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Teachers in Oakland, Calif., ready to go out on strike No contract since 1994, no raise in past five years


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Teachers at this city's public schools are vowing to strike for two days next week if negotiators fail to reach a contract agreement.

Ward Rountree, co-executive director of the Oakland Education Association, said the 3,500 teachers, counselors and other workers represented by the union would walk out next Tuesday and Wednesday if they fail to win a contract boosting wages and cutting class sizes.

"We would hope that the district is smart enough to understand that our members are serious about this," Mr. Rountree said. "They cannot continue to permit a deteriorating condition to exist in the Oakland school system."

An hour after teachers announced their plans, officials with the -- Oakland Unified School District delivered a new proposal to the union's offices.

"We're hoping to get them back to the table before the strike," district spokeswoman Sherri Willis said. "The district is trying to bargain in good-faith effort while preparing for the strike."

Union co-executive director Peter Haberfeld said that the offer "looks good enough to go back to the table, and we're prepared to go back on Friday to begin round-the-clock negotiations. But our plans to strike are not discontinued. They're still in place."

In the event of a strike, the district will try to keep schools open by hiring substitute teachers, putting administrators in classrooms and using any regular teachers who cross picket lines.

The school district has about 52,000 students, making it the sixth-largest district in the state, Mr. Willis said.

Oakland teachers have been without a contract since July 1994 and haven't had a raise in five years. They are among the lowest-paid in the San Francisco Bay area, with starting salary at $27,400 a year, top pay at $45,400 and the mid-range at $36,900.

The teachers union has asked for 5 percent salary increase for both 1994-1995 and 1995-1996. It also wants smaller classes, to be funded by cuts in administration. School district officials propose a 3.73 percent wage increase plus a one-time 1 percent bonus.

The district's new offer takes back an earlier proposal to add 15 minutes to teachers' work days, guarantees a wage increase for the 1996-1997 school year equal to the cost of living increase minus 1 percent, and stipulates that the district will examine the issues of salary restructuring and class size reductions.

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