Archive for March, 2015

Oakland Unified’s Interim Facilities Head Lance Jackson Earns $30,000 a Month, Replacing Tim White Who Earned $13,000

Jackson Not Implicated in W. Contra Costa Construction Investigation, Says OUSD

 By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District has hired Lance Jackson as the interim head of the Division of Facilities and Management Department at the cost of $30,000 a month.

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

Depending on how long the district takes to conduct a national search for a new administrator to oversee OUSD’s school bond-financed construction programs and repairs, maintenance and custodial services, the cost would total $360,000 a year – more than the $280,0000 a year earned by Supt. Antwan Wilson.

Tim White, who was forced out of his position in February, earned about $13,000 a month when he left the district, roughly $156,000 a year.

“Lance is earning $30,000 per month, which equates to $360,000 annually, although it’s unlikely he’ll remain in the position for that long and the contract was not designed with the idea that Lance will remain as interim head of facilities for a full year,” said district spokesman Troy Flint in an email to the Post.

“This high rate of pay is due to a number of considerations, but most importantly that Lance was only the person well-positioned to take over the facilities department after Tim’s departure.”

“Lance is the only person who satisfies all the (necessary experience and qualifications), and for someone with that level of expertise working on a consultant basis, the price tag is significant– but if that means sound management of the $435 million in taxpayer bond money at stake, it’s an investment that will pay dividends for OUSD and our constituents. There’s too much at risk to entrust projects with this level of complexity and this much money involved to someone who may not be prepared to carry the work forward.”

In addition, the Post has learned that Jackson and his company Seville Group Inc. (SGI) are responsible for planning and design management of the $1.6 billion dollar construction program currently underway at West Contra Costa Unified School District, which has come under intense public criticism for mismanagement by the district’s administration.

tim whiteA

Tim White

According to Oakland Unified, as Chief Operating Officer of Seville, Jackson is ultimately responsible for the company’s work in West Contra Costa. But the company is not implicated in the investigation of mismanagement, and Jackson has not been involved for five years in day-to-day oversight of construction in that district, according to OUSD.

On Feb. 17, Supt. Wilson announced White’s replacement in an email to employees: “OUSD is pleased to announce that Lance Jackson, Chief Operating Officer of the Seville Group, Inc. (SGI), has agreed to become interim leader of the Oakland Unified School District’s Facilities Planning and Management Department. Jackson will serve in this role pending the search and selection of a new Deputy Chief for Facilities Planning and Management.”

Jackson and his company have had consulting contacts with OUSD for a number of years.

In the 14 years that Tim White worked for the school district, he was in charge of expenditures for school bond Measure J, $475 million; Measure B, $35 million; Measure A, $330 million; and before that Measure C, $169 million. He also brought in $300 million in state matching funds.

Seville Group, Inc., founded in 1994, provides program, project, and construction management services for public agencies in California. Its projects include facilities, such as K-12, higher education and municipal facilities; infrastructure projects, including water, wastewater, power, and highway projects; and transportation projects.

According to the company’s website, Jackson has over 20 years of program and project management experience. As COO of the Seville Group, “He is responsible for facilitating the best practices for all programs and projects to strengthen the quality of services provided.”

“He is responsible for planning and design management of the billion dollar construction program currently underway at West Contra Costa Unified School District and is also providing executive oversight for the East Side Union High School District’s new construction and modernization programs and the Oakland Unified School Districts Measure B Bond Program and Capital project,” according to the website.

In a strongly worded editorial last Sunday, the Oakland Tribune called on the West Contra’s Board of Education to fire Supt. Bruce Harter for mismanagement of the district’s $1.6 billion school construction bond program.

Harter should resign, and if he does not, the board should fire him, according to the Tribune.

What became clear after six school bonds, the Tribune wrote, was that “There’s not enough money to finish all the construction promised. Criteria are needed for selecting the schools that will get the remaining funds.”

“Harter had a professional responsibility to mind the purse, to provide the school board, the bond oversight committee and the public with meaningful analyses of the spending,” the Tribune said. “Instead, Harter and his staff stonewalled.”

Obtaining “basic information such as square footage construction costs is nearly impossible. A 2013 audit dinged the district for disproportionately spending on architectural, engineering and management costs rather than direct construction,” the editorial said.

