- Associated Press - Thursday, February 21, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike Thursday in the country’s latest walkout by educators over classroom conditions and pay.

The city’s 3,000 teachers are demanding a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are the among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the exorbitantly expensive San Francisco Bay Area. They also want the district to hire more counselors to support students and more full-time nurses.

Teachers picketed schools as the strike began, and their union leader said the educators were forced to do so because he said administrators did not listen to teacher demands for two years.

 “For two years we have been negotiating with the Oakland Unified School District to make our students a priority over outside consultants and central office administrators,” said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown. “It’s time for them to listen to the voices of the community.”

The walkout affects 36,000 students at 86 schools.

The Oakland Unified School District said schools will remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, parents should not expect school as usual, it said.

“We’re hopeful that we can find a resolution as soon as possible,” said district spokesman John Sasaki.

Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and have said their salaries have not kept up with the cost of living in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area.

A teacher’s starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year and the average salary is $63,000, according to the union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley and the average salary is $75,000, the union said.

Initially, the district offered a 5 percent raise covering 2017 to 2020, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.

In negotiations Wednesday aimed at averting a strike, the district increased its proposal to a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. The offer went higher than the recommendation of an independent fact-finding report that suggested the two sides agree to a compromise 6 percent retroactive raise.

But union officials rejected the offer Wednesday.

Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which has said the district cannot retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers.

The union has also called for the district to scrap a plan to close as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union fears the move would likely lead to further losses of students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from Oakland public schools.

Principals are not in the same union as the teachers and plan to be in schools Thursday but have come out in support of teachers’ demands.

About 30 of Oakland’s more than 80 school principals went to the state Capitol on Wednesday to call for better school funding ahead of the strike.

“Pretty much every principal is in support of the teachers having higher pay,” said Cliff Hong, an Oakland middle school principal.

Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. Unions for West Virginia teachers, who went on a nine-day walkout last year, ended their two-day strike Wednesday night. Last week, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a tentative deal raising their wages.

Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, staged a six-day strike last month that ended when they settled on a 6 percent raise with promises of smaller class sizes and the addition of nurses and counselors.

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Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.

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