OUSD school board sitting behind the dais during a meeting
The OUSD school board at a meeting on Jan. 11, 2023. Credit: Carla Hernández Ramírez

More than a month after a teachers strike halted Oakland Unified classes for seven days in May, the district’s board approved a deal with the teacher’s union that will significantly increase teacher salaries and, district leaders hope, convince more teachers to stay. 

In a unanimous vote, the board approved the new contract, which is retroactive to Nov. 1, 2022. All Oakland Education Association members will see a 10% raise and receive a one-time bonus of $5,000. First-year teachers will also see their starting pay increase by about $10,000, to $62,696. The salary ceiling for the most experienced educators will rise by about the same amount, to $109,878. 

The new salary scale reduces the number of years it takes to reach the top, and removes “dead zones” when teachers didn’t receive raises for several years. Previously, OUSD teachers ranked among the lowest paid educators in Alameda County. With the new contract, Oakland teachers will earn closer to the median. The deal will also provide more prep time and additional stipends for bilingual certifications. 

“If we can retain our teachers and give them a chance to grow, be master teachers, and retain them after year 10, there’s going to be a lot of great compounding return on that,” said District 3 Director VanCedric Williams, who also teaches in San Francisco Unified School District. 

OEA members approved the contract last month, with about 72% of voting members in support, according to the union. OEA has more than 2,500 members, including teachers, substitutes, nurses, counselors, social workers, and librarians. 

School district leaders have recognized the need to raise teacher salaries in an effort to have less teacher turnover. Last year, 80% of OUSD teachers districtwide returned to teach in the fall. At specific campuses, the retention rate is lower: Only about 50% of teachers remain at the same school site over three years in Oakland Unified.

The district is also currently negotiating new contracts with its other unions, which include buildings and trades workers and school support staff. Prior to the school board’s vote, the OEA contract was approved by the Alameda County Office of Education to ensure the district could afford it, but county superintendent Alysse Castro warned district leaders that they’ll have to trim other parts of the district’s budget in future years to afford to pay educators better. 

“ACOE appreciates the hard work ahead as the district board and staff demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the district can afford the impact of this settlement while providing a robust and sustainable education program for its students,” Castro wrote in a letter to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and the school board. “Without further board action and successful implementation of budget-balancing solutions, OUSD is projected to be insolvent within three years.”

The county estimated that the agreement will cost about $110 million over the next three years, and the board has already made about $42 million in budget adjustments this spring. The school board must approve an additional plan for budget adjustments by October 31, 2023. 

“We have to be responsible and very focused on making sure that we can maintain not only this agreement, but we also have other employee groups that we are responsible for,” said Lisa Grant-Dawson, the chief business officer for OUSD. “We want to move away from just reductions—we really need to reorganize and recalibrate the district so that we have ongoing affordability.”

The board also approved the 2023-2024 school year budget on Wednesday, but it does not include the agreement with OEA. In future budgets, the school board must also account for expiring COVID-relief funds and declining enrollment, which will pose a challenge for district revenues. 

The board previously approved four other contracts with the teachers union regarding its “common good demands,” which are topics beyond pay or hours that OEA pushed the district to come to agreement on. They cover student housing and transportation, reparations for Black students, community schools, and school closures. 

Wednesday was the final school board meeting until the fall. The first day of school is Aug. 7, 2023, and the first school board meeting is expected to be Aug. 9, 2023. 

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.