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Oakland teachers authorize strike if no new deal by Feb. 15

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Teachers in Oakland, Calif., have received authorization to strike if they don't receive a new agreement for better pay and smaller classes within 10 days.

A strike would begin after Feb. 15, the same day a neutral fact finder will release a report that could bring about a compromise. The school district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years, but the teachers union wants 12 percent. Oakland teachers start at $46,500 and their average salary is $63,100.

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The vote to authorize a strike passed Monday night with 95 percent support, said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association. The union represents 3,000 teachers.

"This is a clear message that our members are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve," Brown said. "This powerful vote is a mandate for smaller class size, more student support, a living wage, and it is a mandate to keep our neighborhood schools open."

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The vote doesn't mean the teachers will strike, only that they could take such action if they feel it's necessary.

Oakland Unified School District Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a letter to parents last week officials hope to avoid a work stoppage.

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"As both a former teacher and former principal, I understand the frustration of being asked to do so much with so little," she said. "As a parent of OUSD students, I want all teachers to know how much they are valued and appreciated. As superintendent, I want our teachers to be fairly compensated."

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Oakland teachers have been working without a contract for a year and a half, prompting several unsanctioned walkouts by teachers.

Long-term, the school district could shut down some campuses and merge them together as enrollment dwindles. That could help the district cover upcoming budget shortfalls for a district with 87 schools and 37,000 students.

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Oakland teachers went on strike in 1996 for 26 days. Students at Oakland Technical High School are planning a "sick out" Friday in support of their teachers.

Oakland's position mirrors those taken by teachers in several states in recent months. Last month, teachers in Los Angeles walked out for several days before they received a new labor deal.

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RELATED LA schools reach deal with union; teachers will return to work Wednesday

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