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Teachers Set To Strike In Oakland, Calif., Over Pay, Class Size And Support Staff

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A wave of teacher strikes began last year in West Virginia. In recent weeks, teachers in both Los Angeles and Denver have picketed after union negotiations broke down. Now, another major strike is on the horizon, this time in Oakland, Calif. Some 3,000 teachers are expected to walk off the job on Thursday. At issue - pay, class size and support staff. KQED's Julia McEvoy has details.

JULIA MCEVOY, BYLINE: Oakland teachers get paid significantly less than teachers in neighboring school districts, and this in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the high cost of housing plagues the region. Experienced teachers in nearby Palo Alto make nearly twice as much as experienced teachers in Oakland.

And this problem shows up in Oakland classrooms, where teacher turnover is high. And that increases instability for kids. John Sasaki is spokesman for the district.

JOHN SASAKI: Everybody in the district believes the teachers deserve to have more money. So in the short term, you know, it's just a matter of how much money can we find to give the teachers? And I will say that the board and our staff have worked very hard to find resources within the district.

MCEVOY: The problem is Oakland is already in the middle of a financial shortfall. It needs to cut about $20 million from next year's budget to try and fix years of financial mismanagement. Teachers want a 12 percent increase over three years. The district's last offer was 5 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Budget cuts have got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hey, hey. Ho, ho.

MCEVOY: Teachers have held a series of unauthorized walkouts, picketing in front of schools over the last two months as a way of building public support. Teacher Kiara Smith says she's been using the moment as a teaching point for her students.

KIARA SMITH: Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, even if other people aren't on your side or they don't want to hear what you have to say.

MCEVOY: The district says schools will remain open for the 36,000 students it serves. Sasaki says the district has been hiring emergency temporary teachers, and district staff will be on hand to supervise.

SASAKI: Many of our kids - frankly, you know, they depend on our schools. Their families depend on our schools to be there. They depend on the food that we provide in our schools and provide our students. So we just want to make sure that we're open and ready to go for everybody.

MCEVOY: But many parents are rallying behind the teachers, creating alternative schools and plan to keep their kids home.

Across California, other teachers in districts where negotiations have stalled are also taking heart from the recent victory in Los Angeles. After the strike ended there, LA school board member Nick Melvoin said, how about skipping the strikes and heading straight to the state's capital, where the real funding problem lies?

NICK MELVOIN: Let's march collectively on Sacramento, where 90 percent of school funding comes from, where we're 43rd out of 50 in per-pupil funding.

MCEVOY: If parents keep their students home, the district could lose millions in funding, though it will also be saving on teacher salaries not paid. For NPR News, I'm Julia McEvoy in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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