Oakland Teachers Strike for the Soul of Public Education!

Written by Workers’ Voice/ La Voz East Bay
After bargaining for more than 2 years with no proposals from OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) for no school closures, smaller class sizes, a living wage for teachers, or more critical support staff such as nurses and psychologists, the Oakland Teachers (OEA) are going on strike. Alongside them in the pickets are students, parents, and school support staff (SEIU and AFSCME) such as the office workers, janitors, security guards, and para-educators, as well as community members from local businesses and fellow education workers unions! Truly, the whole community of Oakland understands that the teachers are fighting for the soul of public education.
Budget Deficit or Mismanagement of Funds?
While the District has projected the story of a budget deficit to justify its school closures and cuts to support staff, independent reports show that OUSD has rigged its budgets year after year to appear to have a budget deficit when in fact it’s ended the last two school years with a budget surplus. This mismanagement of public education funds shows up as a gross overpayment of top tier administrators and deep exploitation of Oakland schools staff, who are some of the lowest paid in the country. The mostly black and brown students and working-class families served by the Oakland schools are the first to suffer from this kind of deep exploitation of public resources. Every year, around 500 teachers turnover in OUSD because they cannot afford to live in the Oakland area. Classrooms do not have basic supplies, and low-income students with the highest needs are put last in the eyes of OUSD, with the District spending 2-3 times more on administrators and consultants than its neighboring districts. Meanwhile, Oakland students have access to only 1 nurse for every 1500 students. With three of its school board members taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from charter school billionaires, OUSD plans to close 24 schools in the next year and either reopen them as charters, or indrectly divert public funds to nearby charter schools.
The teachers and school community are fighting to keep public schools open, to fully fund schools and teachers so that everyone has access to a good education. We agree that cuts need to be made, which is why we chant “Chop From The Top”!
For an Immediate Moratorium on School Closures
In the middle of contract negotiations, the OUSD announced it will close 24 schools slated for closure or merger, all of them located in the “flatlands” regions of East and West Oakland, were the vast majority of Black and Brown working class people in the city live. OUSD is claiming the schools are not performing well or that there is a lower demand in those areas, based on fabricated numbers. These claims are a smokescreen to the district’s true goal: replacing these public schools with charters, which will further hurt public education in Oakland. More charters means less public funding for the remaining public schools, it means more schools that cherry-pick their students, excluding special ed and high need students, forwarding the segregation of public education. Stopping school closures is a matter of racial justice, a matter of teachers and community democratically controlling public funds, and is at the center of the fight for public education for all.
How can we win this battle? We need to follow the example of UTLA teachers, who won issues in their contract that the district initially refused to negotiate on: a moratorium on charters, protections for immigrant students, community schools, etc. OUSD says that bargaining on school closures is “off the table”. It is only non-negotiable until we have the teacher and community strength to put it on the table. If UTLA did it, OEA can too. We need to expand the horizon of what a union can and should fight for, that’s what our communities need. No contract should be signed that does not include a moratorium on school closures or something like it.
We Need to Build For Statewide Action for Public Education
After West Virginia, Arizona and the red state teachers’ strike wave, UTLA teachers and the growing network California Educators Rising are showing the way to win real quality public education. This movement is about unions bargaining and striking for the common good, taking the demands of the community, like smaller class sizes and protections for immigrant students and their families. It is about organizing public education strikes that build and strengthen the relations between unions, students, and parents. It is also about building a statewide movement to demand increased funding for all K-12 schools.
Truly ambitious contract demands aim to not just reorder district funding, but state funding as well. In CA, roughly 90% of the funding for K-12 comes from the state, not from the district tax collection. Even if the district manages the money, and often in a poor and corrupt way, the truth is that we need more money for quality public education at the statewide level. We know the money is there: it is in the pockets of corporations and billionaires that pay very low taxes.
We’ll only be able to win this through collective direct action that implements progressive taxation, and we need teachers and community members to be in control of that money.  In 2020 an important initiative will be in the ballot, the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act (CSLCFA). It would modify California’s commercial property tax loophole in Prop 13 and “restore $11 billion for schools, community colleges and other vital community services.” This partial measure will not solve all the problems of our communities, but it is a necessary band-aid that will stop the bleeding of public funds to corporate greed. However, a truly grassroots and independent campaign of this scale will raise the consciousness of our society towards the need of putting people over profits. To organize this, we must plan statewide actions, including strikes, to make our needs and demands heard, and defeat the corporations that will campaign against it. This battle won’t happen in Sacramento, though it might visit there at some point. The true work needs to happen in our workplaces, communities, and in the streets.

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