Schaaf Administration Accused of ‘Hamstringing’ Police Commission

Members of the Oakland Police Commission seek the City Council’s help to overcome obstacles that are keeping the commission from getting off the ground, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting. Shown (L to R): Commission Vice Chair Ginale Harris, Commissioner Jose Dorado and Commission Chair Regina Jackson. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Members of the Oakland Police Commission seek the City Council’s help to overcome obstacles that are keeping the commission from getting off the ground, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting. Shown (L to R): Commission Vice Chair Ginale Harris, Commissioner Jose Dorado and Commission Chair Regina Jackson. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members and supporters of the voter-created Oakland Police Commission went to City Council this week to seek support to end city administrators’ continuous foot dragging and blocking the commission from doing its job to provide independent oversight of the Oakland Police Department.

Reaffirming the need for an independent police commission, Council President Rebecca Kaplan and a majority of council members voted at Tuesday night’s meeting to require the City Administrator to hire commission staff, including an Inspector General, that are independent of the city administration.

City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, who reports to Mayor Libby Schaaf, are taking the position that the council resolution is illegal, violating the City Charter, and the administration does not have to implement it.

The Police Commission was created in November 2016 by Measure LL, an amendment to the Oakland City Charter that was passed with the backing of 83 percent of the voters. The commission is made up of seven regular and two alternate members, who are all Oakland residents and serve in a volunteer capacity.

“It’s not enough that the community called for this in great, great numbers. But we have been hamstrung in every way possible. Talk about tools, talk about staff, we have none of them,” said Regina Jackson, chair of the commission, speaking at the council meeting.

“The City Administrator didn’t follow the vote or the direction of the City Council. The City Administrator acted as if the vote never happened,” said Jackson.

“The problem is that we’re here to do a job in a volunteer capacity. We’re spending hours upon hours. And everywhere we turn we’re stopped. It’s blatant obstructionism.”

Police Commissioner Edwin Prather asked the council to support the commission so that it could start doing its work, speaking at the April 9 Public Safety Committee meeting, a video of which was played at the council meeting.

“We are behind the eight ball – all the time … Whatever you can do to get us the help we need would be greatly appreciated,” he said.

He said that when he took the position on the commission 16 months ago, “I knew that getting the police department to accept oversight where none previously existed was going to be a difficult thing.

“(But) I don’t think I understood that there were going to be forces in the city that were going to be dilatory and obstructive towards our progress.”

The only position created so far has been an administrative analyst, but that person works in the City Administrator’s office and has been told not to attend Police Commission meetings, according to police commissioners speaking at the council meeting.

The central issue at the meeting was the refusal of City Administrator Landreth and City Attorney Parker to allow the police commission to create a staff job position for an Inspector General who would be supervised by the commission and not by the City Administrator.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 to back a resolution reaffirming a vote last year that required the City Administrator to create the independent Inspector General position that would report to the Police Commission. The resolution was submitted by Councilmembers Kaplan, Noel Gallo and Nikki Fortunato Bas.  Also backing the resolution were Councilmembers Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor. Dan Kalb abstained.

“There is no question that Oakland residents value the necessity of having a civilian police commission, and one of the first steps to ensure an effective oversight body meant hiring an Inspector General whose duties including conducting audits, review policing practices and procedures,” said Kaplan.

Over Landreth’s and Parker’s objections, the council last July passed an ordinance requiring all staff hired for the commission to be independent of the city administration. Such independence would be necessary for the commission to avoid undue influence by the Oakland Police Department chain of command, which includes the City Administrator as the supervisor of the Chief of Police, according to council members.

Landreth and Parker have taken the position that the ordinance violates the part of the City Charter, which says all staff are hired and supervised by the City Administrator.  Because they view the ordinance as illegal, they argue they do not have to implement it.

According to Karen Getman, an outside attorney brought in by City Attorney Parker to give a legal opinion on the matter, “The City Administrator is not bound by the council’s direction in that regard.”

“The City Administrator gets to make her own decision about whether something is or isn’t consistent with the charter. The council cannot tell her she has to violate the charter,” said Getman.

In a memo that the City Attorney distributed to the council, Getman argued that the councilmembers who supported the resolution in favor of the independent police commission could be criminally charged and face “forfeiture of office upon conviction.”

Underscoring the significance of the conflict between the council and the city administration over creating the Inspector General position, Police Commissioner Prather in his remarks to the Public Safety Committee said:

“This is a power grab, plain and simple…It is very clear that the City Administrator does not want this position to report to the Police Commission.”

Kaplan said she hoped the differences over the City Charter could be worked out in order for police commission to move forward. However, she indicated that the council may have to seek outside legal representation.

Published May 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Rep. Maxine Waters’ Delegation Visits Haiti to Investigate Reports of Terrorism

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ delegation to Haiti visits the hospital under construction at the University of the Foundation of Dr. Aristide in Tabarre, Haiti. Shown are ( L to R): Danny Glover; Mildred Trouillot-Aristide (wife of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former påresident of Haiti; Walter Riley; Congresswoman Waters; and medical school doctor. Photo courtesy of Walter Riley.

