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Chapter 2 - The Birth of the Strike

The Oakland Education Association was now threatening an open-ended strike. Final negotiations were attempted. The district was now making some effort to increase wages and reduce class sizes but the difference between the teacher's demands and the district's offers were too great. As the Oakland Tribune pointed out, "Taken together, the two sides' class size and salary proposals are as much as $20 million apart."[5] Plagued by the district's refusal to cooperate, the union saw no other alternative but to strike. "I can't explain with words how discouraging it is to negotiate with the school board's representatives," explained union representative Ward Rountree, "Our only alternative is to wage an open-ended strike against the district. "[6]

On February I5, 1996, the Oakland teachers went on strike indefinitely. The Oakland Education Association presented to the public their strike motto: Classrooms First!

This motto expressed the idea that students were the number one priority and all the improvements demanded would in some way benefit the classrooms. "Proposals under Classrooms First include reduction of classroom sizes providing for lower student-teacher ratios," explains Malini Cadambi, a striking substitute teacher, it also includes, "raises for all teachers at every experience level and for support staff [and] a stronger retirement plan."[7] To fund Classrooms First the OEA demanded the district "Chop from the top," or, in other words, "the union wants bloated, do nothing administrators and bureaucrats fired."[8] The union decided that since a substantial amount of money was needed to meet the demands of the teachers then it should be taken from the budget used to pay high-salaried and "unnecessary" administrators.

While many criticized the concept of eliminating higher paying jobs to fund depleted school needs, this approach was certainly more acceptable than what the district was proposing. Instead of "chopping from the top" the district wanted to chop from the bottom. As reported in the Wildcat!, the district wanted, "pay cuts and job elimination for lower level administrative personnel, such as secretaries, and technical staff, which includes janitors and maintenance people."[9] Elimination of higher paying jobs, or at least cutting higher wages, is more understandable when the higher-paying district wages are examined. According to documents provide by the OEA, district administrative wages are immense. Of the 22 district directors, all of them make between $90,700 and $99,100 annually. Of the eight assistant superintendents, all of them make between $113, 800 and $119,000 annually. The numbers go up from there and the Superintendent, Carolyn Getridge (or Carolyn "GetRich" as the union called her), makes $155,000 each year alone.[10] According to State Department of Education documents presented in the Oakland Tribune, the top administrators in the Oakland school district collectively gross $14,100,000 annually.[11] As salaries as hefty as these became exposed, the chop from the top idea began to seem more reasonable. The strike was now in progress and union demands were being supported by teachers and community alike.

Footnotes 5-11

5. Bazeley, Michael, "Money matters most in dispute," The Oakland Tribune, February 16, 1996.

6. Rountree, Ward, as quoted by Michael Bazeley, "Oakland schools to stay open district vows," Oakland Tribune, February 15, 1996.

7. Cadambi, Malini, "Oakland Teachers Strike To Win," Z Magazine, April, 1996, p.19

8. Ibid., p. 20.

9. As reported by Malini Cadambi, "Oakland Teachers Strike To Win," Wildcat!, Bay Area paper of the Industrial Workers of The Worid, March, 1996.

10. Made available through the official literature of the Oakland Education Association. Presented by Alternative Learning Centers Strike Schools. This document was released March 2, 1996.

11. As reported by Angela Hill, "Frustration spreading as school strike lingers, Oakland Tribune, March 8, 1996. These figures were taken from the State Department of Education.