Strike three: Oakland teachers set to walk out Thursday

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Nearly a year to the day after West Virginia teachers went on strike, they’re doing it again. Unions called a statewide walkout Tuesday over education legislation that they view as lacking their input and as retaliation for last year’s strike. (Feb. 19) AP

If the teachers in Oakland, California, walk out Thursday as planned, they would become the third group of public school educators from one of the country’s 50 largest cities to strike this year, joining their Los Angeles and Denver counterparts. Chicago also had a charter school teachers’ strike.

Here’s what you need to know about this latest labor dispute between teachers and their school district:

What are the teachers demanding?

Oakland educators have worked without a contract since mid-2017. They want a 12 percent pay raise over a three-year deal that would be retroactive, and they’re also asking for more support staff.

Union president Keith Brown said current salaries – which range between $47,000 and $84,000 depending on experience – are not enough for teachers to afford living in the pricey Bay Area, leading to a high turnover rate. He also contends Oakland schools on the average have one nurse for every 1,350 students and one guidance counselor for every 600 students and would like those ratios at least cut in half.

In addition, the union wants smaller class sizes, and it’s fighting the closure of 24 schools predominantly attended by minority students.

What’s the Oakland school district offering?

The latest offer hiked the pay raise from 5 percent to 7 percent and included a 1.5 percent bonus, but the wage increase was spread over four years instead of three. The union rejected it Wednesday and got ready to strike.

“The proposal does not get at the essential heart of the matter, investing in our students by providing a living wage for our educators to keep them in Oakland,’’ Brown told USA TODAY.

A neutral fact-finder said a 9 percent raise would come closer to putting Oakland teacher salaries on par with their peers in other districts; the union says they’re the lowest paid in Alameda County.

However, the arbitrator also noted the Oakland Unified School District couldn’t afford that kind of raise, considering it’s already operating at a deficit. So he recommended a 6-percent increase over the first two years of the contract, with an economic reopener for the third year.

How many people would be affected by a strike?

The Oakland school district serves more than 36,000 students and includes about 3,000 teachers and other staffers. And of course, tens of thousands of parents would be seriously inconvenienced by a walkout.

The district said it would provide information about the strike via automated calls, e-mails and texts, in addition to postings on social media and its website.

Would schools close if teachers walk out?

No. The district is encouraging students to attend class, pointing out that attendance policies would remain in place. The OUSD website said central office employees, temporary teachers and principals would be at the schools to “supervise, care for and educate’’ students. The district acknowledged it won’t be “school as usual’’ and lesson plans won’t be picked up, but meal services and after-school programs will remain in effect.

The union is also making contingency plans to help parents who need supervision for their school-age kids, with some volunteers and community-based organizations like churches and rec centers pitching in.

Are teachers striking elsewhere?

Los Angeles and Denver settled their labor issues, but teachers in West Virginia picketed Tuesday and Wednesday over their objection to reforms in a controversial education bill, forcing all but one of the state’s 55 counties to close down schools.

As opposed to last year, when they struck over wages, the West Virginia instructors are protesting Senate Bill 451, which would divert some public funds to charter schools and education savings accounts to pay for private schools.

The legislation appeared dead when the state House of Delegates rejected it Tuesday, but the union wanted to ascertain the measure would not be revived before sending teachers back to work.

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