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Negotiators To Step Up Talks in Oakland Strike

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Neither a cooling-off period following a confrontation between striking Oakland, Calif., teachers and district officials nor renewed negotiations last week brought the two sides much closer to an agreement.

Ward Rountree, the executive director of the 3,500-member Oakland Education Association, said late last week that the two groups were planning to begin all-day negotiations in a further effort to reach a compromise.

The state education department has appointed an administrative-law judge, Jim Tamm, to act as a mediator in the dispute. The judge called for the one-day respite late last month after one picketing teacher was slightly injured in an encounter with administrators.

Union officials said Craig Gordon, a high school teacher, was picketing outside the Oakland Airport Hotel, where negotiations were under way, when he was injured Feb. 22.

As one of the district's negotiators was leaving the hotel, her car bumped Mr. Gordon, who landed on the hood of the Jaguar and then rolled off, union officials said. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released.

Salary Concerns

Teachers in the 52,000-student district went on strike Feb. 15, demanding smaller class sizes and a pay increase. (See Education Week, Feb. 28, 1996.)

"Teacher salaries in Oakland are not comparable to other area school districts," Mr. Rountree said. "All we want is for the district to raise teachers' salaries to a competitive level."

The district and the union are almost $7 million apart on proposed pay raises. The union wants an immediate 5 percent raise for teachers, retroactive to July 1, 1994. The district has proposed a smaller pay increase, plus a bonus for signing a new contract.

Oakland teachers have worked without a contract since June 30, 1994.

"It's ridiculous that with 26 years of experience, a teacher in this district only makes $45,459," Mr. Rountree said. "I find that unacceptable."

Darolyn Davis, a school district spokeswoman, said last week that there was no reason for students to suffer because of disagreements between adults. "There's no reason for these kids to be out of school right now," she said.

Ms. Davis blamed the union's leadership for the strike. "The teachers never voted to go on strike," she said. "Teachers didn't make the decision."

The school district has said the union jumped the gun by striking, because a state audit of the district is due on March 13. The report will outline the district's finances and give negotiators considering a pay raise for teachers better information, Ms. Davis said.

District officials estimated last week that 35 percent of teachers and 30 percent of children had returned to school.

The union, meanwhile, has established alternative learning centers where students are taught by striking teachers.

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