A group of Oakland Unified School District principals traveled to the state capitol on Wednesday — with a teachers strike looming Thursday — to lobby for more funding, request forgiveness of a loan from the state and fight for a revision to a charter school law, according to district officials.
The administrators from schools across the district gathered at a coffee shop in the city's Temescal neighborhood Wednesday morning before leaving for the capitol in carpools.
Eleanor Alderman of International Community School is one of the 35 principals who were on their way to Sacramento. She said that one of the top priorities in meetings with lawmakers is to cancel the $36 million of $100 million loan from over a decade ago.
"No one that took on our loan in 2003 still exists in our district and students and teachers should not have to hold that loan on their shoulders," Alderman said. Without the loan forgiveness, the money is expected to be paid off with annual $6 million payments by 2024.
The trip comes the day before a planned strike for teachers in the district. No mention of the impending strike was made by district officials in a news release early Wednesday morning.
Co-principal of Oakland International High School Carmelita Reyes says the trip is in direct response to the strike. "If we're going to fix this, it has to be fixed in Sacramento because it's not a uniquely Oakland problem, it's a California problem," Reyes said.
The administrators have a full day planned at the capitol, meeting with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, along with Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, and Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. They will also meet with Patrick O'Donnell, D-Long Beach, the education committee chair.
The administrators also plan to lobby for more funding for students across the state and the revision of a state law which allows charters schools to override a "no" vote from a local school board with an approval from a county board of education or the state board, district officials said.
The principals are expected to leave the state capitol to return to Oakland at 2:30 p.m.
On Saturday, union officials announced that nearly 3,000 teachers will strike on Thursday to fight for higher wages, smaller class sizes and more resources for students. But the spokesperson for Oakland Unified School District John Sasaki said he hopes the district and the union can come to an agreement Wednesday to avoid a strike.
After meeting with the district president of the Oakland Education Association teachers' union Keith Brown said that the strike will still happen Thursday. The union rejected the district's last minute proposal.
"This strike is a crisis the district has created, our actions in this strike are to make sure the students are a priority. What we are striking for is to change the way our district operates," Brown said.
The union seeks a 12 percent pay raise. Oakland Unified School District has offered teachers a 5 percent pay raise. Both raises would be made in stages over a period of years.
Sasaki said on Saturday that the district supports a wage increase for employees, but must work within the district's financial reality.
"Everyone knows how expensive it is to live in the Bay Area and Oakland," Sasaki said. "We want to give our teachers as much as we can, but we have to do it within our means. We have a structural deficit and we are making cuts across the board.
"We would love to give our teachers the moon. But we don't have the moon to give them," he said on Saturday.