Teachers, Parents and Students March for Better Schools

Apr 3, 2015

Posted in CommunityEducation/Schools/YouthLaborResponsive Government

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Several hundred students, parents and teachers held a rally and marched through the streets of East Oakland this week to demonstrate their solidarity with the teachers’ union in its contract negotiations with the school district and to demand better public schools for students in the city.

The rally at San Antonio Park and march to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) headquarters at 1000 Broadway was held on Tuesday, when the district was closed for Cesar Chavez Day.

“This is just the beginning,” said science teacher Natalia Cooper, speaking at the rally.

“The OEA (Oakland Education Association) should be in the forefront of the changes in Oakland schools,” said Cooper, a member of Classroom Struggle, a group of educators from different schools in the teachers’ union.

It’s time to be “honest about the disparities between hills schools and flatlands schools,” she continued.

Kim Davis of Oakland Parents United called for higher teacher pay.

“OUSD needs to make teacher retention their first priority by compensating teachers fairly and giving them the support and respect they deserve,” she said.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

“I want the district and the school board members to know that parents are paying attention. We are getting educated, and we support our teachers.”

Event organizers released a statement that focused on a number of their key issues: poor working conditions for teachers and school staff, which lead to high teacher turnover every year: opposition to the growth of charters schools – the need to keep schools public; the lack of hard caps for special education caseloads, which allows for “ballooning” classes in special education classrooms and “unmanageable caseloads” for counselors.

Other major issues: a “top-heavy budget that prioritizes high-level administrators far above the needs of Oakland’s classrooms; and spends more money for school police rather than for counselors and restorative justice programs.”

“Public schools are supposed to be run by the people – through their elected school board. You have to stay on the school board so they do what you want them to do,” said local attorney Federico Chavez, who is Cesar Chavez’s nephew.

“We’re here because we love our children,” said attorney Dan Siegel, who is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education.

“We have to demand that our teachers are paid what they’re worth. A teacher starts at barely $35,000 a year,” said Siegel, who urged people to vote next year to replace board members that do not represent them.

In response to the march, the school district released a statement Tuesday on teacher negotiations.

“We fully appreciate the inspiration for (this) march, especially the outpouring of support for our teachers from parents and students,” the statement said.

“We are 100 percent committed to our on-going negotiations at the bargaining table with the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the union representing all teachers in OUSD-run schools,” according to the statement. “The negotiations began long before Supt. Wilson joined the district on July 1, 2014, though it was not until his arrival that a solid pay increase and proposal package were offered.”

For the complete OUSD statement, go to http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/Page/12735