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'Only the Beginning': Oakland Teachers Return to Classroom After Week-Long Strike, But Vow to Build on Victory

"Educators will no longer let this school district starve our neighborhood schools of resources."

About 3,000 teachers in Oakland went on strike for a week starting February 21, demanding an end to school closures and fair pay for teachers. (Photo: @JosephBrusky/Twitter)

Oakland, California teachers were back in their classrooms Monday following a week-long strike, after ratifying a contract agreement with the city's school district.

The agreement was finalized late Sunday and solidified a number of victories for Oakland's teachers. The educators decided to strike last month due to unlivable wages and Oakland Unified School District's decision to close many public schools in favor of pouring funds into charter schools.

The teachers' new contract includes an 11 percent raise over three years as well as a one-time three percent bonus, reduced class sizes, and a suspension of all school closings for five months.

The Oakland Education Association (OEA) said that teachers will continue to fight on behalf of their schools and students even after returning to their classrooms, but called the agreement a victory for the teachers and the Oakland community.

"We return to our classrooms tomorrow with our heads held high knowing we are united for the schools Oakland students deserve! This is only the beginning," OEA wrote on Twitter.

"The city of Oakland will never be the same," the union added. "No longer will we allow a handful of billionaires determine the educational opportunities of Oakland kids. We will continue to organize with each other and fight until we have truly realized the schools our students deserve." 

About 3,000 teachers walked out of their classrooms on February 21, demanding a 12 percent raise to help attract and retain educators living in Oakland, now the fourth-most expensive city in the nation.

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The school district, OEA argued, allowed outside billionaire investors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to influence school board elections—resulting in investments in charter schools and the resulting loss of many neighborhood schools, as well as chronically low teacher pay, a shortage of support staff, and untenably large class sizes.

"The central issue in this strike is the need for [Oakland Unified School District] leadership to listen to voices here in Oakland by fully funding our neighborhood schools," OEA President Keith Brown wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle as the strike began.

Outside Oakland's Paramount Theater Sunday afternoon, where the OEA members were voting on the new contract offer, some teachers assembled outside to urge members to vote "no," arguing that slightly reduced class sizes and a raise spread out over three years would not provide enough relief to educators. The union, they said, should return to the negotiating table.

"I'm barely keeping on right now, and having a two percent raise this year and a three percent bonus that barely covers the time that we were on strike isn't going to do anything," history teacher Jhunehl Fortaleza told a local CBS affiliate.

Sixty-four percent of the union members voted in favor of the contract for the current school year and 58 percent approved it for the coming year.

"This victory, accomplished through our collective strength on the picket lines with Oakland parents and students, sends the message that educators will no longer let this school district starve our neighborhood schools of resources," Brown said in a statement.

"Our fight is not over," he added. "Oakland educators spoke clearly today at our ratification vote that this agreement will not be the end of our struggle, and we will continue to fight in Oakland and Sacramento for the schools our students deserve."

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