Political Leaders Engineered State Control of Oakland Public Schools

OUSD was required to borrow $100 million when they only needed $37 million

Assemblymember Sandré Swanson pressured state schools’ Supt. Jack O’Connell for 3 years, resulting in return of local control

(Clockwise from top): Sheila Jordan, Randolph Ward, Don Perata, Jerry Brown.

By Ken Epstein

State control of the Oakland Unified School District has changed its form over the years since the takeover in 2003 but remains a constant presence in determining policy in the public school system.

When the state fired Oakland Schools Supt. Dennis Chaconas and suspended the Board of Education in June 2003, some of the outlines of state control soon became clear: school closures; attempts to sell school property to real estate developers; the rapid growth of charter schools; and the lease of school sites to charter schools.

Jack O’Connell, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Always on the defensive, community groups have thwarted some of the school closures and several times prevented the sale of the district headquarters’ property to developers.

Aligned against the district in its fight for local control were East Bay Senator Don Perata, president of pro tem of the State Senate, known for his connections to powerful developers; State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, with ties to billionaire charter school advocate Eli Broad; former governor and then Mayor Jerry Brown, a close Perata ally; Sheila Jordan, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools; and the Fiscal Crisis and Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), an organization based in Bakersfield that is funded by the state to intervene in school districts but is lacking in state oversight.

FCMAT was led by Tom Henry and Joel Montero. Randolph Ward, a graduate of Eli Broad’s superintendent training program, became the district’s first state administrator.

While the state administrator ultimately was removed in 2009, a state trustee with power to rescind the district’s financial decisions remains in place.

Joel Montero, FCMAT

The takeover was presented as a necessity designed to save the district from bankruptcy, but the reality remains very controversial and raises questions about the role of powerful political and economic interests.

Apparently forgotten was a previous unsuccessful takeover attempt promoted by Senator Perata even before the district uncovered an economic shortfall.

When the district became aware that it had overspent its budget in 2003, the OUSD administration developed a plan to maintain local control, which included borrowing money from funds paid to the district to partially reimburse OUSD for school construction projects.

The district’s plan was to repay the money over time into its construction fund.

“The use of the (reimbursement) money in this way was approved by OUSD’s bond attorneys, who happened to be the bond attorneys for the State of California, and expert in their field,” according to Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor, writing at the time for the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Rather than approve borrowing and repayment plan, then County Supt. of Schools Jordan asked for an opinion from State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who declared the plan illegal and blocked OUSD from using the money to balance the budget.

“In a mass community meeting later held at Allen Temple Baptist Church, Ms. Jordan defended her actions by saying that she could not allow the bond transfer because it was illegal,” according to Allen-Taylor.

When Jordan ran for reelection, she was criticized by her opponent Newark Superintendent of Schools John Bernard for her role in the takeover.

Dennis Chaconas

“Other county superintendents allow districts to use (construction reimbursement) money as a loan when the district is going into the red,” Bernard told the press. “The incumbent, Sheila Jordan, did not allow Oakland to use the (construction) bond money, they went into default, and the state took over,” he said.

Once the state had blocked the use of the bond reimbursement money, the debt rolled over into the next school year, becoming over $60 million, and the state rounded its bailout loan up to $100 million for good measure.

Thus, the district was forced to borrow $100 million rather than the $37 million it needed.

Of course, the bailout came in after the state took over, and therefore the state-appointed administrator – in consultation with his bosses- was in charge of how the money was spent.

Many people said that “Mr. Perata was the driving force behind the 2003 state seizure of the Oakland public schools,” wrote Allen-Taylor.

The political maneuvers behind the state takeover were suggested in an Oakland Tribune article written by then Tribune staff writer Robert Gammon, now editor of the East Bay Express.

“(Some) say office and cell phone records obtained by the Oakland Tribune provide evidence the takeover, and the resulting loss of local control of Oakland’s schools, was politically orchestrated,” Gammon wrote.

“The records show top officials from the Bakersfield-based Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) called Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the office of state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and then-Compton schools chief Randy Ward at least 40 times each in the months before the takeover,” according to Gammon.

Brown and Perata had publically supported a takeover during the preceding year. They voiced support for “placing Ward and FCMAT in charge of the school district,” wrote Gammon.

