AnalysisTeachers' Struggle

Oakland teachers mobilize to defend public education

The author is a substitute teacher and an active member of the Oakland Education Association.

Oakland educators and their union, the Oakland Education Association, are gearing up for a strike to defend the rights of their students and themselves. They join teachers across the nation in fighting against a neoliberal push to privatize public education. The union is set to make the strike announcement Feb.16.

The teachers have been working without a contract for over a year. After many pointless negotiations, they voted to give the union authorization to call for a strike. Eighty-seven percent of union members came out to vote and voted overwhelmingly to approve the strike authorization.

What’s going on in Oakland’s public schools?

The Oakland Unified School District administrators’ claim there isn’t enough money to pay teachers a living wage, decrease class sizes, and hire enough nurses and counselors to provide the support all our students deserve.

Yet, the district has received at least $21 million in new state and local revenue since the 2016-2017 school year, it receives on average 25 percent more revenue per student than other unified school districts in the state, spends 107 percent more on administrators than the state average for districts of its size, and spent three times the average for large California unified school districts on consultants and outside service providers last year, working out to $1,500 per student. Moreover, research by the OEA shows that OUSD finished the 2017-2018 fiscal year with a surplus of roughly $18 million in unrestricted funds.

OUSD is failing to meet student needs and provide them with adequate support. In middle and high schools, for example, there is on average only one academic counselor for every 600 students. Also, the entire district only has 21 nurses in total; this works out to over 1,750 students per nurse and one nurse for every four schools. What’s more, over the last three school years, an average of a quarter of teaching positions went vacant.

In addition to creating a poor environment for student learning and growth, OUSD is not there for the educators either. Owing to the close relationship between them and students, dire working conditions for teachers are worsening the student learning experience. Oakland teachers are the lowest paid in Alameda County; have been working one and a half years without a contract; and have to deal with inadequate support and training, large class sizes, as well as rents that have gone up 32 percent in the last five years. This leads to frequent burnout and a teacher retention crisis in Oakland where of average one in five teachers leave each year and a little more than two in five leave after three years. In 2017-2018 alone, 530 Teachers left OUSD.

The Oakland School Board for its part also showed its true colors in its support and close relationship with charter schools, helping to de-fund and destroy public education in Oakland. Thanks in large part to their rubber-stamping of new charters, 30 percent of Oakland students attend charter schools, a higher percentage than any other city in California. In 2016-17 alone, this cost the district $57 million per year, resulting in $1,500 less in funding per OUSD student. In addition, even now the neoliberal privatizers on the Oakland School Board and their billionaire bourgeois backers are trying to use the current climate to put the idea of closing Roots International Academy and 23 other neighborhood schools into the public discourse. In this way, they echo a chorus the people of the world are tired of hearing, that “austerity” is the only way to keep the district solvent and provide the education our students deserve.

Many ways to support the strike

Based on the contents of a report the union received on Feb.15, the teachers will decide if a strike is necessary. The strike would begin next week. If the teachers do strike, community organizations and other supporters are mobilizing across the Bay Area to support the pickets at all 80 schools in the district. The union has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for a food bank and member financial support.

Community members and education workers can take action to support the Oakland teachers in a variety of ways:

Solidarity statement Party for Socialism and Liberation members and supporters are passing out at BART stations and other locations to encourage people to support the strike.

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