On the Picket Line

Oakland teachers rally for smaller class sizes, higher wages

By Eric Simpson
January 7, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dozens of public school teachers, members of the Oakland Education Association, and supporters protested after school at a busy intersection here Dec. 11. They held a banner saying, “Teachers ready to strike.” Similar protests were held at several locations to spread the word about a “rally to fund public education now!” being organized for Jan. 12.

Teachers gave out a flyer on their demands — smaller class sizes, more support for students and higher wages.

“We’re fed up,” Katherine Gilbert, a teacher at Greenleaf Elementary and a member of the union bargaining committee, told the Militant. “We’ve had no contract since July 2017. We’ve been bargaining since last December without any real movement.” She said the school district’s last proposal was for a 5 percent raise spread over three years. The teachers are demanding 12 percent.

Jeremiah Smith, a Spanish teacher at Castlemont High, said many teachers leave their jobs because of low pay. “A $200 raise — it’s not much to stop teachers from leaving,” he said.

Because of a loss of state funds, the school district has an unpublished list of 24 schools it is planning to close. Most are reportedly in working-class areas.

“Our school is on the list,” said Castlemont senior Jerrard Franklin. “We are out here protesting for our rights. We support our teachers.”

“The district wants to consolidate facilities and cut labor costs,” special education teacher Mara Randle said.

The number of students enrolled in charter schools has climbed to over 30 percent here. These schools are publicly funded but privately managed, often for profit. The charters are exempted from having to serve all students. For example, the Oakland school district produces materials in five languages but charter schools don’t have to.

Because of the number of students who’ve moved to charter schools, the Oakland school district has lost $57.3 million in state funding annually. District officials responded by cutting hot meals after school and closing 30 percent of school libraries, including in 14 of 17 high schools. One student’s sign at the protest said, “We need a library.”

Frustration with the lack of motion on a new contract led to an unsanctioned sickout and protest by teachers at Oakland High, Fremont High and Madison Park Academy Dec. 10.

The January 12 rally is set for 12 noon in front of Oakland’s City Hall.