In the six months prior to the takeover, the records show FCMAT officials did not call Supt. Chaconas or school board President Greg Hodge, according to the Tribune.

“FCMAT (pronounced fick-mat) was supposed to be our fiscal advisers,” Hodge told the Tribune. He and Chaconas said FCMAT officials did not return their calls for months.
“They were supposed to be helping us. But instead they turned this into a political campaign to take over the district,” said Hodge.

Sheila Jordan in an interview with the Post disputed those who said the takeover was political.

The district wanted to borrow from its school construction funds to pay off the shortfall, she said. “Many districts do that understanding that because those funds were passed by the voters to update and build schools, districts by law must establish their ability to repay what is a short-term loan.”

“Oakland did not have anywhere near the revenues to repay the loan. The hole in their budget was $27 million,” Jordan said.

“The investigation discovered a plug in the budget. It rolled over into the following year and resulted in close to a $65 million deficit,” she said. “I never did understand why the loan was $100 million.”

The analysis of the district’s finances was conducted by School Services of California, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) and Alameda County Office of Education “working together at the table,” she said.

“The Trib(une) reporting at that time was upholding a theory of action that was wholly discredited by the facts produced by the fiscal experts,” said Jordan.

Disagreeing with Jordan was Lewis Cohen, who served as an assistant superintendent in Dennis Chaconas’ administration at the time of the takeover.

“The 2003 state take-over was a largely political process. The $100-million-dollar loan was concocted by then County Superintendent Jordan’s experts and put into legislation by Senator Perata, as she seems to have conveniently forgotten,” he said.

Sandré Swanson

“We lobbied against this legislation at the time, but Perata and his allies forced the loan on the school board by blocking the legal use of construction funds reimbursed by the state,” said Cohen.

“These were not bond funds and carried no legal restrictions at all, much less that the loan needed to be short-term,” Cohen added.

Direct state control of the school district was ended in 2009, due in part to the efforts of Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, wrote reporter Allen-Taylor at the time.

“Without Mr. Swanson’s dogged persistence on the Oakland school issue (for) three years, it is probable that local control would still be years away,” he wrote.

“(State Supt. of Public Instruction) O’Connell gave every indication that unless he was forced to do so under pressure, he would hold onto the Oakland schools.”

Published December 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

State “Culpable” for School District’s Financial Crisis, Says Former County Schools’ Superintendent

By Ken Epstein

The State of California, which is legally responsible for overseeing the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) budget, is “culpable” for the ongoing financial crisis caused by lack of fiscal controls and

Sheila Jordan, former Alameda County Superintendent of Schools

overspending that came to light at the end of the administration of former Superintendent Antwan Wilson, according to Sheila Jordan, who served as Alameda County Superintendent of Schools for four terms.

Jordan, county superintendent for 16 years from 1999- 2014, told the Oakland Post that she feels compelled to speak out.

“People call me,” she said. “They stop me in the street and ask, ‘What is going on? How is it possible that Oakland is in financial trouble again?’”

She said that the state, acting through a trustee, had one role to play in Oakland – fiscal oversight – and it did not do it.

“They’re culpable,” said Jordan.

“With all the additional spending that was going on, the overspending was extremely visible,” she said.” I believe the state has a great deal of culpability in this current situation.”

When the district went into receivership and was forced to take a $100 million state loan in 2003, then State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell dissolved the board and appointed a state administrator to operate the district, with a focus on stabilizing the budget.

Until that loan is paid off, the trustee – paid by the district – comes in a couple of days a week to review the local budget and decisions that have financial implications.

The trustee, who reports directly to the state superintendent of instruction, has the power to “stay and rescind,” which means he or she can block district decisions before they are approved by the ad- ministration or board or undo the decisions after they are approved.

In a situation where the trustee has so much power, a recommendation or a few words of advice can carry a lot of weight.

The way it works, she said, is that “the trustee speaks to the board and superintendent and says you can’t do that.”

“They are paying a trustee from the state to have that oversight,” Jordan continued. “It’s not the district’s choice, but rather the state imposes the trustee. It is the trustee’s responsibility is to let the board and superintendent know if there is a problem.”

“To my knowledge, the trustee never contacted the county to say there was a problem or report to the Board of

Education to let the board know there was a problem. There are no reports of the trustee talking to the board.”