 

By Ken Epstein

Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ delegation to Haiti visits the hospital under construction at the University of the Foundation of Dr. Aristide in Tabarre, Haiti. Shown are ( L to R): Danny Glover; Mildred Trouillot-Aristide (wife of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former påresident of Haiti; Walter Riley; Congresswoman Waters; and medical school doctor. Photo courtesy of Walter Riley.

Amid news of continuing atrocities against the civilian population, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a delegation of activists – including actor and producer Danny Glover and Oakland civil rights attorney Walter Riley – visited Haiti last week on a mission to investigate conditions on the ground in the country and report back to the American public about a Human Rights emergency that remains underreported in the mainstream media.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, “In recent months, gangs have been terrorizing the population, accused of massacring and raping poor Haitians and turning parts of the country (including the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince into no-go zones.”

As late as last week, there were reports that terrorist groups in La Saline set fire to homes. Hundreds of people have been killed recently in targeted killings.

“When we learned about houses being burned down, and the killings that took place, we were appalled and shocked. We listened directly to some of the relatives of victims and victims tell us about that,” said Waters during a press conference at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport prior to leaving Haiti last Wednesday evening, the Miami Herald reported.

Besides Rep. Waters (CA-43), Glover and attorney Riley, the delegation included social Justice activist Pierre Labossiere, human rights lawyer Brian Concannon and radio journalist Margaret Prescod. Prescod filed filmed reports from the “no go zones”.

Following a massacre in La Saline last November, a group of 104 members of the House of Representatives called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month to conduct an independent investigation of the extrajudicial killings allegations of human-rights violations by the Haitian National Police Force; U.S. taxpayers dollars should not go to human rights violators.

“We have eyewitness reports and other evidence that these are not gangs, a name that implies that they are independent of the government. These terrorists, in fact, are part of militias that have been hired to terrorize people and are associated with the Haitian Police Department,” said Riley. “It is a policy of the Haitian government and backed by the U.S. government,”  he said.

“The attacks on people in La Saline started as retaliation to demonstrations calling for Pres. Jovenel Moïse to resign over stolen billions of Petro Caribe money from Venezuela and systemic corruption in failed governance,” he said. “We have testimony of witnesses in the area and from human rights organizations about the brutality, the crimes against humanity.”

Among the atrocities, rape, people have been burned alive, dismembered and fed to pigs, said Riley.

Protesters across Haiti vowed to continue their fight for government accountability even in the face of the brutality, he said. “They have a proud sense of their history.”

Published May 2, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Dismantles Oversight of Low-Income Student Programs

Photo courtesy of the Oakland Unified School District.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is dismantling its Department of State & Federal Programs—eliminating all eight staff positions—leading some of the department’s staff to question how the district will continue to meet the legal requirements to receive restricted funding that supports the educational needs of low-income and English Learner students.

“OUSD is removing the systematic checks and balances in place needed to ensure State and Federal funds are both allocated and used according to state and federal mandates,” according to a recent internal “Memorandum of Impact” produced by State and Federal staff and submitted to Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell and other senior district leaders.

The memo, obtained by the Oakland Post, cited the district’s one-paragraph rationale for the layoffs in a document called “Reallocation Impact Analysis,” which said that the budget office can handle the work and that State and Federal is less important now because funding has shifted to new programs.

“There are fewer responsibilities…Monitoring of compliance will be shifted to budget teams,” the district report said.

In response, the 13-page memo said, “The rationale lacks coherence, logical arguments and complete sentences, and highlights the absence of thoughtful reasoning; and ultimately a cavalier decision that can cost the district millions.”

“The lack of transparency and accountability by those who made the decision to dismantle State and Federal makes it difficult to speculate about the rationale or if the impact is truly understood,” the memo said.

The memo also raised concerns about the loss of “institutional knowledge.”

“Without individuals (who) have the knowledge to lead OUSD through audits…, there is a great potential for financial liability,” it said.

Responding to the Post’s questions, the district said it is “redesigning” the department as part of its efforts to “streamline” central office functions but is not eliminating oversight of state and federal funding.

Funds that State and Federal oversees total about $22 million, including:

  • Title I ($17.6 mil), programs serving low-income students
  • Title II ($2 mil), provides low-income and minority students access to effective teachers
  • Title III ($2.4 mil), offers supplementary services to English Learner students.

The memo also said that State and Federal, like other OUSD departments, for years has had to perform its duties without adequate staff and revolving leadership.

“Constant change in leadership and understaffing of State and Federal has resulted in department instability leading to fragmented policies and procedures not uniformly implemented. For the first time in years, State and Federal currently has adequate staffing with a leader capable of creating and sustaining meaningful change for the department,” the memo said.

According to the memo, cutting six of the eight people in the department (as was originally proposed) would save the district only $21,739 in General Purpose funds and “does not substantially further the aim towards reducing debt and (enhancing) fiscal vitality.”

