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Oakland teachers, district reach agreement on new contract ending 7-day strike

Historic wage deal reached with Oakland teachers, ending strike
Historic wage deal reached with Oakland teachers, ending strike 04:00

OAKLAND -- After days of contentious talks, negotiators for Oakland teachers and the district reached a tentative agreement on a new work contract early Monday, ending a 7-day strike that impacted 35,000 students and threatened the end of the school year.

Over the weekend, agreement was reached on what had been a major stumbling block -- four common good issues including housing for homeless students and school closures.

Teacher union officials were quick to point out in a Saturday night news release that the agreement was reached in talks held away from the bargaining table.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and members of the team from the California Department of Education had been mediating the talks since last Thursday.

"I stepped in to help mediate this strike in hopes of getting our students back to class as quickly as possible," Thurmond said in a news release. "While the issues were very complex, I observed that both parties, OEA and OUSD, participated in very productive discussions, often into the late hours of the night."

The new 2.5-year deal -- which will need ratification by the rank-and-file -- includes a 15.5 percent salary increase for most teachers with an even greater percentage increase for those at the bottom of the salary scale. Also agreed to are retroactive pay and bilingual stipends for teachers with dual language aptitudes, among other gains.

"The strike wasn't just about teachers being able to earn enough to put a roof over their head in high-priced Oakland," said OEA President Ismael Armendariz in a statement. "The strike was also about students and their families having a roof over their heads and a more holistic approach to meeting our students' needs."

"We are incredibly proud to announce that we've come to an agreement today and that we are able to bring students back into schools, better than we left them," said OEA's Vice President Kampala Taiz-Rancifer. "Beyond the economic gains, this hard-fought tentative agreement, if ratified by our members, will help ensure that educators, parents, students and other stakeholders have a voice in the decision-making process."

Salaries for teachers will increase by 11 to 22.3 percent in the two-year agreement, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said to reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Teachers at the bottom of the pay scale will see a larger increase in wages, according to the teachers' union. 

Four binding MOUs were reached with the teachers over the "common good" proposals, school board President Mike Hutchinson said. The "common good" proposals are items the district was already working on, he said.

Hutchinson said another of those items is an agreement around school closures.

Johnson-Trammell said whether a school closure/consolidation plan passed last year and then reversed by the school board will come back is a question for the board. 

A number of avenues must be explored for the district to remain solvent following Sunday's $70 million compensation package for teachers, she said.

School district chief of staff Dexter Moore Jr. said the district was not ready to elaborate more Monday on the agreement reached with teachers around school closures. 

Johnson-Trammell called the contract a "historic compensation deal."

"It has always been important to me to move OUSD from a history of crisis towards a culture of stability, and achieving quality for every student, family and employee in our district," she said.  "We have moved the needle significantly in that direction today."   

Besides the wage increases, Hutchinson said teachers will be able move through the pay scale more quickly. Teachers will also get a $5,000 payment and a 10 percent raise retroactive to Nov. 1, 2022. 

In addition, guidance counselors will be working at elementary schools for the first time and the district will have more librarians and nurses, too, union officials said. Johnson-Trammell stressed the need for mental health care for students.

The two sides agreed to a shared governance model of community schools with a steering committee that includes members appointed by unions and the district, according to the Oakland Education Association.

The sides also tentatively agreed to identify locations that could be used to house students and to secure housing vouchers and other financial support from governments.

The new reparations task force will identify schools where student populations are at least 40% Black and implement plans to help those students thrive. Co-chairs will be appointed by the Oakland Education Association and the schools superintendent for the first year.

The district's 80 schools have remained open during the strike with meals being offered and office staff supervising, but only about 1,200 students have shown up to school since the strike started May 4.

The teachers union said regular classes for OUSD's 35,000 students will resume on Tuesday, with schools open Monday in a modified "transition day" format. 

Parents were relived that the strike was over.

"Big day, yeah. It was a chaotic day, you know?" said Glenview Elementary parent Mollie Sullivan. "It was sort of last minute. I don't think anybody really knew what was going to happen today."

At McClymond's High School, senior Patrick Botman wondered what the unexpected pause will mean for his plan to attend UC Merced next year.

"It left me a little clueless at first, because I'm like, 'strike? That's just random. Where did that come from?" said Botman. "Why couldn't it just happen during winter break or some time when it wasn't that important?  But now, it's kind of stingy to me, because it's, like, dang, they took away that important week that we needed to get prepared."

The district says it will be tight, but they are confident that students will be able to meet all their requirements in these last few days of school and graduation ceremonies will be held.  

The suddenness of the action raised questions about future negotiations. The teachers' union didn't follow a traditional pre-strike process, instead declaring an "unfair labor practice" work stoppage in the last few weeks of school, putting students and parents under the gun.  

Lakisha Young heads up "The Oakland REACH," a parents' advocacy group that was at odds with the union's decision to strike when it did.

"A strike is supposed to be used as a last resort," she said.  "I don't believe that on May 1st, we were at the last resort.  If anything, there was significant process being made and they should have stayed at the table."

When asked if this kind of last-minute strike could become a go-to tactic for teachers, Johnson-Trammell preferred to focus on the positive outcome of the negotiations.

"I'm an eternal optimist or I wouldn't have lasted this long in the job," said Johnson-Trammell.  "I'm already moving on in terms of the things we need to do to repair harm, for us to be able to provide the conditions we need for our students.  It means all of us will have to be reflective on how we work together differently."

With just eight days left in the school year, pressure had been mounting on both sides to reach an agreement and return students to the classroom. The first high school graduation is tentatively scheduled for May 22, a week from Monday. The last day of school for the district is May 25.

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