For the full Oakland Tribune editorial, go to www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_27697711/contra-costa-times-editorial-fire-west-contra-costa

In response to questions from the Post, OUSD spokesman Flint wrote in an email: “To my understanding, the investigation in Contra Costa is centered on district management and one trustee who took an unusually active interest in how the funds were allocated– not on SGI. As SGI’s COO, Lance has ultimate responsibility for many of SGI’s projects, but he hasn’t been involved with day-to-day project management in West Contra Costa for more than five years.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Coliseum City Proposal Would Build at Least 5,750 Units of Market Rate Units But No Guaranteed Affordable Housing

Coliseum City Rendering

Coliseum City Rendering

By Ken Epstein

While many people are looking at the proposed Coliseum City development as the best and last chance to keep the Raiders and A’s in town in exchange for glitzy new stadiums, not as much attention has been given to the investment possibilities that may be just as, or more important, to developers and their hedge fund backers – market rate housing that could go for $3,000 or more a month per unit and commercial development.

Alongside the stadiums and sports-related entertainment and hotels, the goal is to “create a new residential neighborhood with an array of housing options, ” according to the draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

The plan would change zoning and land use guidelines for the 800 acres that include the Coliseum, the area around the Coliseum BART Station and the Oakland Airport Business Park located more or less between the Wal-Mart store next to Hegenberger Road and the 66th Avenue exit on Highway 880.

What is at stake for Oakland in this project is not just the promise of future jobs, which may or may not materialize, but existing jobs.

According to many community activists and business observers, if the general plan and zoning proposals associated with the Coliseum Area Specific Plan are allowed to go ahead, they would effectively eliminate the city’s only dedicated office-industrial park.

By amending zoning to “Mixed Use” the plan could incorporate tech campuses’ desire to house high end workers in luxury condos close to their work place.  Or alternately the zoning change could threaten many of the business types the plan actually encourages to stay and/or relocate there, including technical campuses with R&D, administration and manufacturing on site, production such as high value printing operations, specialty artisan food production, wholesaling for domestic markets and global export products such as wine, specialty agricultural and marine products.

The result would potentially push out many of the 150 businesses there now, which employ over 8,000 workers. Many of these are good stable jobs, such as warehouse, that pay $50,000 to $75,000 a year. Such jobs are the city’s future, and the subject of multi-million dollar regional studies such as the Regional Goods Movement Study, and the Design It Build It Ship It Logistics & Advanced Manufacturing study.

The way the proposed general plan amendments would work, knowledgeable observers say, is that when a major part of the industrial park is changed by to allow retail and residential units, the market value of the land would more than double,

Some businesses would leave because rising market values would encourage them to sell their properties, and others would be increasingly impacted by nearby residential uses that are not very compatible with production, warehouse and other industrial uses, with their noises, smells and truck deliveries.

Revolution Foods, headquartered in the Airport Business Park, is one of the businesses that could be adversely affected by residential development. According to Fortune, the company serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees, at an annual gross revenue of about $70 million.

At present, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) calls for the project to contain 5,750 units of housing, including, 1,700 units in the area between Edgewater Road and the San Leandro Estuary where the city’s highly used corporation yard is located.

According to city staff and the proposed EIR, residential housing use would not be permitted in most of the business park. Industrial land use zoning will be maintained, they say. So, there is nothing for local businesses and workers to fear.

But all may not be what it seems.

The proposed general plan amendments and the zoning changes in the EIR are two different documents that contradict each other for the areas known in the plan as CO-3 & CO 4.

The proposed general plan amendment to Regional Commercial (CR) would allow 125 residential units/gross acre, and both CR and Business Mix (the current non-residential designation) allow residential units.

Another general plan change would allow 250 residential units per gross acre.

While the plan has a goal of a minimum of 15 percent of affordable housing units, city staff says that building units that can be affordable to Oakland residents will depend on future negotiations between the City Council, investors and a developer.

There is no ironclad promise of affordable housing built into the plan at present.

According to city staff, the plan to move the city’s corporation yard would have to overcome many hurdles and is not in the cards at present.

The corporation yard and all its employees would have to be moved at a cost that is not yet calculated and to a site that has not yet been determined.

In addition, the property is owned by the Port of Oakland and leased by the city – which would have to find a way to obtain the land from the port. By law the port must charge the land’s full market value.

The port has never said it favors this change and traditionally has wanted no residential at all in the Business Park.

Yet the general plan and zoning changes have forged ahead despite community and business owners’ complaints that they have not been involved in the process.

City staff have repeatedly said in public: “We have our marching orders.” But they have not explained from whom these orders are coming.

The specific plan passed the Planning Commission last week and is scheduled to be heard next Tuesday, March 24, 1:30 p.m., at the meeting of the Community and Economic Development Committee at City Hall.

From there, the proposal will go go to the City Council.

