Tony Thurmond, state schools chief, joins Oakland teacher negotiations at union’s request

February 25, 2019

Oakland teachers march outside City Hall on the third day of the teachers’ strike, Feb. 25, 2019.

The teachers’ strike in Oakland Unified continued for the third day Monday, with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond called in by the Oakland Education Association teachers’ union to help resolve the dispute.

Thurmond confirmed that he would assist in the talks and has been in contact with both sides. 

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“We want to get the strike resolved quickly so teachers and students can be where they want to be— in their classes,” Thurmond said. “We met with leaders in Oakland last week and have been in contact since then. The talks continue today. My top priority is keeping them at the table to get this resolved.”

Before being elected to his statewide office Thurmond represented Oakland as a state assembly member.

Ismael Armendariz, the union’s first vice president, said at a Monday morning rally outside Melrose Leadership Academy that the union has “been bargaining for two years and the district has been unable to bring us a contract that would end the teacher retention crisis and provide students with the services they need to be successful. We called on Tony Thurmond to intervene on behalf the district to bring us a contract that would serve all kids.”

Talks between the district and union broke down over the weekend after the union’s negotiating team held fast to its demands for a 12 percent raise over three years, along with smaller class sizes and more counselors and nurses to help students. 

The district increased its salary offer from 5 percent over three years to 7 percent over three years, along with a one-time 1.5 percent bonus, which “exceeds the offer recommended by a neutral fact-finder, who was brought in to help the two sides reach common ground,” a district statement released Sunday said.

The district says it supports teachers and would like to meet their demands, but can’t afford to. Chris Learned, the district’s fiscal oversight trustee appointed by the state, said he would not allow the district to agree to the union’s demands.

“Under my authority as the Fiscal Oversight Trustee for OUSD, I will stay and/or rescind any agreement that would put the district in financial distress,” Learned said in a statement issued Sunday. “A 12 percent salary increase would do just that. What the district has on the table now is what the district can afford.”

The fact-finder recommended a 6 percent salary increase over two years, with a commitment to reopening salary negotiations for the third year after the district has a better idea of its financial position for 2020-21.

The school board canceled a vote planned for Monday night on about $20.2 million in budget cuts that would help fund teacher raises. Sasaki said the board and district staff canceled it to focus their attention on ending the strike.

Union members said it was canceled after they announced they would picket it.

The board also has a meeting scheduled Wednesday, where it expects to approve layoffs and budget cuts, Sasaki said.

Although rumors had circulated that charter school teachers would join picket lines Monday, a charter association representative said charter schools were not reporting large numbers of teachers calling out sick. Photos have appeared in social media of persons attending rallies holding signs of charter school teachers supporting the Oakland teachers. And a charter school teacher spoke at the union’s rally last Friday in support of district teachers’ demands. But it is unknown how many charter school teachers called out sick to attend the events.

“We’ve checked in with the majority of our schools and we are not seeing anything like that happen,” said Max Daigh, Bay Area regional director for the California Charter Schools Association on Monday.

The Oakland teachers’ union reported that 95 percent of its members honored the picket lines last week and that only 3 percent of students attended district schools last Friday. The district could not confirm this information as of Monday morning.

Teachers and their supporters, including representatives from United Teachers of Los Angeles, planned to rally outside City Hall from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Monday and to update the community on negotiations at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Editor’s Note: As a special project, EdSource is tracking developments this year in the Oakland Unified and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts as a way to illustrate some of the most urgent challenges facing many urban districts in California. West Contra Costa Unified includes Richmond, El Cerrito and several other East Bay communities.

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