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Latest to Join Nationwide Uprising, Oakland Teachers Strike to Defend Public Education

"It's time for the Oakland Unified School District to pick a side. Are you on the side of billionaires who fund our school board races, or the side of teachers, students, parents, and community?"

Teachers rallied at Manzanita Community School in Oakland on Thursday as about 3,000 educators went on strike to demand fair pay and more investment in public schools. (Photo: @CTAJulian/Twitter)

Nearly 3,000 teachers and other school staffers in Oakland, California are joining the nationwide wave of #RedForEd strikes on Thursday, demanding greater investment in the district's public schools, students, and teachers—instead of a continuation of the recent unregulated growth of charter schools in the area.

As Oakland Education Association (OEA) president Keith Brown explained in the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, the union is demanding an end to school closures in favor of pouring money into charter schools, enough school nurses and counselors to adequately serve the district's 86 schools, raises for teachers, and smaller class sizes.

"Oakland can't afford any more years of neglected, underfunded schools. If we stand idly by while the leadership of the Oakland Unified School District closes 24 out of 86 public schools, then students and families will pay the price for generations," Brown wrote.

On picket lines in front of schools throughout the district, teachers carried signs reading, "Fund Our Future" and chanting, "On strike, shut it down, Oakland is a union town!"

In a tweeted video, Brown and the OEA shared how billionaires including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have descended on Oakland public schools to influence school board elections, paving the way for the loss of many neighborhood schools and investment in charter schools.

"It's time for OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) to pick a side. Are you on the side of billionaires who fund our school board races, or the side of teachers, students, parents, and community?" the union asked.

After two years of bargaining, the OEA was not satisfied with the latest offer from the OUSD, which came Wednesday and included a seven percent raise for teachers over three years.

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With Oakland now the fourth-most expensive city in the U.S., teachers are calling for a 12 percent salary increase over three years. The raise would help to recruit and retain high-quality teachers instead of driving them to more affordable districts, the OEA argues.

"A stable workforce of educators earning a living wage, like those who inspired me to become a teacher, are a thing of the past," wrote Brown. "Oakland teachers are now the lowest paid in Alameda County. Meanwhile, a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland costs more than $2,330 a month, or about 60 percent of a starting teacher’s salary."

"No wonder teachers don’t stay in Oakland. Every year, more than 500 teachers leave our schools to take other jobs," he added.

In another video on the eve of the strike, Brown called the walkout a "historic moment" for the city and sent a message to students.

"This is a fight for your education to make sure you have the resources that you need to learn and be successful students," said the 20-year veteran teacher and former OUSD student. "This fight is for the heart an soul of public education in Oakland...We are united for Oakland kids, we are striking to make sure our students have the schools they deserve."

The OEA and OUSD are set to return to the bargaining table on Friday.

"The central issue in this strike is the need for OUSD leadership to listen to voices here in Oakland by fully funding our neighborhood schools," wrote Brown. "We are aware that having no teachers in our schools will be a challenge for students, working parents and the entire city. But what's our alternative?"

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