Community Pushes for AC Transit Project without Displacement

Organizers who attended the Bus Rapid Transit community meeting Wednesday evening at Allen Temple in East Oakland are (L to R): left to Right: Redana Johnson, Towanda Sherry, Esther Goolsby, Cesar Fragoso, Jorge Hernandez, Mabel Tsang, Marina Muñoz, Omyinye Alheri, Davida Small, Evelyn Sanchez. ​ Photo by Nikolas Zelinski.

By Nikolas Zelinski

Neighbors gathered at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland Wednesday night to discuss their concerns about the new AC Transit project, called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The project will build high-speed bus service along International Boulevard between downtown Oakland and San Leandro, operating in the middle of the roadway.

Since the project was first announced, concerns have been raised the number of bus stops will be reduced and parking on International will be eliminated, negatively impacting seniors and people with disabilities, as well as small business and their customers.

One of the evening’s panelists, Nehanda Imara of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), said that she knows first-hand how large-scale transportation infrastructure projects have the power to tear up neighborhoods, examining the negative impacts of BART and Highway 880.

She said that these developments rarely do anything to help the people that live around the projects. “(BRT) must benefit the people who already live here,” Imara said.

Another panelist was Isaiah Tony of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) said that BRT does not respond adequately to current complaints from bus riders.

“The stuff I hear from riders is the bus doesn’t come on time, or I’m late to work. I’ve even talked to people who have been fired from their jobs because the bus wasn’t on time for five days in a row,” said Tony.

“I’ve heard stories about people in wheelchairs being passed by a bus because it was full,” he continued. “When we turn around and look at the BRT, does it solve the problems that we’re raising? A little bit yes, and a little bit no.”

The BRT will be a 9.5-mile public bus line that is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve efficiency of bus service by creating bus-only lanes, reducing the number of bus stops, reducing parking, and constructing centralized bus stations.

These stations will be placed in the middle of the street, and around one third of a mile apart. Stations will feature level platforms, overhangs with powerful lighting, and bus ticket machines.

Responding to the concerns that were raised, AC Transit Media Affairs Manager Clarence L. Johnson said, “AC Transit is not necessarily trying to promote gentrification. We are primarily interested in making sure that the corridor doesn’t become impassible in the next 10-20 years.”

Johnson also confirmed that around 500 parking spaces will be lost as a result of the project but added that the number will likely be much lower by the time the project is completed.

Also, AC Transit has purchased a few vacant lots to convert into parking areas, so that “there will not be any losses in any crucial commercial area,” according to Johnson.

Construction is set to begin by the end of 2015 and fully operable by November 2017.

The Allen Temple meeting was co-hosted by Just Cause/Causa Justa, Community Planning Leadership program (CPL), and the Oakland Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative (OSNI).

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 21, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Coliseum City Development Should Benefit Oakland Residents, Say Local Groups

 Mayor Libby Schaaf does not support building sports arena in business park

By Ken Epstein

At least three local organizations and coalitions are pushing to make sure that the Coliseum City project – if it comes to pass – will provide economic and social benefits to the people who live and work in Oakland, not only the owners of the sports franchises, developers and hedge fund investors who are hoping to build a massive, entertainment, housing and hotel complex around new stadiums for the A’s, Raiders and possibly for the Warriors.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

Taking somewhat different approaches are the OaklandWorks Alliance, the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a community benefits coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Just Cause/Causa Justa.

Weighing in on the issue, Mayor Libby Schaaf called for Coliseum City plans to include a mix of uses and did not support a proposal to but the Warriors arena in the middle of the business park, would would likely to eliminate a number of local buisnesses and jobs.

“There are no current plans for putting a basketball arena below the 880 freeway, nor do I see that as the most desirable location for any future new sports facilities,” Schaaf said. “Oakland needs to balance housing, entertainment, retail, businesses and industries to ensure we have a vibrant economy and great quality of life for our residents.”

Members of the OaklandWorks Alliance said they would support the Coliseum City Specific Plan and draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) if they are modified to deal with a number of specific concerns.

The OaklandWorks Alliance is made up of individuals and eight local organizations, including Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

Revolution Foods, based int the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that would be impacted by zoning changes. According to Fortunte, the company  serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees..

Revolution Foods, based in the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that could be adversely affected by zoning changes. According to Fortune, the company serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees.

In a letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, several OaklandWorks members wrote:

“African-American workers make up 28 percent of Oakland residents and 5 percent of the hours worked on city-funded construction jobs. This means that African-Americans are underrepresented more than five-fold in city-funded employment.”

“Any project on which this injustice is not rectified should not be built.”

The OaklandWorks letter also criticized city staff for failing to involve community members in a democratic process.