Jack O’Connell, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The former state trustee, Carlene Naylor, retired soon after the district’s financial crisis became public. She was formerly associate superintendent of business services at the Alameda County Office of Education.

“If expenditures being made were so dangerous to the financial health to the district, why didn’t the state step in? asked Jordan.

The overall fiscal problems resulted from a “lack of leadership.” The district’s responsibility is to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenue, she said.

In the business office, she said, there is not sufficient staff and expertise, and the school board “has a certain culpability, too, because they needed to tell the superintendent they would not approve the budget.”

OUSD’s current fiscal condition can be traced to the highly contentious state take- over of the district in 2003, according to a number of former district employees and long- time observers who spoke to the Oakland Post.

At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell and influential State Senator Don Perata were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.

Don Perata, former East Bay state senator

OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.

The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.

No audits were conducted for six years.

A number of Broad interns and trainees have held central office positions ever since the takeover, including former Supt. Antwan Wilson

The Broad (rhymes with load) Foundation and the Broad Academy for training superintendents are central players in school privatization and corporate charter school growth in the U.S., as well in Oakland Unified.

Under state receivership, the district closed 14 schools, and charter schools flourished – now numbering over 40, including a number that are located or co-located at district campuses.

A state-sponsored attempt to turn over the OUSD head- quarters property at 1025 Second Ave. to private real estate developers was quashed, thanks to a public outcry and the efforts of then Mayor Ron Dellums.

The Oakland Post was not able to reach the former trustee for comment.

In reply to the Oakland Post’s questions, a spokesman for the California Department of Education (CDE) wrote:

“The CDE is working with the trustee and the Alameda County Office of Education, which is also responsible for fiscal oversight, to monitor the situation in Oakland very carefully.

“(The) trustee, whose authority is limited solely to monitoring and reviewing the operation of the school district…may stay or rescind an action of the governing board of the school district that, in the judgment of the trustee, may affect the financial condition of the school district.”

Published December 14, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post


Stopping the Stadium Mega-Development Was an Important Victory, But This Fight Is Far from Over

Oakland Coliseum

By Alvina Wong

After four months of organizing by Laney students, faculty, and staff, Chinatown and Eastlake residents, and Lake Merritt environmentalists, the Peralta Board of Trustees decided to end talks with the Oakland A’s about constructing a stadium mega-development next to Laney College.

Alvina Wong

Their decision is a testament to our communities’ power to fight for a future where we can stay and thrive.  We also know that this fight is far from over.

Since 2014 when BART and City officials completed the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan, Chinatown and Eastlake have been bombarded with a wave of luxury condo developments, soaring rents, and mass displacement of longtime residents.

At the time, many of our organizations demanded that we be included in the city-led ‘community-engagement process’.  We advocated for affordable housing and storefronts, parks and open space, and resources for working class immigrant and refugee communities.

Despite countless meetings, letters, and petitions to city officials, none of our communities’ needs were reflected in the plan.

Instead, we got a plan that incentivized high-density market-rate development by rezoning the neighborhood to allow developers to build up to 275 feet in some areas, without a conditional use permit.

Our vision for a neighborhood where new immigrants and refugees could stay and thrive was noted, but no policies were put in place to help realize this vision.

The Lake Merritt Station Area plan, like the West Oakland BART plan and many others, has paved the way for developers to turn Chinatown and Eastlake into playgrounds for the wealthy, with 20 and 30 story luxury apartment buildings that literally cast shadows over our communities.

So, when the Oakland A’s decided to build a stadium with upscale stores and hotels next to Laney College, our communities quickly decided that we needed to oppose it.  Chinatown and Eastlake groups joined with Laney students, faculty, and staff who were fighting to protect Laney as a public resource.

Groups that had been working for years to restore Lake Merritt and its saltwater channel also joined the fight.  We went door-to-door and classroom-to-classroom.  Despite the A’s aggressive PR campaign, we found that people overwhelmingly opposed the stadium at Laney.

While we were successful in stopping the A’s stadium mega-development at Laney, we know that there are more developers that want to use this public land for their own profits.

Many of us have been part of building community, culture, and resources in neighborhoods that formed as a result of racist housing covenants, suffered from disinvestment after white flight, and are now threatened with mass displacement.  In these times, we’ve learned that our public land is one of the last remaining places where we can build the resources our communities need.

