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Oakland Teachers Strike for Higher Pay, More Teachers and Nurses

After teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Denver, Oakland teachers are now the latest to take to the picket lines to demand a better educational atmosphere.

Teachers in Oakland entered their second day of a strike Friday morning. Teachers, counselors and nurses are asking for more pay, more teachers and nursing staff, and reduced class size – demands not unlike earlier teacher strikes at school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and other parts of the nation.

Together with their sympathizers, the Oakland teachers union held a rally on Thursday afternoon to drive home their demands. A second day of negotiations was scheduled for 9 AM Friday morning at an undisclosed location.

Teachers are not alone in making demands, in addition to nurses and school counselors also going on strike; many students are agreeing with and supporting their teachers’ demands.

An Oakland student talks about why he joined his teachers in walking the picket line. (Photo via YouTube)

The protesting teachers said it has become harder for them to get ahead in the community, especially in neighborhoods like East Oakland. A teacher and recruiter working at Reach Academy in East Oakland, Emily Rasmussen told Courthouse News that getting new teachers to work at schools in the neighborhood has become an uphill task.

Having spent eight years at Reach, Rasmussen is privy to the difficulties confronting educators and students in the region. According to her, the challenges facing quality public education in the neighborhood include:

  • Meager pay for teachers
  • High costs of living in Oakland
  • Large class size
  • Budget cuts for education
  • Lack of nursing staff

Given the above problems, Rasmussen said students are left with the consequences and suffer through a constantly changing rotation of inexperienced young teachers.

“Our students, who 100 percent qualify for free lunch, are disproportionately impacted by a lack of high-quality teachers,” Rasmussen said.

Pay Disparity, Neighborhood Violence and Budget Cuts Are Part of the Problem

Rasmussen commented to Courthouse News that schools in affluent neighborhoods are not as severely impacted by budget cuts as those in poor areas because wealthier districts have significantly sized PTA funds. When a budget freeze occurred in 2016-2017, she recalled that Reach Academy ran out of paper while wealthier schools utilized hundreds of thousands of dollars of PTA funds to make up for the shortfall.

This disparity also incentivizes teachers to leave schools in poor neighborhoods for richer neighborhoods, where they can earn more and have fewer challenges to teaching. Wealthier schools have fewer students per classroom and better work conditions for all staffs.

The strike that started on Thursday wouldn’t have occurred if negotiations between the Oakland Education Association and the Oakland Unified School District had not broken down. The education association is the union for the 3,000 teachers and nurses in Oakland.

The union demands is asking for a 12 percent pay increase over three years as well as smaller classes and more nurses and mental health providers. The Oakland school district has said they are only able to pay 7 percent more, stating there are plans to cut the budget by $21 million in the face of financial problems.

If the budget is cut by $21 million, as earlier announced by the district, it could result in teacher layoffs, increased class size and an even more difficult teaching environment. There are already only 22 nurses for the entire 36,000 students in the district, part-time nurse Ozella Faison-Burns told Courthouse News. There were 45 nurses in 2001. Faison-Burns shuttles between Castlemont and two elementary schools in East Oakland.

Only qualified nurses can give insulin shots to students in California, and students must wait for nurses to arrive – however long it takes – when they have an insulin crisis. One student said at a Thursday afternoon rally that her education was being shortchanged because her teachers have to work two jobs to make a decent living, class sizes are too big and her teachers are constantly changing.

The teachers and nurses union goes are back at the negotiating table with district officials on Friday, but teachers will continue to picket outside schools until a favorable agreement is reached for all parties. The strike is estimated to impact 36,000 students and all 86 of Oakland’s public schools.

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