SAN FRANCISCO | Oakland teachers get ready to strike over pay, class sizes

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Teachers in Oakland, California, prepared Wednesday to walk off the job in what could be the nation’s latest strike over classroom conditions and pay.

Oakland’s 3,000 teachers planned to pack up personal items from classrooms and say goodbye to students then begin the strike Thursday, “barring an unlikely change from the district,” union officials with the Oakland Education Association said.

The walkout would affect 36,000 students at 86 schools.

In a message to parents, the Oakland Unified School District said schools would remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, picket lines were expected and parents should not expect school as usual, it said.

Negotiators were meeting Wednesday and hoped to avoid a walkout, district spokesman John Sasaki said.

“Nobody wants a strike. We hope we can prevent it,” Sasaki said.

Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and say their salaries are not keeping up with the exorbitant cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

They want smaller class sizes, more counselors and full-time nurses, and a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they said have been some of the lowest salaries among public school teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over the same period, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.

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.

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.

Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. In West Virginia, educators are holding the second statewide walkout in less than a year. Last week, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a tentative deal raising their wages.

Teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district in Los Angeles 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.

In Oakland, nearly 600 teachers left their positions at the district last year, according to the union, which says the district can’t retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.

An independent fact-finding report has recommended the two sides agree to a compromise 6 percent retroactive raise.

By JOCELYN GECKER ,  Associated Press