For us, this decision to say no to a stadium at Laney opens the door for our communities to say yes to stewarding this land to serve the public good.

It helps us transition away from looking at land as a commodity that exists to maximize profits for the wealthy, and toward looking at how this land can help sustain our lives and communities for generations to come.

As for big corporations like the A’s that benefit from Oakland’s public infrastructure and diverse communities, they should have been giving back all along – whether that means supporting public education institutions like Laney College, affordable housing and good jobs for local residents, or growing in ways that take leadership from working class people of color who want to stay and thrive.

We hope the Oakland A’s will stay the right way.  Oakland has already invested millions of public dollars in the Coliseum.  Now it’s the A’s turn to invest in East Oakland’s communities.

Alvina Wong works with the Stay the Right Way Coalition and is employed by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

Published December 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post


Free East Bay Showing of Documentary “Backpack Full of Cash”

¨Backpack Full of Cash,” narrated by Matt Damon, is a feature-length documentary that explores the growing privatization of public schools and the resulting impact on America’s most vulnerable children.

Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig

Sylvester Hodges

Filmed in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville and other cities, “Backpack Full of Cash” takes viewers through the tumultuous 2013-14 school year, exposing the world of corporate-driven education “reform” where public education – starved of resources – hangs in the balance.

A free showing of the film will be held Monday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m., at Oakland Technical High School, 4351 Broadway in Oakland (Enter on 42nd Street).

The film will be followed by a discussion that will include Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, professor at Sacramento State and California NAACP Education Chair; and Sylvester Hodges, former Oakland Board of Education member.

The event is sponsored by the Sacramento State Doctorate of Educational Leadership.

Poll Shows Most Oaklanders Want Oakland A’s to Stay at the Coliseum

Laney “is the worst site you can pick to put a baseball stadium,” says Council President Larry Reid

The ballpark would be built at the current site of the Peralta Community College District headquarters, across the street from Laney College.

Oakland Rising, an alliance of nine Oakland grassroots groups, conducted a poll of 2,526 registered voters between Oct. 21 and Nov. 6 to find out where people stand on the Oakland A’s proposal to build a stadium at Laney College near Lake Merritt.

Results show that 4 in 5 people living in Oakland want the Oakland A’s to stay at the Coliseum and invest in East Oakland, rather than construct a stadium and ballpark village next to Laney College, Chinatown and Eastlake.

“This poll is a true reflection of what Oakland communities want.  The people we spoke with oppose constructing a stadium at the Laney site which would inevitably push out and could destroy historic cultural neighborhoods,” said Oakland Rising Executive Director Jessamyn Sabbag.

“People also overwhelmingly support keeping the stadium in East Oakland as part of a plan to create safety, stability, and fair economic investment that benefits the Black and Brown working-class and immigrant families who live in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The A’s proposal to construct a stadium, tourist businesses, and luxury housing next to Laney College would push people out of the surrounding Eastlake and Chinatown neighborhoods.  According to the 2010 Census, 78 percent of Chinatown households are renters.  Nearly 90 percent of Chinatown residents are of Asian descent and 45 percent speak a primary language other than English.

“In Chinatown and Eastlake, immigrants and refugees have spent generations building communities where people can thrive.  Our friends, churches, doctors, and stores are here.  We will not allow the A’s owners destroy the sanctuaries we’ve built,” said Alvina

Wong, Oakland Lead Community Organizer at Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).
Oakland Rising’s poll included more than four times the number of people than a Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-commissioned poll, according to the community organization.

The Chamber’s poll of 500 Oakland voters found support for the Peralta Community College District site next to Laney College by a 2-1 margin.

Oakland Rising’s poll included registered voters with a diversity of voting histories, not just ‘likely-voters’, a methodology that has historically silenced the voices of working-class people of color who may not vote in every single election.

