armendariz, a special education teacher, told supporters gathered outside Melrose on Tuesday. “And your demands are central, just as valuable to us, as is our wages.”

An increasing number of teachers unions around the country have in recent years begun fighting for similar common good demands, including Los Angeles educators, who during a 2019 strike pushed their district to commit to a host of racial and environmental justice initiatives.

But OUSD leaders, and half the members of the school board, argue that these goals, while admirable, pertain to larger societal issues the district can’t single-handedly address and that certainly don’t belong in a teachers’ contract.

“We would love to continue partnering with teachers and the teachers union to find solutions to some of these issues that plague our communities,” Mike Hutchinson, president of the school board, told reporters on Monday.

But, he argued, the district’s bargaining team is not authorized to even consider many of these proposals. “Items that are outside of the scope of the contract, which are basically compensation and work conditions, are not going to be negotiated,” he said.

Union officials, however, say district negotiators, desperate to get students back in the classroom, are finally beginning to consider some of these proposals — even though the district has not publicly confirmed this.

Back at the Melrose rally, Malaika Parker, who runs Oakland’s Black Organizing Project, said the district was being extremely shortsighted in refusing to even consider many of the union’s common good proposals.

“The debate over teacher compensation versus common good is ridiculous,” she said. “That is a false choice. We deserve communities where all is incorporated — where our teachers are paid well and where our young people feel safe.”

Teachers shouldn’t have to demand these things, Parker argued.

“Why are our teachers, the people who we trust with our children, not automatically guaranteed respect and living conditions?” she said. “Why are we having to ask for the basics when we should be demanding the most? Our teachers, our communities, deserve to thrive.”

Update, 9 p.m. Monday: Oakland school district officials and the teachers union on Monday evening announced that some 3,000 teachers and other school staff would continue striking on Tuesday, leaving classrooms across the district largely empty for a fourth day.

“As another day of working toward an agreement with the Oakland Education Association approaches an end, we are sorry to report we are preparing for a fourth consecutive day of the teachers’ strike,” the district said in a letter to parents, noting that schools will remain open, with food service and other resources still available for students. “But with teachers engaging in the work stoppage, school operations will be reduced as they have been since Thursday of last week.”

Update, 4:30 p.m. Monday: With less than three weeks remaining in the school year, some 3,000 Oakland teachers, counselors and other school staff returned to the picket lines Monday for the third day of a district-wide strike, after the teachers union and the school district failed to reach a contract agreement over the weekend.

On Monday, Oakland School Board President Mike Hutchinson expressed his “disappointment for where we are today,” imploring the Oakland Education Association to come back to the negotiating table and accusing its leaders of holding up the process with unreasonable demands, at the expense of Oakland students.

“It’s unprecedented and simply unacceptable for our students and families to be forced into this position during a time when we should instead be focused on planning, graduation and end-of-year celebrations,” he told reporters at an afternoon press briefing.

Hutchinson said that despite the the union’s claims to the contrary, the district’s bargaining team has continued to negotiate in good faith and devoted countless hours toward reaching a deal, including a late-night Sunday session to review OEA’s latest counterproposal. And while State Superintendent Tony Thurmond and his staff helped support the process over the weekend, “it still did not lead us to an agreement,” Hutchinson said.

The district, he said, has already made a nearly $70 million “historic” offer to teachers that would significantly boost their pay — up to 22% — while addressing a host of other demands for more support and resources. But Hutchinson said the union remains unrealistically fixated on its “common good proposals” demands — including housing for unhoused students, major school infrastructure and safety improvements, climate change actions and racial justice measures such as reparations for Black students and their families. The district supports these objectives, he said, but fundamentally lacks the capacity to take them on single-handedly.

“While we agree on the principles of the proposal, they simply do not belong in contract language and we have not authorized any changes to our approach to this position shared last week,” Hutchinson said. He argued that the district already has some policies in place to work toward certain common good goals, and that other demands — including more mental health services for students — have already been addressed in the current contract offer.

“Our students need to be back at school immediately and I cannot make this point more urgently,” he said.

But the union argues that the district has long been aware of, but until recently ignored, these common good proposals, which OEA presented months ago. And the district, the union insists, already has the resources in place to address them.

“OUSD is a district exactly designed to deal with outside things like homelessness,” said Jacob Fowler, a Lincoln Elementary School teacher and member of the union’s negotiating team, in a video message to parents over the weekend.

