At a Feb. 16 press conference Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said, “Enough is enough. Bargaining with our school district has not worked. The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve and to take control of our district back from the billionaires is for the 3,000 OEA members to go on strike.” (ktvu.com, Feb. 16)
Brown announced that teachers will strike Feb. 21, following over two years of Oakland teachers having bargained for a fair contract and support services for students. Brown said, “Oakland teachers cannot afford to live in Oakland. One out of five leaves each year. Our students do not have adequate supports. Oakland Unified School District schools are not failing; OUSD is failing our schools. This is a racial justice issue in a school district that is overwhelmingly students of color. We have been fighting for two years for justice.”
On Feb. 15, a three-member “neutral,” fact-finding commission released a report validating all the OEA contract demands for higher salaries, smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors in the schools.
In the midst of contract negotiations, the OUSD came out with a five-year “blueprint” plan to close or consolidate 24 neighborhood schools. The first school closure announced was Roots International Academy, a predominantly African-American public school. Despite a strong community-led campaign by Roots teachers, students and parents, the school board voted 6-1 to close Roots. The teachers’ union quickly responded by opposing all plans to close Oakland public schools.
OEA President Brown made it clear that the union is opposed to the unregulated growth of charter schools in the district at the expense of public schools. Thirty percent of all schools are currently charters. “OUSD priorities are clearly not the students. OUSD priorities are billionaire donors who have funneled over one half a million dollars through Go Public Schools and the California Charter School Association into school board races in the last three years alone.”
Brown explained that the Oakland school superintendent and school board are implementing a so-called “portfolio district” plan like ones forced upon poor communities in New Orleans, Detroit and Newark, N.J. This model mandates public school closures in Black and Brown communities despite lack of evidence that closing schools saves money.
Several Oakland parents spoke at the press conference, calling upon parents to not send their children to school in support of the strike. They urged parents, community members and students to join the teachers on the picket line.
Union leader Brown reminded everyone that on Feb. 21, “We will strike with our parents. We will strike for our students. We will strike for education and racial justice. We will strike for the future of public education in Oakland.”
Greenspan is a middle school public school teacher and a member of the Oakland Education Association. Follow the struggle at its website: oaklandea.org/ or the Stand with Oakland Teachers Facebook Page: tinyurl.com/y6kzvmn9/.