“The flippant assertion that State and Federal’s ‘work’ will go to budget (staff) demonstrates the lack of understanding of the scope and extent of the department’s responsibilities and the specialized knowledge required to perform such functions,” the memo said.

Oakland’s eight-person department is comparable in size to those in similar districts, Fresno, San Francisco and Stockton, according to the memo.

The memo provided examples of the department’s work and how much money it has saved the district.

Among its duties, the department makes sure students receive “mandated minimum instructional time.” This year, the department “mitigated” a $1.2 million negative finding from 2017-18, reducing the amount that had to be repaid from General Purpose funds to $350,000 and saving the district $850,000.

The department “assists and defends” school sites during audits. In a recent audit, the district was facing a negative finding of $3.3 million. Due to the work of State and Federal, according to the memo, the the district only paid back $539,758, saving $2.7 million.

The department manages funding to 15 private schools, which are “entitled to receive equitable services” for students who qualify for the funding.

State and Federal also “trains and assists all OUSD sites” to establish legally compliant School Site Councils, which are responsible for approving Title I budgets.

“Without State and Federal, sites will be fully exposed,” the memo said.

The “misuse and mismanagement of State and Federal funds” can also result in criminal investigations, which could lead to fines or prison terms, according to the memo, which mentioned a 2012 FBI investigation of an “OUSD employee regarding dubious use of funds and disbursements,” without elaborating further.

In response to questions from the Oakland Post, Michael Fine, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which collaborates with the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) to oversee the school district, defended the district decision.

He said that the numbers of State and Federal Programs in recent years have fallen from 72 to 14-16. “Consolidating financial management and monitoring for these programs with our similar financial management and monitoring activities makes a lot of sense,” he said.

He said FCMAT was not involved in decisions to cut staff. “FCMAT has not been involved in any budget reduction decisions or recommendations,” he said. “We do have the task, along with ACOE, to evaluate the approved reductions for reasonableness, and we are doing that.”

“Districts are moving to managing their total resources together and not separating out by funding agency,” he said. “This practice provides for a dramatic improvement in resource management of the overall instructional programs…”

In a response to Post questions, district spokesman John Sasaki said, “OUSD is well aware of the problems that could arise if we don’t administer and oversee our state and federal programs and dollars properly. We would never shirk that responsibility.”

Sasaki said central office redesign is still a work in progress and not yet ready to be made public

Published April 26, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Who Controls the Fate of Oakland Schools?

In the years-long power struggle between the State and OUSD, the State has now gained more authority, raising questions about who controls the fate of Oakland schools.

Teachers say they will strike again if the County Office of Education blocks their contract for an 11% raise over four years.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) now appears to be under a modified form of direct state control, according to some observers.

But the school district and its state overseers disagree, saying that was is occuring at the moment is just temporary “intensive support” for a financially ill institution.

Johnson-Trammell recently entered into an agreement with the overseers that represent the state—the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which is working collaboratively with a state-funded nonprofit, the Fiscal Crisis Management & and Assistance Team (FCMAT, pronounced FICKMAT)—to give the county office extensive authority over the district’s finances and to provide oversight and training.

Now in her second year as superintendent, Johnson-Trammell is struggling to overcome financial and organizational difficulties that she has inherited and which have plagued the district for years.

The district’s financial mess has not been solved by county oversight and FCMAT intervention, going back to 2003. An immediate and potentially explosive issue related to local control of the district is whether the County will allow the OUSD Board of Education to ratify the contract that Oakland teachers won in a sevenday strike that ended Feb. 28.

According to the district and the county, the district sent its financial analysis of the contract settlement to the county office on April 10, which will make its ruling within 10 business days.

The board is scheduled to vote on ratification at its April 24 meeting. The teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association, issued a statement this week saying they would strike again if the settlement is not honored. “Teachers, parents and students shut down OUSD for seven days demanding the schools we deserve, and that’s exactly what we’ll do again if ACOE prevents OUSD from implementing our agreement,” the statement said.

In addition to the almost two-month delay in approving the teachers’ contract, there are several other indications that the school district has significantly lost control of its finances. One is that Johnson-Trammell made the “intensive support” arrangement with the county office without seeking school board approval.

“The arrangement does not require school board approval since it was jointly established by Johnson-Trammell and (County Supt.) Monroe, a district spokesman said,” reads an EdSource article.

Agreeing, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine told the Oakland Post, “This is by mutual agreement, and no legislative or state authority is needed. OUSD’s board involvement depends on their own board policies as to the authority of the superintendent to enter into an arrangement with another governmental agency.”

However, under the state Education Code, the school board has fiduciary responsibility for the district, a duty the board cannot abandon or surrender unless the state puts the district into receivership through AB 1200 and removes that responsibility, according to some observers.

Further, while the district and the county say that the county’s intervention is designed to train and upgrade the district’s financial staff, much of that staff has been removed or have had their jobs eliminated.

