OAKLAND — Any hope that the Oakland school district will resolve its teacher contract dispute before the end of the school year — or the fall semester — has just grown dimmer.
Talks between the Oakland teachers union and administration, which began anew this month after a contract imposition and one-day strike, have broken down again. Union leaders say they concluded an agreement wouldn't be reached by June 1, a self-imposed deadline, and that they wouldn't continue to bargain this week.
It's possible the two sides won't meet again until the fall.
"We really came down from a number of our demands," said Betty Olson-Jones, the teachers union president, adding that the administration made concessions as well. But, she said, "In the end, it was just not enough to settle this year."
The union demanded a shortened work year and an 8 percent pay increase during the next three years. The administration offered a 2 percent raise in 2012 and to cap kindergarten through third grade class sizes at 25 — as long as the state didn't reduce its per-student funding by 1 percent or more.
Troy Flint, a school district spokesman, said even a 2 percent pay raise would require "very disruptive changes," such as school closures and layoffs. The district faces an $85 million deficit and is cutting 460 full-time positions to balance the budget.
"Not everyone thought that a 2 percent raise was fiscally prudent, but we
Oakland teachers are among the lowest paid in the county, and the district spends a smaller portion of its budget on teacher compensation than is required by state law. Superintendent Tony Smith said that is partly due to the number of schools in the city — more than 100 for about 36,000 students, not including independently run charter schools — and that he will propose closing at least 20.
Jack Gerson, a member of the union bargaining team who stressed that he was speaking only for himself, not the union, said it became clear Monday that the two sides were too far apart to reach an accord by the end of the week. The bargaining process has taken teachers out of the classroom four days in the last two weeks, just before final examinations, he said.
"It was clear to, I think, all of us that we were substantially far apart and there wasn't a point to continue to deprive several hundred students of their teachers," Gerson said.
If the two sides don't resolve the dispute before too long, however, tens of thousands of Oakland students might be deprived of their teachers for days or even weeks.
Earlier this month, the membership authorized its leadership to call a strike of up to 10 days if they think it's necessary. An indefinite strike would first need to be approved by the union representatives for each of Oakland's more than 100 schools.