“Residents of East Oakland should be involved at every step of every decision-making process. This has not occurred thus far,” the letter said.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait to speak at an Oakland Planning Commission public hearing. Schwartz says the Specific Plan, as it is currently written, would allow developers to rezone property in the buisness park to build housing, thereby eliminating businesses and jobs in the city.

“There was no community participation until the Specific Plan was completely developed, and then city staff provided ‘information’ sessions for people to ask questions.”

The plan should only provide housing for people at the median income of Oakland residents, the letter said. “Our land and city services should not be used to build housing for people who do not live here.”

The OaklandWorks letter also calls for not rezoning the Coliseum Business Park across Highway 880 from the Coliseum arena.

The business park houses “approximately 150 businesses and employs 8,065 workers, according to statistics provided by Oakland’s economic development department,” the letter said. “These businesses could be disrupted by: a) Increased land prices created by the possibility of residential uses; b) Restricting business activities which are allowed by the current zoning.”

Naomi Schiff and the Oakland Heritage Alliance are supporting mitigations proposed by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, which have been included by Planning Commission staff in their draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

If the arena or Coliseum are torn down, the developer should make financial contributions to improve East Oakland communities to offset the loss of the historic buildings, according to the proposed mitigations.

“The amount of any such contribution shall be as negotiated between the city and the developer(s), as ultimately determined by the City Council,” according to the proposal. “Mitigation shall be provided as financial and/or cultural enhancement. Such contribution shall be commensurate with the cultural value of the Coliseum.”

Groups in the in a community benefits coalition include Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Just Cause/Causa Justa, E), East Bay Housing Organization (EBHO), Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is closely allied with the Building and Construction Trades Council and other local labor unions,

This coalition, which came out in force to speak at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, is asking for an increase in the percentage of affordable housing in the proposal. The plan at present talks about provisions for 15 percent affordable housing, but the plan itself 1,700 units of market-rate housing at the site of the Oakland Corporation Yard, facing the Bay.

The demands are also for “good jobs with living wages,” protections for tenants so they will not be “pushed out by rising rents,” and protections to prevent air pollution and build a grocery store, youth center and other public services in nearby East Oakland neighborhoods.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

A Push for Alameda County to Fund Reentry Programs

By Ashley Chambers

A number of local groups are challenging how Allemda County is spending the  millions of dollars a year it has  begun receiving to partially offset the state decision to save money by shifting many inmates from state prisons to local jails.

Keith Carson

Keith Carson

The Urban Strategies Council and a number of other organizations, including the Ella Baker Center through its Jobs Not Jails campaign, disagree with how the funds are divvied up, saying not enough public safety funds in Alameda County go to support individuals reentering society from prison.

The Jobs Not Jails campaign is asking that half of the $34 million a year, or $17 million, go to reentry services.

In a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Ella Baker Center cited statistics that show that a shift in how these funds are invested could reduce recidivism and produce savings for the county.

Over half of the county’s budget – in excess of 60 percent – currently goes to the sheriff’s and probation department.

The  Ella Baker letter also cites statistics that show a decline in the total number of felony arrests in Oakland by nearly 28 percent since 2011 when Assembly Bill 109 was passed to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons.

Prop. 47 was passed last year reducing penalties for some nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor and has resulted in further decline in the jail population.

Local organizers say now is the best time for the Board of Supervisors to start shifting how they are spending the money.

Junious Williams

Junious Williams

“The way we’ve operated our system hasn’t worked,” said Junious Williams, CEO of The Urban Strategies Council, pointing to a continuing high recidivism rate in Alameda County.

“There’s too much investment on incarceration, parole, and probation, and it’s not very effective,” he said.

“There is an imbalance in our investments, and that is not very constructive for our society,” Williams added, noting that funds are directed toward enforcement and incarceration rather than reentry programs and supportive services.

Nearly 27 percent of the county’s 2013-14 public safety budget went towards reentry programs.

“What would it mean to invest in more programs and services to help people on probation and that are coming out of prison to be successful?” Asked Williams.

Investing half or more of funds to job training, housing, and wraparound services for the reentry community would not only reduce the number of people going back to jail for a crime committed after their release, but also contribute to safe and strong communities, say organizers.

The Ella Baker letter says: “Jail beds cost nearly $50,000 a year while providing an ‘On the Job Training’ (OJT) employment opportunity costs $4,000 and can provide paid job experience that can lead to a long-term position.”

Supervisor Keith Carson is supporting a proposal to begin directing the funds – $17 million – to community-based organizations that work with the reentry population beginning July 1, 2015.