Without its own financial staff, the district may be dependent on the county both for determining its finances and evaluating its fiscal stability. The district no longer has a controller, and the position of OUSD Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle was eliminated last week. Ofelia Roxas, chief financial officer, is working part time at OUSD and part time at the county office.

Her duties include “working closely with the county at their office and serving as a liaison with OUSD to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting,” said Johnson Trammell. Without full-time top manager, the day-to-day management of the OUSD fiscal team will be conducted by Gina Murphy-Garrett, senior executive director, budget, according to the superintendent.

Meanwhile, positions of 11 OUSD financial analysts have been eliminated, and the eight staff of the OUSD Dept. of State and Federal Programs are losing their jobs. The department is responsible for monitoring a number of programs, including those that serve low-income students.

From 2003 to 2009, under the state receivership law, AB 1200 a state-appointed receiver unilaterally ran the school district, while the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board dissolved until the state was forced to partially return local control, due to pressure from then Mayor Ron Dellums and Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.

In a presentation to the school board in October 2018, Fine, FCMAT CEO, said the state Legislature is no longer comfortable with direct state receivership. State intervention is now “county centric” rather than “state centric,” meaning that the state representative is now County Supt. L. Karen Monroe and the Alameda County Office of Education, he said.

Fine said in a press release that “’intervention costs (in Oakland) would include at least 11 county employees or contractors, providing 17,800 hours of support through 2021 at a cost (to the district) of $3.4 million.”

What the county is doing has nothing to do with state receivership, said Fine.

“(It’s) nothing close. The district does not qualify for state receivership. Intensive intervention with instructional programs is commonplace in California,” he said.

Agreeing with Fine were representatives of the county office and the State Dept. of Education. According to Michelle Smith McDonald of the county office, “This is not intensive financial support.” “The intensive support and technical assistance plan initiated by superintendents Monroe and Johnson-Trammell does not alter OUSD’s local control,” she said.

“This is plan is related to the administration and operations of staff, which is completely within the authority of the district Superintendent,” she said. “The plan is intended to provide capacitybuilding, training and technical assistance with procedures and practices. It is not a plan that impacts OUSD Board’s governance.”

Jonathan Mendick, information officer for California Department of Education, told the Post that the “Education Code authorizes county superintendents to send fiscal experts into a district to provide support.I think this is a more informal, short-term arrangement where district leadership asked the county to support and improve their fiscal operations.”

According to the district, financial services will be streamlined and made more efficient, not eliminated. However, the new organizational plan is not completed yet.

Published April 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Oakland Leaders Celebrate César Chávez’s Legacy

District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas honors leaders of Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) as part of Oakland City Council’s commemoration Tuesday evening of the legacy of César Chávez. Photo by Ken Epstein.

In celebration of the legacy César Chávez, the Oakland City Council this week recognized local community leaders  who represent that legacy “through their leadership and community service.”

Honored by Councilmember Dan Kalb were Jane García, chief executive officer, and Dr. Christina X. Chávez-Johnson, MD, at La Clínica de la Raza. César Chávez was Dr. Chavez-Johnson’s great uncle.

“Founded in 1971, La Clínica de La Raza provides community-based primary healthcare services, designed and delivered in a manner which appropriately addresses the cultural and linguistic needs of a diverse array of people from Latino, Asian, African and other heritages,”  according to La Clínica’s website.

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas honored the Oakland-based organization, (MUA), a membership organization that promotes social and economic justice for immigrant women. MUA works to  implement the Domestic Workers Bill of rights, supports victims of domestic violence and fights for sanctuary and to end family separation.

René Quiñonez, recognized by Councilmember Sheng Thao (front right), is owner of the Movement Ink apparel store.

René Quiñonez, recognized by Councilmember Sheng Thao, is owner of the Movement Ink apparel store. One of his recent projects was making the T-shirts for the Oakland teachers’ strike.

District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo honored Chris Iglesias and the Fruitvale District-based organization he leads, the Unity Council.  Gallo recognized Iglesias for his “commitment to low-income and immigrant families” and tireless effort to implement “a social equity agenda.”

Gary Jimenez, vice president of politics at SEIU Local 1021, was recognized by Councilmember-at-Large

Gary Jimenez, vice president of politics at SEIU Local 1021, was recognized by Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan.

Rebecca Kaplan. Jimenez, a custodian at Fremont Unified School District, has served as a labor and community leader in Oakland for more than 20 years.  Kaplan said that Jimenez has a “proven track record of … advocating for those whose voices are so often unheard.”

The Mayor’s Office honored Gema Quetzal Cardenas, an Oakland high school student and former student member of the Oakland Board of Education, was appointed by then Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the state Board of Education for the 2018-2019 school year.

District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor recognized Fremont High School Assistant Principal Nidya Baez.

 

District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor recognized Fremont High School Assistant Principal Nidya Baez, herself a graduate of Fremont High and currently a District 6 resident. “I knew I wanted to work alongside my community by helping to increase youth voice and leadership since I was 16 years old,” she said.

