Editorial: Students must stand in solidarity with the Oak Park teachers’ union

Educators should know that they aren’t in this alone


Teacher appreciation week has come and gone at Oak Park High School, giving us a valuable opportunity to reflect on how our teachers are compensated for their tireless work. Despite all the gifts and cards students shower on their teachers around this time of year, there is still something more meaningful that students can provide. OPHS students and parents should do their best to foster an environment supportive of the actions of the teachers’ union. 

Nationally, there seems to be a growing sense of unrest among teachers, fueled by a widespread discontent regarding pay, labor conditions and other factors. This is alarming, as we are dealing with a teacher appreciation crisis that threatens the delicate balance of our education system. That is to say, this is not an issue specific to OPHS — in fact, the relationship between the Oak Park Teachers Association and OPUSD is particularly amicable. However, Oak Park is not immune to the effects of the epidemic of teacher discontent.

It’s standard practice in districts across the country for teachers to be given one paid preparatory period to plan curriculum for classes, attend important meetings and grade assignments. Because of the OPHS block schedule, this works out to a two hour period every other day. Many teachers require more time than this, up to 20 hours per week, according to one OPHS teacher, to prepare for their classes, and they must do this necessary prep at home. Much of the teachers’ ‘invisible labor’ goes uncompensated.

The cost-of-living crisis brought about in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic also threatens the well-being of many teachers. The costs of housing, groceries and transportation have risen steeply in recent months, and teachers desperately needed a pay raise to keep their salaries high enough to afford the elevated prices. Oak Park has a particularly high cost-of-living, so our teachers are acutely impacted by these issues.

Luckily, teachers have a way to negotiate more favorable working conditions: the union. Historically, the teachers’ union has brought teachers together to oppose institutional forces and earn better working conditions. 

This year, after multiple rounds of negotiations, OPTA and OPUSD agreed to an 8 percent wage increase with back pay for the upcoming school year. Last year, they negotiated a 3.5 percent raise, and the year before, teachers were given a 1 percent raise. Considering that for the past few years, inflation has hovered around 5 percent, these raises, while necessary, are not substantial enough to keep pace with the devaluation of their salaries. Essentially, teachers are taking a pay cut every year that they don’t receive a raise that matches inflation. 

In comparison, after a contentious battle with LAUSD, the UTLA teachers’ union and their district agreed to a 21% wage increase over a period of about 3 years. Granted, LAUSD is in a very different position to OPUSD; their salary schedule is nominally lower and they receive much more substantial and different levels of federal and state funding.

OPUSD is in a difficult position when it comes to teacher compensation. Partially due to our small size, our district is the lowest-funded school district in Ventura County. The funding we do get needs to be split up among countless necessary educational services, and it is essentially impossible to meet everyone’s demands at once. That being said, skilled, passionate teachers are a huge part of what makes Oak Park Unified such a great school district, and they deserve to be a top priority when it comes to allocating funds.

Many argue that our teachers are being paid well compared to teachers in other districts. While this is true, Oak Park is an especially expensive community to live in. Elevated salaries are necessary to match the increased cost of supporting a life in Oak Park. Additionally, teachers are extremely highly educated, many possessing Masters’ degrees, PhDs and upwards of four years of post-graduate educational experience. You know people with graduate degrees. How would they feel about working for a salary of $66,137.90 in Oak Park? It goes without saying, teachers are underpaid for their qualifications across the nation.

It’s easy to complain about your teachers when they assign strict deadlines or grade quizzes hard. But community resistance to union measures, whether motivated by a belief that the teachers already have enough, a contempt for teacher strictness or the perspective that the show must go on regardless of who must suffer to make it so, only works to harm teachers, students, and the community at large.

No matter what form union efforts take in the coming years, showing solidarity with teachers is the least we can do to show our appreciation for the teachers who shape our time in high school, who sacrifice their nights and weekends for us tirelessly. Support the OPTA and OPUSD in fair negotiation efforts.

Talking to your parents about how we should appreciate the work teachers put in and understanding the justification behind teacher complaints can help create a strong culture of support, putting pressure on the district when the time for negotiation rolls around. If you want to help directly, consider attending the monthly district meetings held in G9 to inform yourself or let your opinion be known, or email district officials, whose contact information can be found on the Oak Park Unified School District website.

As students, we must do our part to show the District we stand with teachers. The editorial board of the Oak Park Talon is calling upon the OPHS student body and parents of OPHS students to unite in support of the collective bargaining efforts of the Oak Park Teacher Association.