Ella Baker Center campaigns for "Jobs Not Jails"

Ella Baker Center campaigns for “Jobs Not Jails”

“I think it’s very important that we have community funds,” said Supervisor Carson, “and that 50 percent are spent on reentry programs that are community-based, that are diversified and that work.”

The county recently formed a Community Advisory Board, made up of community members from all five districts who work with the formerly incarcerated. This board will guide the process of how community-based groups are chosen to receive funds for their work to support reentry individuals.

“There are very few community-based groups providing mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, workforce development,” and other services, Carson said.

“This is really about independent programs that are community-based, since there hasn’t been monies going into that direction, to provide those services for the purposes of serving everybody, including the reentry population,” he said.

He continued, “Now, locally we have an open democratic process to try to figure out how to have the best impact for the reentry population.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

School District Places Security Officers on Leave After Video Shows Student Was Punched and Choked

 “What happened in this… incident is absolutely unacceptable,” said Supt. Antwan Wilson

 A still photofrom a January 2014 video shows school security officers at Fremont High School in Oakland using force to subdue a student. Photo courtesy of SF Chronicle.


A still photofrom a January 2014 video shows school security officers at Fremont High School in Oakland using force to subdue a student. Photo courtesy of SF Chronicle.

By Post Staff

 

Schools Supt. Antwan Wilson has apologized to a student and his family on behalf of the school district after a video was released last week that shows two school security officers using excessive force to subdue a Fremont High school freshman, including punching him and placing him in a chokehold.

District officials contacted the student’s family last Friday to apologize, and Supt. Wilson apologized in an internal memo to district staff and leadership.

“We are deeply sorry and apologize to (the student) and his family, as well as the OUSD community at large,” he wrote. “What happened in this January 2014 incident is absolutely unacceptable. This should not and cannot occur anywhere in OUSD, ever.”

The January 2014 incident occurred during the administration of interim Supt. Gary Yee. Supt. Wilson, who started in July, told staff that this incident would be investigated and all previous investigations related to excessive force by school security officers would be reviewed.

The significance of the video did not come to light until the Oakland Unified School District’s Legal Department received an inquiry from a local attorney.

When Oakland School Police Chief Jeff Godown reviewed the written report and the DVD of the incident, he discovered that the video did not corroborate the written report, and proper protocols were not followed in handling of the incident, according to a school district memo.

Chief Godown was not yet working for OUSD at the time of the incident.

“The only narrative in the entire (district police report) that had any truth to it is the child’s statement,” said the chief.

“I just don’t see any reason for them to have physically touched him or pushed him,” he said. “You see the kid punch the (school security officer), which he admits because he’s choking to death,” Godown said.

In response to the video, the district, “placed the two (security officers) in question on administrative leave, effective Tuesday, March 3,” sent the video to the local police and District Attorney for potential criminal prosecution and is planning to provide training for all school security officers, according to the March 6 memo.

“This incident is unacceptable because of its very nature: adults in an educational environment treating a child in a violent manner,” the memo said. “The overall response of the students and adults in the video suggest disturbing acceptance of this type of situation.”

This incident comes less than a year after another incident where two school security officers assaulted a student in a wheelchair at Oakland High in May 2014.

“While the Fremont incident predates the one at Oakland High by several months, their proximity suggests a systemic problem that needs to be addressed with significant and tangible reform,” the memo said.

The January 2014 video shows the 15-year-old student in a doorway when he is confronted by two security guards, one of whom shoves him from the back. They place him in a chokehold and drag him, his arm twisted, into the office of the school.

When he attempts to flee, he is pushed against a wall and swings at the security officers. Then, mostly off camera, according to district officials, one of the officers punches him several times.

Supt. Wilson said in his letter to school employees: “When I watched the video, I was angered by what I saw; not only the excessive force, but also the apparent response of some of the adults who either failed to act on behalf of the student during and/or after the incident,” he wrote.

“The security footage shows people going about business normally as the struggle unfolds in the school office,” he wrote.

School district spokesman Troy Flint told the Post that the video was originally “reviewed by certain site staff as well as members of the police force who conducted an investigation of the incident.

“Our concern, beyond the obvious and reprehensible misconduct,” Flint said, is that the investigation was not conducted to an appropriate standard and that relevant personnel beyond those at the school site staff and in the police department were not informed of the incident. That includes (former interim Supt.) Gary Yee.”

Post Publisher Paul Cobb called Yee twice to ask for a comment, but he did not reply.

