Oakland Parents Want a Seat at the Table in Negotiations with Teachers Union

CA Parent Power and The Oakland REACH want families to have meaningful input on all district labor agreement proposals

Oakland REACH founder Lakisha Young (Oakland REACH)

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A newly formed coalition of Oakland parents, who say they are fed up with the state of their kids’ public school education, plan to present a resolution Thursday night that could give them a seat at the table during the Oakland Unified School District’s negotiations with the teachers union.

This coalition is made up of two parent groups: CA Parent Power, composed of typically more white and affluent families in Hills schools, and The Oakland REACH, which advocates for Black and Latino families from the city’s flatlands.

“When you think about the piss-poor education outcomes of our kids, the parents that we believe need to be most at the table are the parents who want to be at the table in a meaningful way,” said Lakisha Young, one of the parents calling for the resolution and the founder of The Oakland REACH.

The resolution asks the school board to allow families a chance for meaningful input on all labor agreement proposals, including collective bargaining agreements and memoranda of understanding.

Those negotiations are just getting underway this week as the current contract ends Oct. 31.

Gary Yee, president of the Oakland Unified School District board, said in an interview he is inclined to put the resolution on the agenda for full board discussion. 

Yee said the board should consider the parents’ request after 2½ years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that had them helping teach kids from home and working to keep them safe at school.

“The pandemic awakened a generation of parents to the awful reality that student outcomes in California, and especially in districts like Oakland, have been poor for decades,” said Megan Bacigalupi, a founder of the CA Parent Power group, in an emailed statement.

Both the district and the teachers union would have to agree to parents’ participation in the bargaining process, according to Felix de la Torre, general counsel with the California Public Employment Relations Board. Neither the school district nor the Oakland Education Association has commented on the parents’ proposal yet.

There is a phase of the negotiating process called sunshining that does allow for public participation. During this period of time, the union and the district each decide what issues they want to bargain over and disclose those to each other. 

Under state labor laws, the public can have a say in sunshining when both sides present their negotiating topics to the public during school board meetings, a time when the public has a chance to comment. 

In a statement, the California School Boards Association called parent participation “a negotiable item and possible if both parties accept that condition. At the same time, no individual party can unilaterally include parents, nor can parents insist on attending negotiations independent of an agreement between the district and union to do so.”

The new parent coalition is pushing for official support from the district to bring informed parents into the sunshining phase of negotiations, claiming there is a lack of transparency leaving parents in the dark and unable to take advantage of the moments when they can, in fact, legally have a say. 

These parents serve different constituents — but are coming together for this common goal.

“Given our partnership in coalition with the families in the Hills, they need the bridge created as well,” Young said.

Young started The Oakland REACH in 2016, to empower Black and Latino parents to advocate for their children. During the pandemic, fearful that flatlands kids were being left behind in distance learning, Young’s group began offering tutoring and classes that showed results.

CA Parent Power, led by Megan Bacigalupi, began in 2020 in response to what some families perceived as a slow response to reopening of schools during the pandemic, and was largely critical of teachers at the time.

Both groups share a distrust in the ability of the teachers union and the Oakland school district to represent their children’s interests during contract negotiations. They point to a long-term failure of Oakland Unified to improve student reading outcomes — currently 46.9% of Oakland students are reading below standard, and in math, 70.9% are below grade-level standards.

Keta Brown, another Oakland REACH parent, has looked at the language around the collective bargaining agreement, and she doesn’t see “kids” mentioned.

“You got to make certain that the consumer, which is these babies, are a part of your process and that you are keeping them at the forefront,” said Brown, who lives in an area of East Oakland where her neighborhood schools have dismal math and reading scores. (She said she’s lucky she got her daughter into Edna Brewer Middle School, one of the district’s stronger middle schools. She commutes 25 minutes each way to get her child to and from school.) 

The Oakland Educators Association has long made the case that when it negotiates on behalf of teachers to increase pay and improve working conditions, it is in fact advocating for students. Research shows a quality teacher in a classroom is the strongest predictor of student success. The Oakland Unified district’s strategic plan is currently focused on improving student literacy and teacher quality and diversity. 

But for some families that have experienced failure over generations and don’t want to wait any longer for meaningful change, they want to be able to better understand and hopefully shape the next three-year contract that they say will affect their kids’ education.

This article originally appeared at KQED.com, a community-supported public media newsroom based in San Francisco.

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