A huge crowd of protestors walk down a street in Oakland carrying green and yellow picket signs that read "On Strike Unfair Labor Practices." Many participants wear red and one woman has a hooded sweatshirt that reads "phenomenal teacher." Another sign reads "Safe, Stable and Racially Just Schools"
Educators and their supporters march down Foothill Avenue in Oakland on the second day of an ongoing teachers strike on May 5, 2023. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

The district, he argued, receives millions of dollars a year from the state for its community schools, aimed at providing services to students outside of the normal school day. The union simply wants to make sure there is a community engagement strategy in place to determine how those funds get spent, he said.

“They’re not asking for any more funds. It costs the district $0 to agree to this proposal. But they’re not even addressing it,” Fowler said. “We just want a fair, complete proposal so that we can get back to the classroom quickly. If OUSD continues to drag their feet, we will continue to be on strike.”

Fowler added that the union has also set up “solidarity schools” across the district, run by credentialed teachers and community members, for students to attend for as long as the strike lasts.

In a press conference on Monday morning in front of the district’s headquarters, Oakland school board members Valarie Bachelor, Jennifer Brouhard and VanCedric Williams — representing half of the board — voiced their support for the union’s common good proposals and urged the other three members of the board, including Hutchinson, to embrace them.

“We do not agree that common good should require a separate authorization to negotiate,” Bachelor said. As one of the largest landowners in Oakland, the district is particularly well positioned to work toward housing solutions for its many unhoused students, she added.

Brouhard, a retired Oakland teacher, said recent historic state funding for community schools has created the opportunity to change how decisions in schools are made.

“For too long, decision-making power has been held at the district level,” she said. “It must be shared with teachers, parents and students and those voices must be centered at the table.”

Brouhard recalled, as a teacher, sitting on committees that had no real power.

“We met, we met, we met. We talked about things our students needed, and they were never funded,” she said. “It’s time to have shared governance in our common good goals.”

Update, 7 p.m. Saturday: No negotiations were planned over the weekend, said Oakland Education Association bargaining team member Samia Khattab, raising the prospect that striking teachers would be back on the picket lines on Monday.

“[Friday] evening we received a package proposal from [the OUSD] that is still incomplete and [that has] quite a few errors in it,” said Khattab, who is a teacher and librarian at Franklin Elementary School, in an interview with KQED. “We haven’t been able to sit at the table with them to go over some of these inconsistencies, to be able to discuss and walk through the proposal with them, because there is a holdup, and the holdup is that the OUSD school board has not given authority to the OUSD bargaining team to bargain on all of the proposals that the OEA has brought forth.”

Khattab said the 50-member OEA bargaining team was working on a counterproposal Saturday, and said she hopes the district is able to return to the table so they can begin the “back-and-forth process of settling a fair contract.”

“The district hasn’t responded this weekend,” said Khattab. “We have nothing on our agenda that indicates that they are going to be joining us at the table today … We will be on the picket lines unless we can come to an agreement.”

In a separate interview with KQED on Saturday, Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield said Oakland is committed to education and that the mayor’s office has a good relationship with the districts and the teachers.

“Our desire is that they can work as hard as they can over this weekend to come up with a solution that will be agreeable to both parties,” said Mayfield. “I will trust the wisdom of the bargaining teams to make the best decision to bring our kids back to school and to bring our teachers back to school with safe conditions for learning.”

Update, 6 p.m. Friday: Oakland teachers continued to strike for a second day Friday, with union, district and state education officials saying they planned to continue negotiating, likely through the weekend.

One union rally was held at the United for Success Academy in Oakland’s Fruitvale District on Thursday. Oakland Education Association representatives said they chose the OUSD middle school because it highlights the lack of needed “common good” measures that teachers are demanding in their ongoing fight for a new contract across the school district.

Teachers at the UFSA say the school’s buildings are old and in need of renovation, that there’s lead in the soil and a rat and mice infestation in the classrooms, and that they’re concerned about lead in the water.

Maha Nusrat, a sixth grade humanities teacher who’s taught at UFSA for 13 years, told KQED that it’s impossible to separate the physical conditions of the buildings from the teaching experience, or a child’s home environment from their education.

“When we’re talking about common good proposals, we’re talking about disability justice, we’re talking about racial justice, we’re talking about social justice, we’re talking about schools in the flatlands having a just experience,” said Nusrat. “And that’s both in the environment, coming to a school that is welcoming, loving, safe — physically — and also [has] enough resources to actually fully serve those students that are in the building.”

Michael Aponte, a special education teacher going into his eighth year at UFSA, advocated for the needs of the most vulnerable students.

“The [special education] program at UFSA is closing down, and as a special education teacher, that really hits us where it hurts,” said Aponte. “The students need these supports and these services … We need more qualified teachers to support the most vulnerable students that we have.”