A school security office goes to trial next month for felony assault for punching the student in a wheelchair in May 2014 at Oakland High School.
The security officer’s attorney Nabiel Ahmed told the SF Chronicle: “Without the appropriate resources, a school security officer is forced to deal with a very difficult situation alone or with very limited help.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

De Anza High Students Protest Dismissal of Popular Teacher

High school students and parents held a demonstration at De Anza High School Monday, March 9 demanding that the West Contra Costa School District reverse a decision to fire the director of the school's law academy, Tahitia Dean. Photo by Jonothan Dumas.

High school students and parents held a demonstration at De Anza High School Monday, March 9 demanding that the West Contra Costa School District reverse a decision to fire the director of the school’s law academy, Tahitia Dean. Photo by Jonothan Dumas.

By Post staff

About 100 De Anza High School students held a day-long protest, peacefully demonstrating in front of the high school on Monday this week. The students were part of the high school’s Law Academy program, and they were demanding the West Contra Costa School District reverse a decision to fire their teacher.

De Anza’s principal and the West Contra Costa Unified school board decided not to renew the contract of probationary teacher Tahitia Dean, who was the director of the Law Academy.

Under state law, school distrdicts can fire or layoff teachers during their first two years without giving any reason.

Students say they went to the school board, wrote letters to the principal and school board, but no one listened to their complaints – then officials decided against renewing the Dean’s contract, concerned parents said.

According to students, the announcement that the teacher was not going to be rehired may be tied to an incident that occurred when De Anza students attended a mock trial event in Martinez in February.

The De Anza law academy students’ bus broke down, and when a replacement bus arrived, it smelled strongly of marijuana.

The students felt disrespected. They were upset that that the company would provide them with a bus that was not clean. As might be expected of students who were learning to understand law and their rights, they expressed their concerns in letters to the bus company, the principal and administration.

The announcement of Dean’s termination immediately followed. Dean could not be reached for comment.

Some students and parents think Dean’s lost her job because she encouraged students to speak up for themselves. The students believe that if they had not said anything, their instructor would still have a contract, said De Anza parent Jonothan Dumas.

“That was the kids actually wanting to do what they were learning to do in the law academy; which is if you see something that you believe to be wrong that you do something about it, that you put it in writing to the authorities.”

“They did it without prompting,” he said. “They were voicing their frustration over the situation, and this happens.”

A spokesman for the West Contra Costa School District told newsr reproters, “While we value and respect the opinions of our students and parents, the ultimate responsibility for evaluating teachers lies with the principal and the district.”

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier happened to be visiting the school on Monday during the protests and stopped to talk with the students. DeSaulnier could not be reached for comment.

Dumas, whose daughter attends the law academy, said parents are confused because the popular teacher was scheduled to participate in a teaching summer fellowship.

One of the requirements for the fellowship was that Dean needed acknowledgement from school management that her teaching contract was in place and would continue the next year, according to Dumas.

Dean did get that acknowledgement – so the refusal to renew her contract was a surprise, he said.

Education professor Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein said that the decision to terminate the teacher seemed to contradict the school district’s commitment to excellent teaching.

“The testimonials by parents about the passion for education this teacher has created in their children are inspirational,” said Kelly Epstein.  “She gives students new experiences, and she demands the best if them.”

“This is what we’re all looking for in a high school teacher,” she said.

Oakland Unified Says Its HQ Is “Presumed to Be Beyond Repair,” But Architects Say It Can Be Renovated for Half the Cost of New Building

Oakland Unified's headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

Oakland Unified’s headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified District seems to be acting on a presumption that its headquarters, the Paul Robeson Administration Building at 1025 Second Ave., was wrecked by a water leak and needs to be replaced at a cost of about $60 million, though the Board of Education has not yet made that determination.

The district, operating under this presumption, put out a request for qualifications (RFQ) for developers in July 2014 under the leadership of Gary Yee, former interim superintendent, and former Board President David Kakishiba.

But in a report prepared for the district in May 2013 by an architectural firm that inspected the headquarters “multiple times,” the “total construction cost” of repairing and renovating the building would be about $26,339,456, less than half the $60 million price tag that has been thrown around as the potential cost of a new building.

In the architectural firm’s report, the estimate of construction costs was based on a floor-by-floor look at the work “required due to water damage” and a “complete rehabilitation” of the headquarters, though “extensive building testing and investigations could lead to significantly more work than what (was) initially anticipated by this study.”

There is no indication that follow up investigations have ever been conducted.

According to the district, the damage was the result of a water leak (a faucet left on by a custodian) that occurred on the top floor of the administration building the night of Jan. 7, 2013, causing flooding on all four floors and significant damage to the entire structure.