  • 4 in 5 Oaklanders want the A’s to stay at the Coliseum and invest in East Oakland.  2,227 of respondents live in Oakland.  82 percent of people living in Oakland support the A’s remaining at the Coliseum, 5 percent are opposed, and 13 percent undecided.
  • 84 percent of African American voters, 80 percent of Asian voters, and 87 percent of Latino voters support the A’s staying at the Coliseum rather than constructing a new stadium and ballpark village at Laney.
  • Young people overwhelming support the A’s remaining at the Coliseum.  93 percent of people age 18-24 and 85 percent of people age 25-34 support this position.
  • Middle class and working-class people responded the A’s should stay at the Coliseum and invest in East Oakland.  86 percent of people making less than $50,000 a year, and 81percent of people making $50,000 – $100,000 a year support this position.

Speaking at the City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee meeting last week, Council President Larry Reid said he has talked to A’s President Dave Kaval saying that he hopes the team will stay at the Oakland Coliseum.

“I met with him and said, ‘That is the worst site you can pick to put a baseball stadium,’” Reid said. “You need to leave it at the Coliseum where all the transportation infrastructure in the world comes to.”

Published November 25, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Anti-Coal Activists Announce Boycott of Phil Tagami’s Rotunda Building

Young people join protest Tuesday at the downtown Rotunda Building against Phil Tagami’s attempt to transport coal by rail through Oakland to a shipping terminal at the Oakland Army Base.

Oakland youth, clean air activists, workers and labor leaders rallied Wednesday to kick-off a boycott of Phil Tagami’s Rotunda Building in response to the developer’s lawsuit against the City of Oakland.

Tagami is suing to overturn the city’s ban on the handling and storing of coal so he can move forward with his controversial plan to ship coal from Utah to Asia through the Oakland Army Base.

The City Council banned the shipment of coal in June 2016. Tagami had originally pledged that coal would not be one of the products that would be transported through the new shipping terminals, but he later changed his position, entering a deal with corporations that own coal mines in Utah.

In response, activists are asking local businesses and organizations to boycott the Rotunda Building – an event space where progressive institutions host events – located at 300 Frank H Ogawa Plaza, near Oakland City Hall.

“This is the third time I’ve come to the Rotunda Building to tell Phil Tagami that Oakland doesn’t want dirty coal,” said Sonia Mendoza, Oakland student. “But he isn’t listening to kids like me. My best friend has asthma and has to use an inhaler.”

“She can’t always go outside and play like I can. If Phil Tagami brings coal to Oakland, more people will get asthma and other health problems. That’s why we’re boycotting – to get Tagami to listen to us,” said Mendoza

“Every dollar spent at the Rotunda Building is a dollar that Phil Tagami can use to try and force toxic coal dust on working class black and brown communities in Oakland” said Alicia Flores, a member of Teamsters 2010 and a member of the Climate Workers organizing committee.

“(This rally) put Tagami on notice that any events booked from this date forward until the day Tagami stands up for Oakland and drops the lawsuit should expect picket lines.”

Hotel workers represented by UNITE HERE also joined the boycott, raising the issue that Tagami’s Rotunda Building uses non-union labor for their events.

“Banquets held at the Rotunda Building are catered by non-union companies,” said Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE Local 2850.

“Working in the hospitality industry without a union can mean lower pay for workers, often times unaffordable healthcare, and always a lack of guaranteed contract rights,” said Huber.

“Banquet servers and hospitality workers are joining the call to boycott the Rotunda Building because we need good jobs in our community as well a healthy environment with clean air for our families to breathe.”

Published November 24, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents and Teachers Angry Over Mid-Year School Budget Cuts

New superintendent left to clean up mess left by former supe and

state mismanagement

Alix Black, a 5th grade teacher at Franklin Elementary, and Elisabeth Donley, an art teacher at Hillcrest School, hold up signs and chant ‘No cuts for kids, fund out schools’ during a demonstration in front of the Grand Lake Theatre. Photo by Anne Wernikoff/Oakland North.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is preparing to approve $15 million in budget cuts this school year at a special school board meeting on Monday, hoping that these immediate reductions will give the district the financial cushion it needs to stay afloat.

In response, angry teachers and families are planning to attend the board meeting in an attempt to halt or reduce the cuts that directly impact classrooms and students.

“$15.1 million in cuts at this time is not necessary,” said Oakland Education Association President Trish Gorham in an email blast last Sunday evening.

“Creating a ‘cushion’ to allow OUSD the room to make more accounting errors while schools are cutting to the bone is unacceptable,” she said. “Cuts to school sites must be eliminated and layoffs of the lowest paid workers in the district reversed.”

