Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
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Hundreds of Oakland teachers called in sick or took a personal day Friday to rally in front of school district offices and demand a contract that includes higher salaries and smaller class sizes. Students, saying they are tired of seeing their good, qualified teachers leave for districts with higher pay or a lower cost of living, joined them.
Together, the group gathered outside Oakland Technical High School on Friday morning armed with signs, banners, megaphones and drums to call attention to school closures and the rising cost of living, which teachers say is outpacing their wages.
The demonstration is not sanctioned by the Oakland Education Association, but teachers said they want to send a message to Oakland Unified School District that unless the district makes a better offer, they could strike.
District superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell released a letter Thursday afternoon to parents and the community emphasizing her desire to accommodate the teachers’ requests and avoid a strike.
“We are working diligently to avoid the disruption to our students’ lives. Like you, we would much rather see our teachers fostering learning in the classroom than walking a picket line,” she said.
The district sent a letter to teachers Tuesday, warning them that if they participate in the wildcat walkout they could be punished with docked pay.
In December, about 100 teachers called in sick in a similar demonstration and were subsequently disciplined with a docked paycheck.
Several districts across the country have seen teachers go on strike in the past year, most recently in Los Angeles, where thousands of teachers, striking since Monday, are demanding pay raises, smaller class sizes and more support staff.
Most of the walkouts in other states ended once local or state governments conceded to the teachers’ requests. In West Virginia, a statewide teacher strike came to end after two weeks, when the governor signed a bill in March to give teachers a 5 percent pay raise. Two months later, teachers in Arizona walked out for five days to protest poor school funding levels and low pay for support staff. They called off the strike when the governor agreed to a plan that would raise teacher pay.
Educators in Oakland have been working under an expired contract since July 2017 and last spring, district leadership offered 5 percent wages over a few years. Teachers countered with a 12 percent offer, leading to an impasse. Once the district makes a final offer by early February, the teachers’ union could choose to take a strike vote.
Cris Bautista teaches 9th grade English and history at Oakland Technical High School, and works at Starbucks on the weekend to make ends meet. Bautista wore his barista apron over an Oakland Tech sweatshirt while marching.
“It’s my first year, I could get fired for being out here,” he said. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
As the ballooning crowd took to the streets, they chanted, “hey, hey, ho, ho, budget cuts have got to go, ” and “education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” Teachers and students wore sweatshirts emblazoned with their schools’ names and logos, including Oakland Technical High School, Oakland High School, Skyline High School, Fremont High School and Life Academy.
During the two-mile walk from Oakland Technical High School to school district offices at 1000 Broadway, the group was greeted by a constant stream of honking horns from drivers in cars, buses, taxis and big rigs. Construction workers peered down from high rises, women and men walked out of their offices and people left coffee shops to gaze at the protest.
Gathered in front of the school district building, teacher after teacher took to the microphone to talk about their overcrowded classrooms, school closures and charter schools encroaching on their resources.
Veronica Liu is a sophomore at Oakland Tech who decided to join her teachers in the march Friday. She’s noticed the effects that low pay can have on her teachers.
“I had a teacher that was constantly late because she lived in Antioch,” Liu, 15, said. “I had another teacher who was homeless.”
While Liu admitted that a teacher strike would also be disruptive to her education, “They’re fighting for a good cause. I say go for it.”
Desiree Turner teaches math at Oakland High School and has taught in the district for 15 years. Turner said she’s willing to risk disciplinary action and participate in the wildcat walkout if it means young teachers can make a living wage.
“They’re living with three and four roommates. That’s not right,” she said.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-teachers-stage-unauthorized-walkout-as-13544640.php.