District 7Councilmember Loren Taylor honored Zeydi Gutierrez, who works at AB&I Foundry in Oakland.

 

Published April 4 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Open Letter: UC Berkeley Should Not Support and Condone School Privatization

Rescind your offer to Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp as Commencement Speaker

Wendy Kopp of Teach for America

By Jane Nylund

As a public school advocate, and a product of California public schools (father and grandmother both attended UC Berkeley), I was outraged and saddened to find that UC Berkeley had extended an invitation to Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, to be featured as the commencement speaker at UC Berkeley this year.

Oakland and other urban school districts have, for years, suffered under the constant threat of privatization. Teach for America is just one of many cogs in the privatization machine; there are many others, but TFA’s influence is not just felt at the school site level, but has also infiltrated higher levels of administration (such as the Oakland mayor’s office), as well as TFA acting as lobbyists for legislation favoring privately managed charter schools and ed reform groups.

TFA has a potent mixture of idealism and practicality; the concept of having the opportunity to “teach” in a high needs district such as Oakland is tantalizing for many young people eager to give something back to the community. According to TFA recruiting manager Jessica Rossoni, whose credentials included a stint at the Daily Californian, “UC Berkeley is one of the largest contributors to the organization in its number of students who join TFA, according to Rossoni.

She said UC Berkeley students apply in high rates because of UC Berkeley’s values of equity and students’ desires to tie those values to a career.” Notice that she doesn’t mention the type of career. Could be anything but teaching, and usually is. But, here’s what TFA is really about:

1) Installing low-paid, unqualified, uncertified, non-union teaching labor into the most challenging schools. Leafy suburban schools would never accept a core group of teachers that enter their schools in significant numbers with only 5 weeks of experience. Charter schools actively employ non-union TFA teaching labor; charters’ teacher retention record is abysmal, typically 2 years. Not surprising, since this corresponds with the 2-year TFA teaching commitment.

2) Creating  a “teacher pipeline” to fill teaching positions is secondary to TFA’s true mission mentioned above. Despite TFA’s assertions, there isn’t a teacher shortage; that narrative is trotted out by TFA and is accepted as gospel by the ed reform echo chamber; teachers as a whole are woefully underpaid and unsupported, particularly in high needs districts (was everyone at UC Berkeley asleep during the Oakland strike?).

TFA solves none of this; its existence exacerbates the problem by undermining the professionalism, credentials, and experience of authentic teachers committed to the job as a profession, and not just a career stepping stone or resume padding on the part of corps members.

3) TFA charges school districts a fee for hiring TFA members. This fee causes a significant burden for cash-strapped districts already grappling with expenses associated with supporting high needs students. There is no guarantee that these teachers will remain with the district, and in fact, collectively, TFA has a poor track record of teacher retention within the host district in which they serve.

This disruptive model of teacher churn caused in part by hiring TFA is damaging to our students, who deserve highly-trained, certified teachers with a long-term commitment to the profession.

4) TFA is a privatization group that is actively supported by the Walton Family Foundation.  Why UC Berkeley would ever align itself with the worst of corporate school privatization supporters completely escapes rational thought.

UC Berkeley is one of the most important assets and symbols of public education in California. Support for groups like TFA flies in the face of the core values that UC Berkeley represents. Its mission to serve public students and to serve in the public interest will forever be tainted by this ill-advised invitation to a group that undermines all we value as democratically represented public institutions.

Read here for the unflinching reality of what TFA truly represents, and ask yourself if this narrative aligns with the values of UC Berkeley. I was disheartened to note that UC Berkeley has been a part of what has become the education misery in Oakland and elsewhere by supplying a large pool of students as corps members.

Again, while the Berkeley students may find this kind of service admirable, this model is actively undermining the teaching profession. Not surprising that it is our mostly black and brown students that are suffering the consequences because of it. There is nothing admirable or equitable about that.

While I understand that this decision was based in part by student input, it is sometimes advisable for other adults in the room to step up and explain the symbolism behind this TFA invitation.

This generation of college students hasn’t been around long enough to understand what has happened regarding school privatization in this country, but someone (besides TFAer Ms. Rossoni) needs to explain it to them.

The students’ wish to give back to their community has been hijacked by the very people like the Waltons that want publicly supported institutions like UC Berkeley to go away. The irony is not lost on those of us who have witnessed this calamity for far too long.

Please do the right thing and rescind your decision to Ms. Kopp, offer her your sincerest apologies, and find someone like Diane Ravitch or Jitu Brown, both true champions of authentic public education in this country. Thank you for your consideration.