According to the district, the “fiscal solvency” objectives for this school year include $1.3 million to fully fund the state-required reserve for economic uncertainties, as well as an $5.5 million to fully fund the additional 1 percent reserve that was passed by the Board of Education.

Another $8 million would restore the district’s workers’ compensation fund, which was used last year to keep the district from going bankrupt.

The district has been struggling to get a handle on a growing deficit that came to light in December and January after former Supt. Antwan Wilson announced he was resigning to take over the leadership of Washington, D.C. schools.

To keep from going into the red this year, OUSD is planning to cut $47.6 million from its budget, $15.1 million this year after already reducing spending by $32.5 million since January of last school year

The district administration has proposed that this year’s cuts would be divided between the schools and the central office, roughly 2.2 percent of school site expenditures and 11.6 percent of the central office budget.

Most employees who will lose their jobs this year are classified, non-credentialed staff. Educators with administrative or teaching credentials by state law can only be laid off at the end of June and would not have a budget impact until next school year.

In October, Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with principals. She asked them to participate in a survey about which of the district’s 29 departments they thought should be reduced or cut, rating the central office services they thought were lest critical to the ongoing work of the schools.

The department with the lowest rating was Organizational Effectiveness and Culture, which had been formed under Supt. Wilson and led by the wife of Allen Smith, Wilson’s Chief of Schools.

At one point, the office had five administrators. At present, there are two.

Principals also called for cuts in Communications. “Frequent comments related to the recent non-essential growth of this department,” according to an internal document explaining the results of the survey.

The department has a deputy chief, director, manager of the district television station and manager of local control of accountability.  A director of community engagement headed a team of four staff, now reduced to two.

The principals in the survey rated financial services as important but wanted cuts in Business Operations. “Comments related to cuts seemed largely connected to principals’ anger at historical financial mismanagement,” the internal document said.

Some employees blame financial staff for not catching the over-expenditures and failing to do anything to halt them.

Another department that faced criticism was the Office of Postsecondary Readiness. “Principals commented that there was significant overhead in this department,” the document said.

The administration of the Oakland Athletic League (OAL) came under this department. At one point, the OAL has one staffer and one clerk. Under the Wilson administration, it grew to one executive director and three directors, as well as a part-time support staff.

Among the district departments that were rated as most crucial to the functioning of the schools were Special Educations, Buildings and Grounds, Custodial Services, Human Resources, Purchasing, Tech Services and Cafeteria and Nutrition.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that Oakland’s adult education program was top heavy with administrators. Some of that information was incorrect and was deleted.

Published November 24, 2017, Courtesy of the Oakland Post




“America Untold” Storytellers Come to the Marsh Theater


Stagebridge’s “America Untold” Storytellers. Photo by Ken Epstein

“America Untold¨ Performance comes to the Marsh Theater A performance of ¨America Untold in Times Unseen – Stories that Let the Light Come In¨ will be held Tuesday, Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m., the Marsh Theater, 2120 Alston Way in Berkeley.

¨America Untold¨ features a series of vignettes produced and performed by Stagebridge Storytellers as part of ¨Times Unseen,” the Marsh’s ongoing project to chronicle the current political turmoil and its effects on individual lives.

This one-night production showcases the Fall 10-week storytelling class directed by Jeanne Haynes for Stagebridge, Oakland, a senior theater company.

Void of rants or insults, and with barely a mention of the administration, tellers will present their personal stories impacted by current political issues.

Honing their tales into powerful succinct bite-size pieces, with music by classical guitarist Karen Sellinger, Stagebridge tellers and their topics are:

Susan Shampanier – Economy; Harry Santi – Endangered Species; Laurie Baumgarten – Global Warming; Stuart Korn – Gun Control; Judy Kennedy – Housing; Samir Saad – Immigration;

Sarah Strong – LBGT Rights; Beverly Miles – Racism; Ellen Kaufman – Reproductive Rights; Theresa Nervis – Voter Integrity; Scott Ullman -World War III?

Tickets are $10 – $25 sliding scale, $55 and $100 reserved seating.
For tickets and more information go to:


or call The Marsh at (415) 282-3055.

