Negotiators for teachers and school district meet on second day of strike

Bargaining teams for Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association met behind closed doors Friday to negotiate a new contract, as the teachers strike entered its second day.

Oakland teachers, counselors and nurses were making plans to remain on the picket line next week while district officials said they were prepared to meet every day until an agreement was reached.

“We’re just eager to have everybody back in school, we want our kids back in class learning, so we look forward to the day that resumes,” district spokesman John Sasaki said.

Sasaki did not have estimates for how many teachers or students missed school Thursday. A couple hundred of the district’s central office staff had been assigned to Oakland’s 87 public schools to cover staff absences. The district has 37,000 students affected by the strike, and the union represents 3,000 teachers and other employees.

If the two sides don’t come to a resolution Friday, Sasaki said the district would be ready to continue negotiations Saturday and Sunday as well.

Striking educators said their goal on Day 2 was to continue drumming up public support for their cause and to increase pressure on the district.

Along with many parents, several elected officials, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Barbara Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, have expressed support for the teachers.

Schaaf has so far stayed out of the negotiating room —unlike in Los Angeles where Mayor Eric Garcetti got involved as a mediator.

“She’s being updated everyday by both sides,” Schaaf’s spokesman Justin Berton said. “She is not playing a role in the negotiations.”

The mayor’s children, who go to Oakland public schools, stayed home Thursday and Friday.

In L.A., Garcetti played an active role in brokering a deal, and when it was reached the mayor, who reportedly had been considering a run for president, announced it himself. The contract that gave teachers a 6 percent raise, caps on class sizes and more nurses and librarians.

Public support is one element unions weigh when considering a strike, and Oakland teachers may have been inspired by the response to teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, UC San Diego professor Agustina Paglayan said. Paglayan studies political incentives related to education policy.

“The strikes that happened last year may have given a signal to teachers that parents now might be supportive of teachers — and that striking, in some ways, may not be as risky than if communities were upset with teachers striking,” she said.

Sean Gailmard, a professor of political science who studies game theory at UC Berkeley, said those risks, including going without pay indefinitely, are the point.

“A strike is costly for a union,” he said. “They need to signal that they’re willing to incur high costs to get a better contract. It’s basically like saying, ‘We’re going to burn some money because it’s more important to us to have a good contract than have that burned money.’”

Union members have said that they’re willing to strike as long as it takes for the district to concede.

“I mean, if I had a child, I’d be figuring out child care for Monday,” said Franco DeMarinis, a physics teacher and head of the science department at Oakland Technical High School.

The bargaining teams for each side last met on Wednesday, when the union rejected the district’s proposal for a 7 percent raise over three years and 1.5 percent retroactive bonus.

The union has maintained its counter offer of a 12 percent raise since last spring, when the district offered a 5 percent raise. However, union members have said they would not consider a higher wage offer without other concessions, including smaller class sizes and more school counselors and nurses.

DeMarinis said poor teacher retention and overfilled science classes are hurting students.

“Teacher burnout is a real thing,” he said. “Classes are packed to the gill.”

Members of the union have been communicating with one another over email chains, What’s App text messages and their Facebook page. If any potential deal is reached, the full membership would have to vote to approve it.

Meanwhile, a handful of students have attended class Thursday and Friday, as many families either keep their kids at home, organize home-based groups with other parents or drop their children at one of numerous facilities open to them during the strike.

Amy Martinez, a counselor at Oakland Tech, said she wanted to get back into the school and with her students as soon as possible. But she said she’d probably be back on Broadway with her picket sign Monday morning.

The caseload for counselors and nurses has been a central point in contract negotiations.

Counselors are responsible for academic, college, career and emotional support. There’s usually a long line for lunch hour drop-in sessions, Martinez said.

“I cannot physically meet with all 500 students and their families,” Martinez said, “which means there will always be students who need support who aren’t getting it.”

On Monday, the school board plans to vote on Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell’s proposal to slash nearly $22 million from next year’s budget, which could result in close to 150 layoffs of central office and school site staff.

Kimberly Veklerov and Ashley McBride are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: kveklerov@sfchronicle.com ashley.mcbride@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @KVeklerov @Ashleynmcb

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Negotiators-for-teachers-and-school-district-meet-13637552.php.

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