Striking teachers marching holding a big colorful banner.
Oakland teachers and their supporters march down Foothill Avenue from United for Success Academy, on May 5, 2023. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)

Nusrat said schools like UFSA in the flatlands are a hub for families, a place to find additional resources outside the school day, and a place that serves as a safe space where students can get an “equitable education experience,” adding that UFSA is “a model” of some of the “common good” proposals teachers are demanding in the current strike.

“When people on campuses like ours are doing eight jobs because we simply don’t have the human power, no one is actually able to do their job that well,” said Nusrat. “We want to create wraparound services. We want to serve the whole student, including their families.”

While district officials have said they agree in principle with the union’s proposals, they are prioritizing teacher retention by offering raises of up to 22%. But teachers demand that their “common good” proposals be met and that OUSD have a long-term plan in place for the coming years.

“We would love to have that transparency of a long game,” said Nusrat. “A two-year plan, a three-year plan, a five-year plan that’s going to include some of those common good things and some of those staffing issues that actually don’t let us do the jobs that we need to in our buildings with the integrity that we want to.”

Update, 5 p.m. Friday: As the Oakland teachers’ strike continues into its second day, First Covenant Church is opening its doors during the day to support K–5 students in the district.

Pastor Danny Fitelson said the church also provided a space for students to read and learn when Oakland Unified teachers went on strike in 2019.

“One of our mission statements is to be a light to the city. We think this is just a way to respond to a need that our city has right now,” Fitelson said.

The church transformed the choir room into a library for kids to lounge, snuggle with stuffed animals, read and munch on popcorn. Volunteers offered lessons on multiplication and division, and showed a science video about building bridges using pasta.

The church’s board voted to provide this “community educational support program” until at least the end of next week if the strike continues.

“This isn’t just about everybody making more money, it’s also about trying to get schools taken care of that have maybe been neglected,” Fitelson said. “I’ve been weighing that, and I think that hopefully something will get worked out. But I know it’s tough for everybody while it’s getting worked out.”

Some Oakland parents remain frustrated by the disruption in schools as a teachers’ strike continues into its second day.

The Oakland Education Association, which represents 3,000 teachers, librarians, nurses and other staff members, has asked the district for what it’s calling “common good” proposals, including providing housing for unhoused students and investing in historically Black schools.

Speaking on KQED’s Forum on Friday morning, Lakisha Young, founder of the parent-run organization The Oakland Reach, said some of the issues being raised are deep and longstanding, and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

“So when does this end?” Young said. “I feel like this is what parents are saying. They’re saying, ‘Why does my kid have to be out of school for these conversations amongst adults to happen?’”

The Oakland Reach and another parent group, CA Parent Power, proposed a resolution last year to the school board that would have offered families more of a say in collective bargaining.

It’s unclear when the students and teachers will return to the classroom. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond has been mediating talks between the district and the union since Thursday.

Thurmond aims to continue the mediated talks through the weekend in hopes of ending the strike, though a spokesperson for the California Department of Education said several “significant items” remain unresolved.

Update, 7 p.m. Thursday: In an update posted to social media Thursday evening, the Oakland Education Association confirmed that the strike would continue on Friday, with the union’s president calling for a return to the picket lines.

“United we will win,” said OEA President Ismael Armendariz in a video update. “We will have a midday rally at United for Success [Academy, in Oakland], to highlight our social justice and environmental justice demands. We’ll see you on the picket lines at 7:30 a.m.”

In the same video, Vilma Serrano, bargaining co-chair for OEA, called on Oaklanders and supporters to “push the school board to have a meeting to give the OUSD bargaining team the authority to bargain.”

“We learned this week that the school board has not given the OUSD full authority to bargain,” said Serrano. “It has been really deeply frustrating to get to this point after seven months of bargaining … We need to settle a contract.”

Protestors in a square, with one man holding a sign and arms raised high.
Hundreds of Oakland teachers and their supporters converged on Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall Thursday afternoon for a festive rally to close out the first day of an open-ended strike. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Update, 3 p.m. Thursday: After spending the morning picketing in front of their schools, hundreds of Oakland teachers and supporters converged on Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall Thursday afternoon for a festive rally to close out the first day of an open-ended strike.

With union and school district negotiators still at an impasse over the terms of a new contract, it appeared likely — save for a last-minute agreement — that teachers would be spending at least one more day on the picket lines, resulting in empty classrooms and another lost day of instruction for some 34,000 students in the district, with just three weeks left in the school year.

