At the Oakland school board’s first meeting since the teachers strike, school district leaders discussed the ramifications of the seven-day work stoppage, its impact on attendance, and the cost of the agreement, which includes substantial raises for teachers.
Only about 4% of Oakland Unified School District’s 34,000 students attended school during the strike between May 4 to May 12, according to data shared by OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell on Wednesday. About 10% attended school on Monday, May 15, when the end of the strike was announced.
Those absence rates dropped OUSD’s average daily attendance for the year from 89% to 85%, which will, in turn, reduce the amount of money the district receives from the state. Prior to the pandemic, OUSD’s average daily attendance rate was around 94%. Since then, Oakland schools have struggled to reach that number.
Johnson-Trammell, who has overseen three strikes in her nearly six years as superintendent, said there are things the district can do to be better prepared for the next round of contract negotiations, expected to happen in 2025 after the new contract expires.
“Decisions need to be made right now to ensure that there’s money available the next time we go into negotiations,” she said. “When I first got into this job … there was no money on the table for teachers, which is the district not doing its job of prioritizing through finances. The number one thing is making sure when your folks are ready to negotiate, you have the dollars available to do so and to stay solvent.”
District leaders have put the total cost of the salary increases and other offerings in its new labor contract with the Oakland Education Association at $70 million. Earlier this year, the school board approved a package of budget adjustments to make room for the salary increases for teachers, but more cuts could be on the horizon, said DeCarlos Kaigler, OUSD’s chief financial officer.
“The question has been, can we afford it?” Kaigler said during a budget presentation Wednesday. “The answer is yes, and no: We can afford it for probably the immediate two years, but then it’s going to catch up to us in the out years if we don’t make adjustments.”
Besides OEA, the school district has contracts with five other labor unions. Johnson-Trammell encouraged school board members to start thinking now about how to afford raises for those district staff in the next few years.
“There is no way that the district will be solvent without reductions, period,” she said. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to afford the compensation that we just reached, [in addition to] agreements with all the other bargaining units, which we must do, without adjustments. You cannot wait until 2024-2025 to start those conversations.”
The school board still must approve the tentative agreement with OEA. The union reported this week that 72% of its members participated in a vote to ratify the contract, with 90% of those approving it. The previous agreement, ratified following the 2019 strike, had the support of 58% of OEA members who voted, according to previous reports.
School board president Mike Hutchinson told The Oaklandside last week that he anticipates the board will approve the contract. But it first must be approved by the county office of education.
A special election for District 5
This week, the Alameda County Office of Education announced that Superintendent Alysse Castro has called for a special election to fill the OUSD school board’s vacant District 5 seat. The Oakland school board was given 60 days to appoint someone to the seat, but could not come to an agreement prior to their deadline.
The district, which includes Fruitvale, was previously represented by Hutchinson, who resigned from that seat in March to take the District 4 seat, which he won in the November election. But the Alameda County registrar erroneously declared another candidate, Nick Resnick, as the winner of that race, resulting in a lengthy legal process. An Alameda County judge declared Hutchinson the rightful winner in March.
The District 5 special election will be held on Nov. 7, 2023. Only one person so far, Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, a Fruitvale resident and schools activist, has publicly indicated she will run.