Published November 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Flatland Students Could Lose Access If AC Transit Cancels Bus Service to Hill Schools

“Resegregation of our schools is not an option,” says Rev. Hubert Ivery

Community members attended a meeting Monday organized by Genesis to save bus transportation to hill schools. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Community members are keeping up pressure on the Oakland Unified School District and the AC Transit District to find $2.5 million to maintain dedicated bus lines for over 1,600 mostly flatlands students who depend on daily bus transportation to attend Montera Middle and Skyline High schools in affluent neighborhoods in the Oakland hills.

Board of Education President James Harris and Elsa Ortiz, president of the AC Transit Board of Directors, presented an update on efforts to save bus service to Montera Middle and Skyline High schools. Photo by Ken Epstein

A community meeting with representatives of AC Transit and the school district to report on the progress of locating funds to continue bus service next school year was held Monday night at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Park Boulevard.

The meeting was organized by Genesis, a faith-based social justice organization, composed of member congregations and affiliated with the national Gamaliel Network, which hired and trained President Barack Obama in community organizing in the Southside of Chicago, Illinois.

“The snapback toward segregation is trending in many parts of this county,” said Rev. Dr. Hubert Ivery, president of Genesis.

Rev. Dr. Hubert Ivery

“This discontinuing of buses to the schools is not option. Resegregation of our schools is not an option. Denying access to students who want access to quality schools is not an option,” he said.

“We need to hold our ground, so we don’t go back!”

Speaking at the meeting, Elsa Ortiz, president of the AC Transit Board of Directors, said the bus agency and school district “are really working together to solve this situation.”

“The problem is that both agencies depend on federal and state funds” which is not enough, she said.

Bus transportation to the Oakland hill schools costs AC Transit $4.5 million a year, said Ortiz. In comparison, the cost of service to 35 other school districts in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties costs the agency $5 million.

Some members of the AC Transit board from other areas have no interest in using agency funds to support Oakland schools, Ortiz said.

In January, the school district informed the bus agency that it would no longer pay the $2.5 million for the bus routes. For the past 20 years, the state had given the district the money, which was earmarked to pay for bus service.

However, changes in state funding regulations have allowed the school district to begin to utilize the funds as it saw fit.

 The current temporary agreement, passed in May by the AC Transit Board, preserved bus lines, 56 buses, which last year served 1,615 student a day, according to Ortiz.

Board of Education President James Harris said that last year, when the bus service was threatened, the two public agencies were able to work out a temporary fix.

“We did save the day last year. We did it for this year. We don’t know for next year. We want to know by April,” he said, adding that the district is talking to the city and other agencies in the hope that they will contribute to saving the bus service.

Harris pointed out that the school district is facing desperate financial conditions and has little wiggle room.

“We are certainly looking at giving more money for the buses,” he said. “But every dollar we direct, that’s somebody’s job (that’s cut),” he said.

Montera Middle School Principal Darren Avent said two-thirds of Montera’s 778 students rely on AC Transit to attend school.

“We have at least one student from every elementary school in Oakland. AC Transit leads to the diversity we are proud of,” he said.

When the news came out last school year about the possible ending of bus transportation, “we lost several families,” Avent said.

According to state statistics, Montera’s student body last school year was 37.9 percent African American, 18.9 percent Latino and 21.9 percent white.

Skyline High School Principal Nancy Blooms said two-thirds of her students come to school by bus. “If that goes away, those kids go away. If it is reduced to a neighborhood school, that would completely segregate it. That’s not OK.”

Skyline last year had 1,843 students, 31.3 percent African American, 40.2 percent Latino and 6.1 percent white.

She continued. “We are under-enrolled by 56 kids (this year) because families could not count on bus service.”

As a result, the school lost 4.6 staff members, $156,000 from the site budget.

“We can’t wait until May to know what is happening,” she said. “Families are already making up their minds for next year. We can’t leave huge numbers of families in the dark.”

Open enrollment for next school year started this week and ends Jan. 26.

If the bus lines are eliminated, the schools could resegregate. In addition, the schools might have trouble surviving with so few students. And OUSD could take a huge financial hit if large numbers of affected families decide not to send their students to other district schools.

Published November 19, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Despite Opposition, Council Members Will Discuss “Cover-Up” of OPD’s Violation of Sanctuary City Status

Did Mayor Schaaf block City Council discussion of ICE raid to shield Police Chief´s false statements?