Protestors in front of Oakland City Hall, carrying signs and banners.
Striking educators and their supporters at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on Thursday. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Jesse Shapiro, a veteran Oakland High School history and photography teacher, said the district had not yet put forward a reasonable offer, and urged parents and other community members to be patient despite the disruption caused by the walkout.

“People have to understand that short-term sacrifice is something that’s necessary for long-term gains,” he said at the rally, as Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” reverberated from the speakers behind him. “So I’d ask them to be patient, supportive of what the people who teach their children are asking for. Because we’re not just asking for us, we’re asking for them.”

Shapiro said his daughter, who attends an elementary school in the district, stands to directly gain from the increases teachers are demanding — rather than being subjected to a succession of novice teachers who leave the district after a year or two because the pay is so low and the resources so limited.

Protestors gather and hold signs, with two female protestors engaged in a mock sword fight.
The picket took on a festive air Thursday with hundreds gathered at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

“I want her to be in a classroom where there’s a teacher who wants to be there, who has a manageable number of kids, who has the facilities to teach my kid in a safe environment where she wants to be when she gets into high school,” he said. “I want her to be able to have access to a counselor so she can discuss what her options are after high school. And I think every parent wants that.”

Karen Chan, a single mom of a fifth grader at Sequoia Elementary School in the Lower Dimond District, said she came to the rally to support teachers in their fight for a fair contract that “really values them in the classroom.”

“I think that we just need the district to listen to the teachers on what they’re saying,” Chan said, pointing to accounts she’s heard from teachers of working in dilapidated classrooms where the ceiling tiles were literally falling down, or where students were experiencing homelessness or suffering from serious mental health issues that were not being addressed.

Misa Takaki and her son, Akira Takaki, hold a sign that reads "We Love Teachers" at Thursday's noontime rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
Misa Takaki and her son, Akira Takaki, hold a sign that reads “We Love Teachers” at Thursday’s noontime rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. (Aryk Copley/KQED)

Particularly as a single mom, Chan said, a strike like this makes life a lot more difficult. “But I think we as parents have dealt with a lot of issues the last few years, and interruptions. We’ve dealt with smoke days, we’ve dealt with the pandemic,” she said. “And this was completely preventable by the district. But we’re going to keep on dealing with it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Some parents, however, took to social media to voice their frustrations with both the district and the teachers union, lambasting the two sides for failing to reach an agreement.

“At 9pm at night, we learn our kids won’t have school tomorrow,” Lakisha Young, co-founder of parent advocacy group The Oakland Reach, wrote in a tweet late Wednesday, after the strike was announced. “I’m so disappointed in both sides. Once again, our kids are collateral damage in adult fights.”

Update, 12 p.m. Thursday: Thousands of Oakland teachers joined picket lines early Thursday morning in front of schools, leaving classrooms largely empty, on the first day of an open-ended strike in an ongoing push for higher wages and better working conditions.

Luz Chavez, a resource specialist at Manzanita Community School, marched with her colleagues in front of their East Oakland elementary school, chanting, “We want justice for our students.”

Chavez said that while it was essential for teachers in the district to receive higher pay, this walkout is about much more than just compensation.

“A lot of what we’re fighting for are just basic rights, especially for our special education students,” she said. “Those are legal mandates that we aren’t meeting because we don’t have the human capacity to meet them. And a lot of the other things that we’re asking are like, for safety in our schools, for actual ACs, and not to have mice, and not to have real just basic health concerns.”

Ismael Armendariz, interim president of the Oakland Education Association, the union representing some 3,000 teachers and other school personnel, joined Manzanita teachers on Thursday morning. He said the district had not delivered on its promise to submit a comprehensive proposal to the union, and had consistently failed to address many of its crucial demands.

“We have not received anything in writing. We are waiting to receive everything in writing so that we can settle this contract,” said Armendariz. He urged the school board president to intervene in the negotiating process, which he called “dysfunctional,” accusing the district of negotiating in bad faith.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, Oakland school board president Mike Hutchinson denied that claim, arguing, “We have been negotiating every day.”

OUSD leaders said their latest contract offer, of nearly $70 million, would give teachers a generous raise — of as much as 22% — while addressing a host of other demands, including investing to hire more counselors and performing arts teachers and giving teachers more classroom preparation time.

“The latest salary proposal would give teachers an unprecedented raise — one that they deserve, and one that OUSD teachers haven’t seen in years if not decades,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said, noting that teacher retention was her top priority.

“My team has thoughtfully planned out a way and made recommendations to make sure the district can afford this massive compensation package to maintain financial stability in the years to come.”

But, she said, despite negotiations that ran late into the evening on Wednesday, the union ultimately walked away because of what she called wholly unrealistic demands.