Soon after the flooding, the district hired a firm, Hibser Yamauchi Architects, to do an evaluation of the structure. The firm completed its report on May 16, 2013.

The firm’s report found that basic repairs could be completed at an estimated cost of $7,342,666 and extensive renovation at the $26,339,456 price tag.

The schedule for design, permitting and construction of the basic repairs of the building project would be about 30 months, and major rehabilitation would take about 48 months, according to the firm’s report.

After evacuating the building, the district moved its central office staff to the Trans Pacific Center at 1000 Broadway and used space at several schools that had been previously closed.

The school district’s insurance company is currently reimbursing the cost of rent for the 11th and Broadway office space at $120,000 a month, or over $1.4 million a year.

In the July 2014 RFQ to potential developers of the administration building site, the district wrote: “The administration building and an adjacent building, also vacant, are both presumed to be beyond repair.”

That RFQ has received several proposals from developers but was put on hold until April after a number of vocal protests by students, teachers and community members who criticized the process, saying it had not been democratic or transparent.

Asked whether the Board of Education has decided to condemn the building, district spokesman Troy Flint told the Post in writing, “The decision of whether or not to demolish the building, renovate it, or some combination of the two, has not been made yet and will evolve from the ongoing community engagement process.

The $60 million price tag on a new building is only an informal estimate, Flint said.

“Ultimately, the cost of the project will depend on the design that’s sent to the Board of Education and what its members are willing to approve,” he wrote to the Post.

“The $60 million figure has been floated in informal discussions as a starting point for debate on what the district might be willing to spend, but that’s just spitballing at this point, no commitments or decisions have been made.”

Naomi Schiff

Naomi Schiff

 The board’s three priorities for the project include building “a 21st century school for Dewey (Academy) students,” who will lose their present school if the site is sold to a developer; unifying “central leadership into a centrally located building for ease of access to the community (and) complete construction by January 2019,” Flint said.

Despite the district’s claims that the decision on what to do with the administration building will emerge out of a “community engagement process,” community members of the engagement committee have complained that they are not being given enough information to produce an informed recommendation.

An examination of what to do with the existing building has been “referred” to at meetings of the engagement committee, “but it has not been thoroughly explored,” said Naomi Schiff of the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a community member of the committee.

“It has come up, because I raised it,” said Schiff. “There are people who only want new –because they like new,” Schiff said. “But there may be other possibilities from the point of view of the Oakland Heritage Alliance. It’s a cultural resource, and its (potential renovation) needs to be studied.”

“The reuse of historic buildings is often the greenest alternative,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Tim White’s Departure Disrupts Facilities and Repair Department at School District

Workers on Oakland Unified School District construction project.

Workers on Oakland Unified School District construction project.

 

By Ken Epstein

Administrator Tim White’s departure under pressure from the Oakland Unified School District has left the department he led – Facilities Planning and Management – in disarray, according to sources.

Jacqueline Minor

Jacqueline Minor

Workers and administrators in the department are apparently afraid and demoralized, fearful for their jobs and afraid that that will be targeted for retaliation if they come forward with their concerns, the sources say.

“They feel sacred, and they came to me,” said Joanna Lougin, executive director of the United Administrators of Oakland Schools (UAOS), the union that that represents many school administrators.

“I wanted them to meet with the superintendent and said I would go with them so he could talk to them directly,” Lougin said. “But they afraid. They are scared of losing their jobs.”

For the past 14 years, Tim White headed the department, which is responsible for overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction and renovation of school buildings and day-to-day school maintenance, painting, gardening, custodial services and electrical and boiler repair of school properties.

Among their concerns, a number of people are saying that technical advice of the department is regularly overruled or ignored by the district General Counsel Jacqueline Minor and her staff.

Employees are concerned that Lance Jackson, the head of the firm SGI that provides project management consultants to the district, has been made the temporary chief of the department.

They say he might use his authority to layoff or fire employees so that they can be replaced by consultants from his firm, Lougin said.

“They are afraid the consultant is going to try to get rid of their jobs and try to bring in his own people,” said Lougin.

“They are right to be upset,” she said. They don’t know if they are going to be cut, reduced or changed.”

They are unsure why Custodial Services Director Roland Broach has been appointed  to a newly created postion as an executive director to lead  the Buildings and Grounds section of the department. Though Broach is highly respected for the work he does, staff are concerned about what it means to appoint someone who has no background in repairs and construction, Lougin said.

“The district has never made this many changes in this short a time,” Lougin continued. “Why is all of this happening now?”

In response, district spokesman Troy Flint told the Post, “Tim led the facilities department for more than a decade, so it’s natural that his departure would unsettle some people.”

