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Questions Remain As Oakland Students Return To The Classroom

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Oakland Unified School District students have began their 2019-2020 academic year this week with multiple teacher positions open, which the district says is not unusual.

Following last year's teacher strike, has the situation has improved enough to encourage more people to teach in Oakland?

KPIX 5 spoke to Lorraine Mann, a Transitional Kindergarten teacher at Prescott Elementary in West Oakland, who says she feels rejuvenated heading into a new school year following the strike.

Mann started her 22nd school year at Prescott this week and told us what it was like her very first week there.

"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, what am I getting into, little white girl from Livermore?' And then I walked into the school and I saw these beautiful paintings of children and their dreams for the future," she said. "Did you see the people in that room when you came in? That's half of why I come back."

The other half: her four and five-year-old students who she says she advocates for every single day.

Their needs are why Mann was one of hundreds of Oakland teachers to strike for seven days in February. She says, "It's clear to us that there were things that needed to change in Oakland and it's going to be hard to change them. And in order to force those changes, we're going to have to convince the district that business as usual could not continue."

After an intense week on strike and more than 18 months in contract negotiations, the district agreed to $38 million dollars in raises, an 11% increase over three years, plus a one-time 3% bonus. That's nearly double the money the teachers were offered before the walked out of the classroom.

Despite the increase, it's still not enough, for many, to live in the Bay Area.

"I've known a number of teachers, including a teacher who just came back to Prescott, who left because they couldn't afford to be teachers in Oakland," she said. "That is just so painful."

John Sasaki, the OUSD spokesperson, calls the high price of housing one of the district's major concerns.

"I think really the biggest concern is the expensive housing," he told KPIX 5. "The housing here is just outrageous and it makes anybody doing any job, if you're not making $300,000 a year, really challenging to find a good place to to live."

According to the August report from rental website Zumper, the median rent for a one-bedroom in Oakland is the 5th highest in the country at $2,300 a month.

In a statement from Keith D. Brown, the Oakland Education Association, says in part:

"We can't feed the minds of our students when we starve their schools of resources, including experienced teachers who can afford to stay in Oakland. The blame for this crisis is squarely at the feet of the school board."

Even with incredibly high rents, Mann remains hopeful more people will choose what she did all those years ago. She says they will be changed for the better.

"I am a better teacher than I would have ever been if I had taught somewhere else."

As long as the teachers' contract is in effect, teachers won't be back on the picket line this school year or next. But some teachers say, more change needs to happen still.

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