CA Superintendent Tony Thurmond says progress being made in Oakland teachers' strike

ByAmanda del Castillo and Anser Hassan KGO logo
Thursday, May 11, 2023
CA Superintendent says progress being made in Oakland teachers' strike
Wednesday marks day five and counting in the Oakland teachers' strike. But negotiators say progress is being made.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Wednesday marks day five and counting in the Oakland teachers' strike. But negotiators say progress is being made.

"There has been some progress. I don't want to minimize it. But for a full package, we still have a ways to go," says Vilma Serrano, one of the chief negotiators for the Oakland Education Association, the union representing teachers.

She says both sides have agreed on more pay for substitute teachers, more prep time for new teachers, codified TK class size and adding more school counselors. But issues remain, including around the pay schedule for teachers with seniority.

"Under our proposal, we would collapse, so basically you would approach max pay at year 20. Under the district proposal, their collapse actually regresses on that salary schedule. So if you're year 16 on that year 13 to 19, you would actually collapse at year 13," Serrano said.

The Oakland Unified School District declined to be interviewed but in an email addressed "Common Good Proposals," where the two sides are deadlocked.

RELATED: How similar is the Oakland teachers strike to others in Chicago and Los Angeles?

Labor experts say the ongoing Oakland teacher strike is similar to what's been seen over the last ten years across the country.

It states, "The District is negotiating all mandatory issues of the (Collective Bargaining Agreement). To the extent that something within OEA's Common Good proposal is a mandatory subject, that is included."

"A lot of times, revenues coming from the state is one time. And so, to offset those declining enrollment scenarios, means less revenue for districts," says Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Thurmond has been mediating negotiations since the weekend. He described the meetings as "productive" and focused on tough issues like common good proposals. These proposals touch on issues outside of classroom learning such as school safety or environmental justice.

"I think everyone would agree, those issues are important. A lot of the statement money is one time money. And so districts are always trying to balance their ability to fund the programs they commit to," says Thurmond.

Thurmond says since 2019, more and more unions across California are adding common good proposals to the contract negotiations. Oakland is no different.

RELATED: How Oakland teacher pay stacks up to CA, Bay Area salaries

Serrano argues the union understands there can be limits to funding, and that those details can all be negotiated at the bargaining table.

"If funding changes, we can bargain over it. And we make changes accordingly through negotiations. And we are saying, we can do that same. If things change, we can re-open, we can discuss and we can negotiate. So there is no reason why this can't be a more flexible process," says Serrano.

With a majority of Oakland Unified educators back on the picket lines Wednesday morning, some parents are now choosing to send their kids to school.

VIDEO: Heated confrontation between parent, picketer on Day 5 of Oakland teachers' strike

With a majority of Oakland Unified educators back on the picket lines Wednesday morning, some parents are now choosing to send their kids to school.

The Oakland Unified School District said early on that it is leaning on Central Office staff to help serve at its schools as demonstrations continue.

Outside of Chabot Elementary School, tensions could be seen rising. Parents crossing the picket line say they've had enough, and those on the picket line say not enough is being done.

ABC7 News witnessed heated confrontation between a parent and picketer during morning drop-off.

Several parents also shared their frustration over the ongoing strike, saying they've chosen to send their kids back to school.

"On Monday, there were so many kids, they had to split into three classrooms," parent Maryann Kongovi said. "Every single day, it's more and more families."

Kongovi says her child returned Friday, pointing to what she described as the teachers union's inability to bargain in good faith.

She and others say they're sending their kids to school in support of the school district, critical about the union's ongoing demonstrations outside 80 school sites.

"This is intimidation, plain and simple," she said. "A lot of families are reaching out to me privately saying they're afraid, they're uncomfortable."

"We teach kids all day, so I don't think we're really all that intimidating," Kasondra Walsh told ABC7 News. "But we're also not gonna stand around and not voice what we're fighting for."

Walsh is an Emerson Elementary Kindergarten teacher and member of the Oakland Education Association's (OEA) bargaining team. She's also one of more than 3,000 OUSD educators to hit the picket line since last Thursday.

RELATED: Oakland teachers strike for 3rd day, 'common good' proposals at issue in negotiations

The big hold-up remains the school district and teachers union's inability to reach common ground on 'common good' goals. These are proposals surrounding social issues that affect students outside of the classroom, but are also considered in the classroom. All are topics outside of teacher pay.

"Oakland teachers should be paid as much, if not more than any other teacher in the country, because they do some of the hardest work out there," parent Kongovi said. "However, common good goals are simply undemocratic."

Ongoing contract negotiations are seemingly the source of contention between parents and those on the picket line, at least at Chabot Elementary.

RELATED: Oakland parents at odds over whether 'common good' goals should be in teacher contracts

A picketer was overheard asking a parent, "Have you been to a school in East Oakland?"

Walsh said depending on where you are, the parent support is really different.

"The families and the kids at our schools that really do need us, they're not crossing. My school where I work at, no one's crossing," Walsh said.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live