“That doesn’t mean their jobs are in jeopardy, just that they’re reacting to change. Change is always difficult, but we’re well positioned to continue the forward movement of our Facilities Department,” Flint said.

“Part of the reason why we asked Lance to serve as interim head of Facilities is because his familiarity with OUSD’s ongoing and future work will help minimize disruption during this transitional period,” he continued. “Lance is not going to bring in a raft of SGI employees, if any. SGI has a long relationship with the district and if those employees were angling for positions in the district, they could have done so long before now.”

‘Roland Broach, the new executive director for Buildings and Grounds, has spent most of his adult life in OUSD’s Facilities Department and has familiarity with all OUSD sites from his work as head of Custodial Services,” said Flint. ¨He will be working with OUSD’s longtime Director of Building and Grounds Leroy Stokes, who retains his current position and will continue to offer his decades of experience in this role.”

“The knowledge base remains, and there is not going to be a staff overhaul – only the reporting structure at the top is changing,”  he said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 6, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

 

Oakland Community Participation in School HQ Development Is “100 Percent Authentic,” Says OUSD

School Official Criticizes Oakland Post for Publicizing News on Social Media

By Ken Epstein

Isaac Kos-Read, newly hired Chief of Communications and Public Affairs for the Oakland school district, has responded on Facebook to an Oakland Post article that raises serious questions about transparency and public involvement in the development of the prime real estate where the district’s former headquarters is located on Second Avenue.

Isaac Kos-Read

Isaac Kos-Read

The article, “Does OUSD Want Community Input or Just a Rubber Stamp on Headquarters Development,” focuses on concerns raised by most of the community members on the OUSD community engagement committee, who complained that the whole process was “inauthentic.”

The article, published last week in the Post’s print edition, online and on the newspaper’s Facebook page, followed up an earlier article about former facilities manager Tim White, who was forced out of his job and had raised similar concerns.

As the paper does with number of its major stories, the Post paid a small fee to “boost” the story, that is, to send it to many of the people who “like” the paper on Facebook..

“The community engagement process we are implementing is 100 percent authentic and focused on getting constructive input on the future of the site,” said Kos-Read who earns $192,000 a year and frequently speaks at meetings as the superintendent’s representative.

“That’s why we created the committee and engaged some of our most active citizens to be on it,” he said, “and why we’ve set up this website on the project and conducted numerous – almost weekly – public engagement sessions: https://2ndaveproject.wordpress.com/.

Kos-Read went on to lambast the newspaper for promoting its news coverage.

“By the way, I’m shocked there is a paid boost on this post on social media – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news outlet sponsor and promote an article like this. Commenting at the risk of giving it any credence at all, but only so that everyone can have access to an information-filled public website on which we would welcome your feedback and input. so as not to help boost this post anymore,” he said, inviting people to email him at isaac.kos-read@ousd.k12.ca.us.

A man by the name of Doug Appel responded on Facebook.

“Honestly, Issac Kos-Read, I don’t know quite what to think. Between the comments by Tim White and the comments by the committee members, it sounds as though this process has some question marks around it. As it is likely to take many millions in public funds, I’d prefer to be certain that everything was clean as a whistle and on the up and up. If the District’s response is to attack the reporting and try to spin it, maybe that investigation should come from the Alameda County Grand Jury or DA’s office..”

Also responding was Betty Tyler: “Things are not going well for the new guy. Disappointing.”

Wrote Michael A. Munson: “Keep asking questions… Maybe Isaac Kos-Read will do a one on one for you at KDOL,” (the school district-s TV station)

The school district headquarters flooded in January 2013, causing the entire building to be evacuated. Since then, the district central offices have been temporarily located at closed school sites around the city and in an office building in downtown Oakland at Broadway and 11th Street.

In addition, the city is selling land to a company to build a condominium tower next to Dewey Academy, which is adjacent to the old headquarters. Dewey students and supporters held a series of protests last year to pressure the district to halt a proposal to sell the property to the company to help pay for the new headquarters project.

The original community involvement was dropped after protests amid community suspicions that the district was arranging to sell Dewey Academy out from under its students and teachers and hand over the school district headquarters property on Second Avenue to private developers.

The new process was begun in December and is supposed to conclude on March 22. Communitiy Engagement Committee members who do not work for the district are saying they have never learned enough about the development project to make an informed recommendation.\

“You have to accept it all on blind faith,” said Bruce Kariya, a former school board member and member of the engagement committee.

The school district has hired a consultant to shepherd the work of the Community Engagement Committee at the cost of $89,250.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 6, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)