 

UC Berkeley’s response to the open letter:

 

From: Chancellor Departmental <chancellor@berkeley.edu>
Date: Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 3:35 PM
Subject: Re: UC Berkeley should not support and condone school privatization: Rescind your offer to TFA Wendy Kopp as commencement speaker
To: Jane Nylund <jnylund2@gmail.com>

Dear Ms. Nylund,

Thank you for taking the time to alert us to your concerns about Wendy Kopp being selected as the 2019 commencement speaker.  The University of California, Berkeley has a commencement speaker selection process in place which includes the involvement of the student group, the Californians, the Associated Students of the University of California, and the Chancellor’s office.  Please see the attached flow chart for more detail on the selection process.

We are highly committed to this process and we do not disinvite speakers when groups or individuals come forward who do not support the speaker’s beliefs or body of work.  While we understand the concerns put forth by those who have written, we must adhere to both our process as well as to the tenets of free speech.

Sincerely,

Carolyn

Jane

___________________

Jane Nylund is an Oakland Public Schools parent.

State Overseers Say They Have Not Yet Approved Oakland Teachers’ Contract

District has $72 million in unspent funds for low-income and special needs students

Oakland teachers’ strike last month fought for a living wage for educators and an end to austerity budgets crippling public education. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District’s overseers –  the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) and the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which for practical purposes  are running the district for the state, have  indicated that they have not yet approved the contract that came out of the  teachers strike.

The strike was settled on Feb. 28 with a three-year contact that gives teachers an 11 percent wage increase. The agreement was reached after a seven-days strike with the active intervention of State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

Oakland’s state overseers (L to R): California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Nick Schweizer, Trustee Chris Learned, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe speak at Board of Education about what the state is demanding from the school district, Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Alyson Stamos/Oakland North.

“This still isn’t a done deal. The school board cannot give final approval to the contract unless the (financial) oversight trustee, Christopher Learned, and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe, determine the district can afford it — not just now but also in years to come,” according to a column in the Mercury News.

According to an OUSD spokesperson, “Financial information relating to the tentative agreement will be submitted to Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) next week. We anticipate that the Board of Education will vote on the tentative agreement at its April 24 meeting after the county has reviewed the financial information.”

The ACOE, FCMAT and district leaders are already gearing up to eliminate more educational programs and close schools, while blaming teachers for the budget cuts. Yet, they are silent about the finding in the latest interim budget report, which indicates that OUSD has left unspent $72 million in restricted funds though the school year is almost over.

Restricted funding– unlike general purpose funds – can only be spent in specific ways, such as educational support for low-income, special education and Native American students.

Meanwhile, outside financial control over Oakland Unified is solidifying  as part of the district’s Fiscal Vitality Plan, according to OUSD Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell in an email letter to principals and administrators, dated March 22.

The OUSD’s Intensive Assistance and Support Initiative “involves ACOE deploying a team of experienced school fiscal professionals to collaborate directly with OUSD staff, to provide training, monitoring, and implementation of processes and protocols in the following areas of OUSD fiscal operations: budget, accounts payable, payroll and purchasing,”  according to the superintendent’s letter.

The implementation of this plan, which is already underway,  means the reorganization of the district’s financial staff and integration of the district’s financial office with the county’s.

The position of OUSD Chief Business Officer Marcus Battle will be eliminated, effective April 5.

Ofelia Roxas, chief financial officer, will be working part time at OUSD and part time at the county office. Her duties will include  “working closely with the county at their office and serving as a liaison with OUSD to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting,” said Supt. Johnson Trammell.

Without a full-time top manager, the day-to-day management of the OUSD fiscal team will be conducted by Gina Murphy-Garrett, senior executive director,  budget, according to the superintendent.

At the same time, the positions of 11 OUSD financial analysts have been eliminated. Oakland’s State and Federal Office, which is responsible for monitoring spending in programs for low-income and special education students, is also being shut down.

The controller’s position has also been eliminated.

While the state overseers are seen as saviors by some, others say they are in Oakland to enforce austerity, shutting down school programs and creating consultant positions and contracts for outside experts.

FCMAT and the county, working with State Receiver Randy Ward, directly ran the district  without local control from 2003-2009. During that time, they spent a $100 million state loan that was forced on the district and neither produced the organizational efficiency nor the fiscal solvency they had promised.

After the end of state receivership in 2009, a state-appointed trustee continued to oversee the district’s finances,  along with the Alameda County Office of Education.

During the years 2014-2017 when pro-privatization Supt. Antwan Wilson ran the district, money was spent without regard for fiscal controls.  The numbers of central office administrators and their salaries grew unchecked by budget limits.

During that time,  the county and the state were silent. The state trustee had no complaints.

Supt. Wilson, a graduate of pro-charter billionaire Eli Broad’s superintendent training academy, was backed enthusiastically by GO Public Schools and other Oakland-based pro-charter organizations.

When a huge budget shortfall began to surface in late 2016,  Wilson quickly found a new job and left the state.  The district was left to clean up the wreckage, but the county and state overseers said nothing, never publicly accepting their failure to live up to their legal responsibility to hold Supt. Wilson’s administration accountable.

Asked for a response from the school district, Spokesperson Valerie Goode said, “Our central office is undergoing a substantial reorganization, requiring that existing departments and positions undergo evaluation for potential reorganization or elimination. These re-organizational efforts are taking place to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.”

