Oakland educators win on salaries, common good goals
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

OAKLAND, Calif. – In the wee hours of the morning May 15, Oakland educators reached tentative agreement with the Oakland Unified School District on a new 2.5-year contract with big wins for compensation of teachers who had been the lowest paid in the surrounding Alameda County. The educators and district also agreed on a series of Common Good social and educational reforms.

The educators had been in negotiations with OUSD since October, and their previous contract had expired in March.

Now that the seven-day strike that brought picket lines to the district’s 80 schools is over, some 35,000 students are back in class as the end of the school year draws near. The agreement must now be approved by the Oakland Education Association’s 3,000 members and by the OUSD School Board.

At a press conference Monday afternoon in front of East Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy, Oakland Education Association President Ismael Armendariz told reporters, “We settled a very, very powerful contract that offered a 15% raise on average,” with some members’ salaries rising as much as 22%. “Our newest teachers are getting the biggest raise,” he said, “so we can attract and retain teachers here.”

The salary increases are to take effect July 1. The new contract shortens the intervals between salary increases, which Armendariz said will help to retain teachers over the long term. It also doubles bilingual stipends for teachers with dual language capabilities.

The tentative agreement also calls for more school librarians, guidance counselors, and school nurses, with the district employing guidance counselors at the elementary school level for the first time.

OEA Vice President Kampala Taiz-Rancifer said the strike had never been just about educators’ salaries. “This isn’t just about us trying to get a living wage or being able to afford the housing here in Oakland. It’s also been about making sure that our students have the ability to be housed as well.

“This strike has never simply been about us being able to put food on our own tables, but also shifting the way we are able to provide instruction to feed the minds of these students. We are incredibly proud to be able to announce that we are able to bring students back into schools better than we left them.”

Vilma Serrano, co-chair of OEA’s 50-member bargaining team and a teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy, spoke both in English and in Spanish: “The tentative agreement will boost wages for Oakland teachers and other educators, who are the lowest-paid in the Bay Area. We were also able to win our Common Good goals, including assistance to unhoused students, shared governance and more resources for historically Black Thriving Community Schools – schools with 40% or more Black students.”

The bargaining team included classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, school psychologists, substitute teachers, early childhood educators, special education teachers, and teacher-librarians, with representation from every part of the school district.

OEA’s summary of the tentative agreement notes that Community Schools Shared Governance includes forming a City-wide Community Schools Steering Committee with majority membership of parents, students, educators, and classified staff, as well as School Site Councils.

Black Thriving Community Schools provisions include creation of a Reparations for Black Students Taskforce with a majority membership of parents, students, educators, and classified staff, and placement of teachers on special assignment to support historically Black schools and help implement the Black Student Thriving Plan.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Armendariz said the tide turned in negotiations when the school district “knew that we weren’t backing down … we just kept marching forward, and eventually, we started having conversations instead of just hearing No.”

Taiz-Rancifer said of committees and task forces slated to participate in shared governance, “We wanted to ensure there was a process to make sure parents, students, and families got a seat at the table, and also, once they were there, they had the ability to vote … this allows us to be able to ensure that there is real, true shared governance.”

As the press conference drew to a close, Serrano told reporters, “The road is still long, to fully achieve the kinds of schools we really want to see. But we are getting there and we’ve made significant progress. We’re just proud of the work we’ve done, and really honored that the Oakland community stood with us the entire time.”

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Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.