OAKLAND — Public-school teachers will hold a one-day strike March 24 if the union is "strike-legal" by that date and the union has not received an acceptable contract offer from the school district, Betty Olson-Jones, the Oakland Education Association president, said Tuesday.
The 2,800-member teachers union, which includes counselors, librarians and nurses, has been without a contract since July 2008. Since negotiations began two years ago, the gulf between the union's and the district administration's positions on compensation has narrowed only slightly.
The union's demands include a 15 percent raise by the end of the 2011-12 school year and contract language to protect small class sizes. The district administration has offered to keep pay rates flat, a proposal the union membership rejected in January.
"We really want a settlement," Olson-Jones said. The strike date, she added, "is really meant to put pressure on the district."
The Oakland school district has a history of tension with its teachers union, which held a strike in 1996 and canceled another one in 2006. This time, however, statewide budget cuts have brought another challenge to the bargaining table.
The school district's $250 million general purpose fund is expected to shrink by about $39 million — roughly 15 percent — in 2010-11, according to Vernon Hal, its chief financial officer. Unlike other districts, Oakland must spend about $6 million each year to repay a $100 million emergency loan from the state.
Still, Olson-Jones says her members are tired of waiting for their salaries to equal those offered in neighboring districts.
"We're always told, 'This is a crisis. You have to wait, you have to wait,' " she said.
The average Oakland teacher earns a base salary of about $53,800, in addition to about $10,000 in health benefits, according to district figures. The average base salary statewide is $65,000, but in some cases school districts include health benefits when they report salaries.
The union opposed a 2008 parcel tax that would have raised money for teachers' salaries. A similar tax measure might be placed on the November ballot, but the union says it will not support it either if any of the funds go to the city's 30 or so state-funded, privately run charter schools.
Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland school district, said district leaders still were working to avoid a strike. "We know that the OEA is serious about its bargaining position," he said. "We don't need a symbolic but extremely disruptive measure, like a one-day strike, to emphasize that point."
Last week, the two sides presented evidence to a three-member fact-finding panel, which is expected to issue a nonbinding report this month. Once the report is released, the union legally will be allowed to strike.
Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.ibabuzz.com/education.