At press time, the district still had not responded to questions about the $72 million in unspent restricted funds.

Published March 29, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

OUSD Pays $1.4 Million to County Overseers

FCMAT CEO Michael Fine was previously deputy superintendent for business services of the Riverside Unified School District. Photo courtesy of John Fensterwald, EdSource.

By Ken Epstein

A recent report produced by the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) reveals how under a recently passed state law, AB 1840, the Alameda County Office of Education (COE) collaborating with FCMAT, will oversee the Oakland Unified School District, at a cost to the district of $1.4 million this year.

According to the 267-page FCMAT report, released on March 1, “The Alameda COE estimates a total of 7,320 hours for 2019-20 to provide support and intervention to the district to comply with AB 1840. The … cost for this support is $1,427,588. For 2020-21, the Alameda COE anticipates fewer hours of support, with a cost estimate of $1,204,400.”

This represents a fee of $195 an hour.

FCMAT operates in Bakersfield from the office of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools under contract with the California Department of Education and the governor’s office. The agency works in school districts throughout California enforcing financial accountability, meaning that the agency requires local educators to adopt difficult austerity measures, such as school closures and cuts to educational programs.

Working together, FCMAT and Alameda County Office of Education are supervising OUSD under the terms of AB 1840, which “provides for several changes in the oversight of fiscally distressed districts and sets forth specific requirements for the Oakland Unified School District in exchange for providing financial resources under certain circumstances.”

Karen Monroe

Reflecting changes in political realities in Sacramento, the structure of state dominance of the local districts is shifting, according to FMAT, designed to give an appearance of preserving local control.

Instead of  continuing with a “state centric system” of receivership,  legislators want the system “ to be more consistent with the principles of local control,” according to FCMAT.

Under AB 1840, state oversight of the district has been transferred from Sacramento to the Alameda County of Office of Education, which is working collaboratively with FCMAT.

“AB 1840 shifts the former state-centric system… Several duties formerly assigned to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) are now assigned to the county superintendent, with the concurrence of the SPI and the president of the State Board of Education”

Further, the state trustee now reports to the county.

“Under AB 1840, the state trustee assigned to the district now reports to the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, and no longer reports to the (state superintendent),” the report said.

If the present state trustee leaves,  a new state trustee would be “selected from a list of candidates identified and vetted by FCMA and be appointed jointly by the county superintendent, SPI and president of the State Board of Education,” according to the report.

There is no mention in the report that many Oaklanders consider local control as meaning that Oakland voters and their elected school board have ultimate authority over education policy – not that the state makes all the decisions through its representatives based at the County Office of Education in Hayward and Bakersfield.

Published March 21 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

State Representatives – FCMAT and the County – Drive Budget Cuts, Not the Teachers Strike

Oakland teachers recent seven-day strike challenged the school board’s decision to close schools and slash educational programs. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

A new report from the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) indicates that the State of California, represented by FCMAT and the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, is requiring the school district to make budget cuts of jobs and programs totaling about $30 million this year, regardless of  any costs generated by increased salaries for teachers and other school employees.

The district administration and much of the school board blame the new teachers contract for the cuts they are making, but they are silent about pressure the district faces from FCMAT and the County Superintendent.

FCMAT, which is an independent nonprofit funded by the state, works in schools districts throughout California enforcing financial accountability, meaning that the agency requires local educators to adopt difficult austerity measures, such as school closures and cuts to educational programs.

FCMAT is sometimes referred to as a QUANGO, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization, which Wikipedia defines as “a hybrid form of organization with elements of both non-government organizations (NGOs) and public sector bodies … at least partly controlled and/or financed by government bodies.”

Working together, FCMAT and Alameda County Office of Education are supervising OUSD under the terms of AB 1840, which “provides for several changes in the oversight of fiscally distressed districts and sets forth specific requirements for the Oakland Unified School District in exchange for providing financial resources under certain circumstances.”

Backed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic Legislature passed AB 1840 on Aug. 31, and the law became effective on Sept.17, 2018. FCMAT played a role in drafting the legislation.

FCMAT’s 267-page report on the Oakland Unified School District, issued March 1, did not deal with the impact of the teachers’ strike settlement, which was settled too late to be  included in the report’s findings.

The report quoted a Sept. 6, 2018 letter to OUSD from the County Office of Education,  which said the district’s solvency was “largely dependent on the District’s ability to implement approximately $30 million of ongoing reductions in 2018-19.”

The purpose of extra state funding connected to AB 1840 is to give the district three years to make layoffs, school closures  and large cuts to central office administration and school sites. The money is not intended to help avoid any cuts but to give OUSD some time and space to make the cuts the state expects, making the reductions in three steps rather than diving head first of the cliff all at once.

According to the FCMAT report, AB 1840 provides for activities that “may include but are not limited to … adoption and implementation of necessary budgetary solutions, including the consolidation of school sites….(and) sale or lease of surplus property.”

