As Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) teachers prepare for a possible strike, many teachers, students, and community members are showing support for their demand to increase public education funding.
On Saturday, Jan. 12, several thousand East Bay teachers and their supporters gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater and marched to Oakland City Hall for a “Rally to Fund Public Education Now,” organized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA).
Many in the enthusiastic crowd wore #RedforEd T-shirts and carried signs reading, “Fight for the Schools Students Deserve” and “Ready to Strike.”
At Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall, musicians showed support by playing brass instruments and drums, while union leaders and educators led chants such as “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Where did all the teachers go?” – addressing OEA’s concern that because OUSD teachers are paid so much less than neighboring districts, between 20- 25 percent of Oakland teachers leave every year.
“We’re fighting for essential resources for our students, smaller class size, investment in student supports, and we’re fighting for a living wage to keep good teachers in Oakland,” said OEA president Keith Brown, a Bret Harte Middle School teacher.
Brown said OUSD would be able to raise teacher salaries if the district cuts its spending on central office administrators and outside consultants and stops handing over students, state funding and school sites to charter schools. He also called on the state to increase funding for the long term health of public education.
“We want to have a competitive salary so people stop leaving the district,” said physical education teacher Toussaint Stewart, who added that positive long-term relationships with teachers are crucial for young people.
“It’s traumatizing for our kids when so many of their teachers leave,” he said.
The City Hall rally was organized by The East Bay Coalition for Public Education, which called for increased funding for all East Bay schools with a special focus on Oakland, and was supported by over a dozen local teachers unions.
Speakers also spoke out against OUSD’s proposal to cut 24 schools. Teachers and parents from Roots International Academy in East Oakland have been pushing for a dialogue with Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammel and the school board since December, when Trammel announced that Roots was closing.
The Roots’ speakers said their school needs increased funding, not closure. They want the district to strengthen their neighborhood school, not scatter students and families to other schools throughout East Oakland.
One of the speakers was David Goldberg, Secretary Treasurer of the California Teachers Association, who flew up from Los Angeles to show solidarity.
He said the teachers’ fight for better salaries and the students’ fight for a better education are inseparable.
“Our struggle for dignity for our teachers has to be connected to our struggle for social justice for our students,” said Goldberg.
In her remarks, East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner said the state has contributed to the financial difficulties OUSD is currently facing, including the state takeover in 2003.
“The state owes OUSD,” said Skinner. “I stand in solidarity with you.”