Certainly, there are valid issues around wages and benefits to negotiate. The district is one of the most challenging in the state for teachers who are paid at the bottom of Alameda County school districts. Sadly, that’s not a factor of revenue—it’s mis-management by the senior leadership and the trustees that has left employees with too little of the pie.
Published reports have indicated that the two sides are close on wages, with the district’s initial offer of 22% nearly meeting the union’s demand of 23%. The union also wants class sizes of 20 students in kindergarten through third grades, a number that has been embraced by districts across the state, along with 30 in academic classes in upper grades. Again, reasonable numbers although good teachers can handle more than 30 in upper grades.
There’s one foundational problem and one key issue that is apparently dividing the school board. The foundational issue is operating way too many small schools and being slow to consolidate them. A move last year to do so met determined opposition. Schools with 200-300 students still demand an administrative staff—combining them saves over $1 million in overhead that can go to teachers’ salaries. The district has been trying to address this, but the last trustee election resulted in some anti-closing candidates winning election.
Oakland has about the same number of students—although it enrollment has steadily declined—as nearby Fremont Unified yet operates about twice as many school sites. The problem in a nutshell.
Even more troublesome and with potential impacts well beyond Oakland is the union’s strategy to include demands outside of the state-mandated bargaining areas.
These include: using district property for homeless families, increasing mental health staffing, reparations for Black students, water filtration units, subsidized transportation for all students and a formal role in deciding how to spend state grant money.
Union leaders across the state would love to include these subjects in bargaining, but they don’t belong there. The state mandates bargaining on the calendar—I don’t object to the number of teaching days, but the employers should set the schedule.
These items are outside the scope of bargaining and management and trustees need to hold firm and simply not go there. If leadership decides that utilizing school sites for homeless housing—there should be some available once schools are closed—then that’s a policy issue, not one for the bargaining table.
The same goes for the rest of the items. The Oakland list is reminiscent of the absurd similar demands made by the Los Angeles teachers’ union as the district leadership tried to get them to return to the classroom after the lockdown.