Under the guidance of FCMAT since 2003, the district has closed 18 schools since 2004, 14 of which have become charter schools.  FCMAT has long been adamant about the need for OUSD to close schools.

While FCMAT admits school closings do not save money, selling or leasing schools can generate income. The district is in the process of setting up a “7-11 committee,” which is a process required by the state for local districts that want to sell public property.

The supervision provided by FCMAT and the county looks at the district’s financial condition as a given,  which  only can be improved with budget cuts – not a something for which FCMAT and the county bear any responsibility (going back to 2003). Ignored is the possibility of increased state support for urban school districts or changing state laws to restrict the drain of charter schools on public education dollars.

Looking favorably at the district’s “Citywide Plan,” authorized last June, ” FCMAT notes that “the first strategy under this plan is to implement the Blueprint for Quality Schools action plan to identify four cohorts of school changes….As a part of this plan, the district will identify on a citywide map the school sites that will be closing or merging with a nearby site.”

Detailing a timeline of district budget cuts, FCMAT also noted that the Board of Education unanimously voted on Aug. 8 to “consider and implement budget reductions,” including 234 FTE Certificated positions and 104 FTE Classified, Management and Confidential positions for approximately $26.4 million to be identified on or before Feb. 28, 2019, books and supplies of $400,000 and $3.5 million services and operating expenses.”

On Sept. 12, the school board adopted a resolution endorsing the closing of schools.

On Jan. 28, the board approved a plan to close Roots International Academy and disperse its students. The campus would be given to Coliseum College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), which currently shares the site with Roots.

On Feb. 19, “the district board received feedback from staff and stakeholders about the restorative justice program, which was recommended at the Feb. 6, 2019 meeting to be eliminated.”

Published March 15, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Legislature Should Cancel the School District’s $40 Million Debt, Says Senator Skinner

Oaklanders visit the offices of Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Bob Bonta seeking forgiveness of financial debt to OUSD. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

A growing number of Oaklanders—joined by Senator Nancy Skinner—are calling on the State of California to cancel the balance of the $100 million loan that the state forced on the Oakland Unified School District in 2003 and then spent through a state receiver, with no democratic input from the local community.

The district still owes somewhat less than $40 million on the loan, making annual payments of $6 million a year until 2026.

Speaking at a meeting last week of the Wellstone Democratic Club, Senator Nancy Skinner said she would support a measure to forgive the remainder of the district’s state debt. “I support eliminating that debt, especially given that it (was spent) under state receivership (when) there were five different superintendents, all appointed by the state. They racked up a huge debt, and then Oakland was supposed to pay it back at 8 percent (interest)—that’s usury,” said Skinner.

Over 1,500 people have signed a petition calling on Oakland’s local representatives to work to abolish the debt.

“We call on the OUSD administration along with California politicians Gavin Newsom, Rob Bonta, Nancy Skinner, and Tony Thurmond to take immediate steps toward waiving/abolishing OUSD’s debt and fully fund OEA’s reasonable contract proposal,” the petition said, which is available at Change.org at https://bit.ly/2VCKz1W.

Supporting the community demand, Council President Rebecca Kaplan wrote a letter on Feb. 14 to Gov. Gavin Newsom: “In light of an estimated $21.5 billion surplus in the State budget, … relief from the repayment process would afford OUSD the opportunity to truly create a culture of long-term solvency,” wrote Kaplan.

A group of OUSD principals recently sent a delegation to Sacramento asking the legislators to support Oakland’s demand for loan forgiveness.

In interviews with the Oakland Post this week, Assemblymember Bonta said he has supported loan forgiveness for six years and he will continue to do so. However, he has not introduced a bill because it would be unlikely to gain support in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

“There is no appetite in Sacramento for that, even though we have a new governor,” he said.

Politics is the art of the of the possible, he continued. “We tried numerous times for debt forgiveness, but it was not possible.”

Bonta said the best bet for OUSD to restore its financial wellbeing is through AB 1840 – to take the money authorized law and adopt austerity measures that will stabilize the district’s finances. He said 1840 does not require closing schools and selling school property but allows the district to cut central office overspending and sell school property to build affordable housing, a “win-win for everybody.”

He did not comment on how the law is being applied in real life by the district leadership and state representatives, including the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which are guiding the cuts: closing 24 schools, including closing Roots International Academy and dispersing its students, as well as cutting Restorative Justice and other programs designed to develop student leadership and laying off over 100 non-teaching employees.

Agreeing that debt forgiveness faces serious opposition, School Board President Aimee Eng said, “The board and the district have sought support for loan deferral and relief, on and off for years.

“There has been no indication (as recently as conservations last week with State Supt. Of Instruction Tony Thurmond) that there is any appetite (in the Legislature) for forgiving all outstanding debt by districts statewide.”

By the Oakland Post’s deadline, Supt. Thurmond did not reply to a request for comment.

Posted March 8, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post