The union is asking the district to “singularly solve complex societal realities, such as homelessness, that go far beyond the scope of what public schools can and should do alone,” Johnson-Trammell said. “As a district we simply can’t do everything, and it is our mission critical that we remain focused on prioritizing our primary purpose, which is teaching and learning and student well-being.”

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond on Thursday said he had invited the union and the district to come back to the table, where he and his team could “formally mediate negotiations to end the strike.” Thurmond offered to arrange a meeting space where his staff could “lead, facilitate, and mediate discussions between the parties.”

“We are disappointed that the parties could not find an agreement in time to avert a strike,” he said in a statement. “Our goal is to help the parties reach an agreement and to end the strike so that students can return to class as quickly as possible.”

Original story, 5 a.m. Thursday: Some 3,000 Oakland teachers are striking Thursday morning in a push for higher wages and better resources, the teachers union and school district confirmed late Wednesday.

The walkout — the third in just over a year — comes after the two sides, who have been in intense negotiations for seven days, failed to reach an agreement over a new contract.

The impasse leaves the district’s more than 34,000 students stranded without teachers and other school staff, including counselors, nurses, librarians and social workers, who are also represented by the union.

“Educators will be on the picket line tomorrow, on strike for our students & for Oakland schools,” the Oakland Education Association said in a tweet Wednesday night, accusing the district of not negotiating in good faith. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith and hope the district will do the same.”

The Oakland Unified School District said in a statement it couldn’t predict how long the strike would last, but pledged to continue negotiating with the teachers union. District officials held a news conference on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the district office in downtown Oakland “to discuss the strike, the impact it will have on Oakland’s young people, and the reasons behind it.”

“The end of the school year is always filled with milestone events for our students, so we want to ensure regular school resumes as soon as possible,” the district said.

Schools will still be open, with central office staff assigned to each site “to ensure students are safe,” according to the statement. Students are expected to attend school, but those who don’t will receive an “excused absence,” the district said.

School meals, including a simplified breakfast and full lunch, will still be served in each campus’ cafeteria, and most after-school programs will continue, according to the district’s multilingual strike information document.

OEA contends that its teachers receive inadequate support and some of the lowest salaries in the region, even after modest gains in recent years, contributing to the district’s low teacher-retention rates. A first-year Oakland teacher currently makes just under $53,000, which the union says falls far short of what is necessary to make ends meet in the Bay Area.

Negotiators are demanding a 23% raise for all of its members. The union has also pushed for smaller special education classes, better services for students experiencing homelessness, more nursing and mental health staff and improvements to physical infrastructure, among other asks.

Oakland teachers have been working without an active contract since their previous one expired in the fall of 2022. That contract only came to fruition after teachers staged a six-day strike in 2019.

“We promise you we’ve done everything we can to avert this strike,” interim union president Ismael Armendariz said during a press conference earlier this week. “The district has truly failed our students, and the time for us to act is now.”

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The union recently filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, accusing the district of not “bargaining in good faith” by arriving late or repeatedly failing to show up to bargaining sessions.

District officials on Tuesday said they had offered teachers a fair contract that would give all union members a 13% to 22% raise, as well as a one-time bonus and backpay. The offer would also reduce health care costs by 15%. Under that proposal, first-year teachers would get a bump of about 20% — to $63,604.

“Our teachers want a pay increase, and we agree they need it,” district officials said, noting they were committed to continuing to negotiate, and imploring the union to avoid calling for a walkout.

“Following all the turmoil and disruption of Covid, the idea that our children might be out of school yet again while both sides work to reach an agreement only harms our students and families,” the district said in the statement. “The adults need to be adults, so that students can be students.”

Oakland teachers most recently went on a one-day “wildcat strike” in March — one not authorized by the union — over staffing cuts and what they called the school board’s unwillingness to address teacher pay. And in April 2022, teachers staged another one-day walkout over the board’s decision to permanently shutter multiple schools in the district.

Luz Chavez, a resource specialist at Manzanita Community School, said this was “unfortunately” her fourth strike in “these long 15 years” she’s worked for the district.

“We’re asking for support, we’re asking for resources, we’re asking for actual human beings to be here to give those resources,” she said. “And especially with inflation and the housing market in the Bay Area, we’ve lost hordes of people every single year that we don’t ever get back.”

Chavez added, “We’re really asking the district to match the pay and the resources that other districts have so that it’s for our Oakland youth.”

KQED’s Phoebe Quinton, Attila Pelit, Juan Carlos Lara, Christopher Alam and Billy Cruz contributed to this story. This story was originally published on May 4.

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