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Oakland Teachers' Strike Ends as Union Reaches Tentative Agreement With School District

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People hold signs that read "On Strike, Unfair Labor Practices" and "Fair Contract Now!" outside.
Oakland Unified School District teachers, parents and students rally outside Glenview Elementary in Oakland on May 11, 2023, on the sixth day of a district-wide teachers' strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 5:30 p.m. Monday

The Oakland teachers union and school district reached a tentative agreement early Monday morning to end a teachers’ strike that lasted seven days and effectively closed down schools for tens of thousands of students, with just weeks left in the school year.

The deal for a new two-and-a-half-year contract includes major pay raises for teachers in addition to commitments from the district to significantly increase investments in school and student resources and to give teachers and parents more decision-making power in certain schools.

Schools were open Monday and some classes were in session, but Oakland Unified School District officials noted that it was a “transition day,” with attendance optional, and with full-class instruction resuming Tuesday, May 16 — leaving just eight days left in the school year.

AC Transit confirmed it would resume normal operations of all supplementary bus-line services to schools starting Tuesday morning.

The new tentative contract includes a 15.5% pay raise for most teachers, and more for newer educators at the bottom of the pay scale. Under the deal, a first-year teacher, who currently earns $52,905, would now start out at $62,696, and a top-tier educator could earn as much as nearly $110,000 — in addition to full paid benefits and district pension contributions.

In addition, if approved, all union members would receive the equivalent of a 10% raise in back pay, retroactive to Nov. 1, 2022, as well as a $5,000 one-time bonus.

Overall, the new contract amounts to a $70 million investment, the district said.

Teachers are expected to vote this week on the tentative agreement, which the school board also must approve.

“My goal has always been to stabilize the foundation of our district through fiscal stewardship so that eventually we could position ourselves to pay our teachers and educators what they deserve,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said during a press conference Monday, calling the raise “historic.”

“And I want to underscore, we realize we’re not there yet,” she said. “This is one crucial step towards getting there.”

District officials on Monday said they do not expect to extend the school year to make up for the days teachers were striking, and that most graduation ceremonies will proceed as planned.

Roughly 3,000 educators, counselors and other school staffers represented by the Oakland Education Association first walked out on May 4 amid stalled negotiations with the district. Along with traditional asks, like higher salaries, the union demanded a set of “common good” changes to better support students and families inside and outside the classroom.

“This has never only been about teacher salary. This isn’t just about us trying to get a living wage, or to be able to afford the housing here in Oakland. It’s also been about making sure that our students have the ability to be housed as well,” Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, OEA’s vice president, said during a press conference on Monday. “This strike has never simply been about us being able to put food on our own tables but making sure we are able to provide student services and shifting the way we provide instruction to feed the minds of these students.”

Common good proposals that address community issues have become an increasingly standard part of the bargaining process for teachers unions over the last decade, a precedent set by striking Chicago teachers in 2012 who demanded, and ultimately achieved, greater influence in how schools are managed.

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In the hard-fought deal struck in Oakland on Monday, the two sides agreed to a shared-governance model for the district’s set of community schools, with steering-committee members appointed by both the school board and the union, according to OEA.

Both sides also agreed to identify district-owned locations that could be used to house students and to help secure housing vouchers and other financial support from government agencies.

Additionally, a new reparations task force — with co-chairs appointed by both the union and district — would identify schools with student populations that are at least 40% Black, and implement plans to help those students thrive.

Under the terms of the new agreement, guidance counselors would, for the first time, begin working at elementary schools, and teachers at those schools would receive additional preparation time. More resources would also be devoted to special education programs in the district. And the sizes of physical education and transitional kindergarten classes would be slightly reduced, with teachers paid extra for overages.

The district would also slightly increase the overall number of librarians and nurses and boost investments in visual and performing arts programs.

“Our common goal is to create an environment in which our children, families, educators and district staff are able to thrive,” Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said in a statement emailed to KQED on Monday. “I look forward to working with OUSD and OEA as my Administration continues to invest in community and school safety, affordable housing, and improved infrastructure, not only to attract teachers and families to Oakland, but to keep them here.”

Negotiations throughout the strike were contentious, with the union accusing district officials of bargaining “in bad faith,” and the district calling teachers’ demands unreasonable and naive and claiming their actions would jeopardize students’ grades and graduation prospects. Tony Thurmond, the state superintendent of public instruction, and other government officials stepped in to help break the impasse at the bargaining table.

Teachers began the bargaining process last October, and have been working without a contract since their previous one expired in March. The district, facing major budgetary challenges amid years of declining enrollment, initially refused to bargain with teachers over the “common good” proposals, insisting on only considering more conventional issues, like wages and working conditions. But after union negotiators held firm, seven days into the walkout, the district over the weekend acceded to some of their additional demands.

Kimi Lee, a parent of two OUSD students, said her family went to sleep on Sunday night assuming school would be called off yet again on Monday. After receiving the early morning announcement about the tentative deal, both of her kids decided to wait until Tuesday to return to their classrooms.

The length of the strike “was a bit of a shock,” said Lee, who initially expected it wouldn’t last more than a few days.

“But overall, we supported the teachers. The teachers were fighting for the bigger picture,” she said. “The fact that homelessness, climate and all these other issues were folded in, we agreed with that.”

For Rob Daves, an OUSD parent who used to be a teacher in the district, news of the agreement came as very welcome relief.

“Glad [the] strike is over. [It] was a huge impact on our family and especially our daughter,” Daves said in a text message.

But he noted he was disappointed that neither side adequately underscored the need for the state to dramatically increase funding for Oakland’s underresourced schools.

“If we actually value education, we must show it in material support,” he said.

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Vanessa Rancaño and Spencer Whitney, and The Associated Press.

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