Full discussion set for Dec. 5 Public Safety Committee meeting


Students from Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy in Oakland spoke at Tuesday evening’s Public Safety Committee, asking the city to uphold its Sanctuary City commitment. “We have a right to demand the truth,” said Jackie Moreno, a student at the school. Photo by Ken Epstein.


By Post Staff

Oakland City Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan, seeking information and accountability, last month called for a staff report to be discussed at the Public Safety Committee on the controversial actions of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that took place in West Oakland on Aug. 16

Brooks and Kaplan, as well as many members of the public, had expected the discussion to be held Nov. 14 at Public Safety, but the item was pulled at last week’s Rules and Legislation Committee by Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guillén.

Some are voicing concerns that the item may have been pulled by Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration as an attempt to short circuit the current internal investigation of the Chief of Police.

The Rules Committee, which normally sets the agendas for council committees, had originally scheduled the item for a hearing at Public Safety for Tuesday, Nov. 14.

An independent investigation conducted by the Oakland Privacy Commission had concluded that several false statements were made by Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick about the incident and the OPD’s assistance to HSI/ICE had constituted a violation of sanctuary city policy.

“There has been a significant amount of concern with respect to the raid that took place.  The events surrounding the ICE operation were especially troubling because the City Council has set a sanctuary policy that bars any city employee, including police, from assisting federal immigration agents when they are enforcing civil immigration laws,” said Councilmember Brooks.

Asked by the Post for a comment on the mayor’s possible involvement in pulling the item off the calendar, spokesman for Mayor Schaaf Justin Berton responded.

“It is simply untrue,” he said.

Councilmembers Guillén and Campbell Washington did not respond to the Oakland Post’s request for a comment.

At Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Guillén did not explain his position.

According to reports, officials made public statements incorrectly alleging the undocumented immigrant who was detained by ICE was wanted in connection with a criminal matter and that the issue had to do with human trafficking. These allegations seem not to be based on the facts that are known so far.

Oakland police officers performed traffic control duties during the Aug. 16 raids, according to reports.

Many remain unclear as to why the item was taken off calendar.

However, the actions of the mayor and city administration fit a pattern, according to some. City Hall observers say this current dispute is an egregious example how the mayor and city administration respond to City Council decisions they do not like. They do not say anything, they just do not carry out those resolutions.

Staff had already completed a report for the Public Safety Committee item and published it on Legistar for public noticing and were prepared to report on it. Neither the City Attorney’s office nor Oakland Police Department staff had requested that the item to be pulled.

According to Councilmember Brooks, the rationale for pulling the discussion from the agenda was that the issue had been forwarded to OPD’s Internal Affairs Department.

However, the report’s sponsors say the report does not appear to interfere with the investigation. The report asks for facts and to reaffirm that the City of Oakland is a Sanctuary City that will not use any of its resources to assist with “ICE” or “HSI” requests.

“There is no justifiable reason for pulling the item,” said Brooks, speaking at the Public Safety Committee meeting.

“I think it’s inappropriate to try to hide this report and vital that we clearly protect our community from “ICE,” said Kaplan.

Earlier this year, Councilmember Kaplan authored legislation to cut ties between OPD and ICE, and on July 18, the City Council unanimously passed the resolution.

This directive was not adhered to, she said.

The Brooks and Kaplan request for information included:

A chronological timeline and review of the Aug. 16 HSI/ICE raid;

The date the OPD/ICE Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was officially terminated; and

Any and all Oakland police department involvement in, and tasks, at the HSI/ICE West Oakland raid on Aug. 16.

Despite the cancellation of the agenda item, Kaplan and members of the community went ahead with a discussion of the controversy at this week’s Public Safety meeting.

Councilmember Brooks, who heads the Public Safety Committee, has joined with Councilmembers Kaplan and Gallo to submit a resolution that strongly reaffirms Oakland as a Sanctuary City and prohibits city agencies from working with ICE.

“It is vital that we not allow this incredibly important issue to be swept under the rug. The (issue) was cancelled, no reason was given,” said Kaplan.  “We are a sanctuary city – we do not collude with ICE.”

Councilmembers, including Guillén, voted to hold a full discussion of the issue of at the Dec. 5 Public Safety Committee meeting.

Ken Epstein contributed to this article.

Published November 18, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post