Thousands of teachers in Oakland, California, entered their third day on strike on Monday, after negotiations with the school district failed to reach an agreement over the weekend.
The Oakland Education Association organized the strike on behalf of 3,000 Oakland educators starting on Thursday. The teachers union has demanded a 12 percent raise in salary for teachers, as well as smaller class sizes and more counselors and nurses for students.
The school district said negotiations were back on as of Monday, but it was not planning to offer more than it had last week: a 7 percent wage increase and bonus over four years.
Meanwhile, Oakland teachers, who work in a district serving 37,000 students, have said their students deserve more resources and, without a larger raise, they won’t be able to afford housing in the Bay Area, where home prices have soared in recent years.
“I’m on strike because I think our kids deserve better. They deserve a quality education and they’re not receiving that right now,” said Janet Vasquez, a sixth-grade teacher at Life Academy in East Oakland, where most of her students are Latinx and many are from immigrant families.
“People can’t afford to live here,” Vasquez added, noting that one of her colleagues commutes from Sacramento, over an hour’s drive away. Vasquez herself, 22, grew up going to Oakland public schools and still lives with her family today. “I can’t afford to move out,” she said.
Oakland teachers are the latest to demand more pay and better classroom conditions. Tens of thousands of educators in Los Angeles went on strike last month and won a better agreement, and West Virginia teachers went on strike last week to protest what they viewed as a legislative effort to privatize public education.
School district officials said they don’t receive enough money from the state to be able to spend more on wages and other resources. Meanwhile, teachers have said the problem stems from the district mismanaging funds, spending too much on administrators and outside consultants.
“Has the district in the past mismanaged funds? There’s no question,” said John Sasaki, Oakland Unified School District’s communications director, adding the district is “busy trying to get everything under control” and “doing everything we can.”
He noted that the district plans to eliminate some upper management jobs in the central office, but “with regard to consultants, it’d be great if we could find the kind of money we need for teacher raises in consultants, but it’s just not possible.”
Union site representative Matt Hayes at Life Academy said the district has eroded the community’s trust and the state needs to “get involved like right now” to provide more funding oversight.
On Monday, Oakland teachers picketed at their schools in the morning and then planned to rally midday in front of city hall before picketing back at schools in the afternoon.
Vasquez said she has been talking to the parents dropping their kids at her school in the Oakland neighborhood of Fruitvale, using her Spanish to communicate with families from Mexico and Central America and explain why the teachers are striking.
“I say, ‘I know you came here for a better future, and right now that’s not what your kids are getting,’” she said. “They’re not receiving the same quality education other kids are getting.”
“I think the future of the U.S. is in schools and if [President Donald] Trump was willing to shut down the government over the wall, the $5 billion he wants for the wall, he should be investing in our kids,” she added.