What does it means for teachers and students?
By Cindy Ho
On March 1, the teachers’ union and the Oakland Unified School District reached a tentative agreement to end the teachers’ strike, which lasted from Feb. 21 to March 1.
The teachers had asked for smaller class sizes, more student services, higher living wages, and to keep schools open.
The tentative agreement was not yet final because the teachers would have to vote to accept the deal the district proposed or not. On March 3, a majority of teachers voted to approve the agreement, and the strike ended, with teachers returning to school on Monday, March 4.
The strike might have ended but that doesn’t mean that teacher some teachers agree with the agreement even though the contract was approved by 58% of the 70% of the teachers who voted.
“In my opinion, the strike did not address what teachers are asking for,” said art teacher Rumi Koshino, who participated in the strike. “Students can’t receive good things for themselves and teachers won’t stay if the pay stays little.”
Earlier this year, there was also another strike happening before this one. L.A. teachers went on strike from January 14 to 22. The LAUSD is the second biggest district in the country. One of the many teachers’ wants was to lower class sizes.
According to Oakland High Spanish teacher Jose Espinoza, teachers were striking at La Escuelita when they heard about the agreement. They were picketing at La Escuelita because the Board of Education was going to meet there to cut $20 million from the budget, including student programs. When teachers received the news that the tentative agreement had been reached, union leaders told them to lift the teacher strike.
However, soon after that announcement when the Board of Education was arriving at La Escuelita for their meeting, teachers blocked the board members and did not allow them to enter the building. According to Espinoza, it was chaotic and that police came to escort the board members out of the area. Soon after, people heard that it was a bad tentative agreement.
“All of the points we were striking for are intertwined and affect teachers, students and the community at large,” said Espinoza. “Since the year I arrived at OUSD, conversations were being held on how to attract and retain teachers in the district. Obviously, after so many years, we continue having similar issues with above 20% of teacher turnover.”
“I respect the work and efforts of the negotiating team, both teachers and advisors,” continued Espinoza. “It was not an easy task to negotiate, to come to an impasse, and after the Fact-Finding, call a strike. The Tentative Agreement is now The New Contract. It was set before teachers who picketed hard and who through a democratic process decided to accept it.”
However, some teachers don’t like the new contract. According to history teacher Jacob Rukin, the pay increase the new contract offers does not keep up with inflation, which means that teachers are actually losing money over these four years.
“I had hoped more of the raise would go to young teachers, which would help keep them in Oakland schools,” said Rukin. “I also think it would have been good if we could have stopped the proposed school closures and the cuts to student programs in the budget. If we really want to change how Oakland schools are run, we need to organize and vote to elect people to the school board who believe in public community schools that are well resourced, have small class sizes, and are taught by well compensated, experienced teachers.”
Classes have already resumed and the strike has ended. Many of O-High’s teachers have voted ‘no’ on the new contract but nonetheless, the new contract still passes. However, O-High teachers remain hopeful.
“The contract is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the answer to the issues that were being negotiated and which still linger in our schools in this district and beyond,” said Espinoza. “The biggest gain is this whole process is the awareness of the BIG issues, namely privatization of schools, allocating appropriate funding for education, and mismanagement of funds that exist in our education system and in our district.”