Archive for February, 2015

Does Oakland Unified Want Input or a Rubber Stamp on School Headquarters Development?

Oakland Unified's headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

Oakland Unified’s headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District has put its community engagement process on “reset” after plans to rebuild its central office complex blew up in its face amid community suspicions that the district was arranging to sell Dewey Academy out from under its students and teachers and hand over the school district headquarters property on Second Avenue to private developers.

Bruce Kariya

Bruce Kariya

The Educational Leadership Complex Committee, which started meeting in December with about a dozen members, was supposed to embody the new, improved, “reset” community engagement process. But now some of the community members are questioning whether the committee is being set up to rubber stamp whatever the administration puts in front of it.

“It doesn’t feel like an authentic process. It’s like what (former facilities manager) Tim White said in the Oakland Post, like this is being rammed down the community’s throat,” said Bruce Kariya, a community representative on the committee and a former school board member for District 2 from 1999-2003.

“It’s a lot about being rushed and just being asked to make decisions without any information that we really need,” said Kariya. “It’s such an amorphous process, very ill defined, ill resourced. There’s a lot of frustration over that.”

The committee is supposed to have its final meeting on March 22 and produce a report for a school board meeting in April. Among committee members are Mia Settles, OUSD Chief Operations Officer; Tim White, the Deputy Chief of Facilities who was recently forced to resign; and Vernon Hal, senior business manager. Also attending meetings is Isaac Kos-Read, newly hired Chief of Communications and Public Affairs.

Frustrated by the lack of information, community members submitted questions by email on Feb. 21 to district staff.

“May we have an advance agenda for topics of discussion?” Committee members requested.

“May we now have the information on results from the surveys of the various sectors of the community?

“Please supply written information on approximate amounts of funding and sources available or considered. It is not possible to entirely divorce the planning from the funding questions.

“May we know what other sites are contemplated as possibilities for an administration complex? What studies are available on other suitable OUSD-owned non-school facilities, such as, just for one example, the High Street site?

“Can you tell us what the state-recommended land allocation would be for a continuation high school Dewey’s size?  What are the standards for recreational facilities for a school of Dewey’s size?

Naomi Schiff

Naomi Schiff

“Please provide information about what mechanism would be employed to request an extension, since the project plan and committee work plan will obviously not be sufficient nor suitably worked out in time for the deadline?  What are the external time constraints that are impacting our committee’s work.”

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

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

“With the current process in place, we can’t know what the community wants,” said Kariya, adding that the committee is only sure that community does not want the site to be used for housing.

“There seems to be a desire on the part of the school district to have some sort of private development,” Kariya said, though a number of their goals for the 3-acre site seem incompatible. The want to build 75,000 square feet of office space and parking for 500. But the district currently has over 900 central office employees and 275,000 square feet of central office space.

“You have to accept it all on blind faith,” he said.

When committee members express their frustrations, Kariya said, public affairs chief Kos-Read is now putting the blame on(former facilities manager) Tim White.

Naomi Schiff of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, who is on the committee, is also questioning why members are getting no information on which to make a decision.

She said that she went on a tour last year of the closed Paul Robeson Administration building. “It is dry. You’d think it was moldy and full of water. There was certainly some kind of flooding, but it’s not falling down. “There is no visible cracking,” she said.

“It may be that it would be very expensive to use it (again), it is not a non-reusable building.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Oakland School District Leaders Earn Top Salaries

By Ken Epstein

Teachers and others in the school community are complaining that Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antwan Wilson’s administration is top heavy with highly paid new administrators who had worked in Denver, CO public schools.

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

Wilson, formerly an assistant superintendent of Denver schools, earns $280,000 a year plus benefits. In addition, he received a $28,000 moving allowance and an additional payment for six months of temporary housing while he looks for a new home, as well as reimbursement for his legal expenses for negotiating his contract with the district.

The cost of benefits generally adds more than one-third to the cost of an employee’s’ annual salary.

Troy Flint, the school district’s spokesman, told the Post that he is working on gathering the information on the amounts Supt. Wilson is being paid for temporary housing and for his legal expenses.

Administrative salaries frequently become a major issue during contract negotiations between school districts and teachers’ unions, especially in Oakland where teacher pay is the lowest in the Bay Area.

Oakland’s two previous top executives were Gary Yee, acting superintendent who earned $250,000 a year; and Tony Smith, who was formerly a superintendent in Emeryville, earned $265,000 a year when he left the district.

Isaac Kos-Read

Isaac Kos-Read

Also from Denver, Chief of Schools Allen Smith earns $175,000 and received $15,000 for moving expenses.

Yana Smith, Chief, Organizational Effectiveness & Culture, Allen Smith’s wife, is earning $155,000 and $12,500 for moving costs.

Devin Dillon, Chief Academic Officer, Office of the Superintendent, is earning $175,000 plus $11,000 for moving.

Bernard McCune, Deputy Chief of the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness, earns $157,000 a year plus $17,000 for moving costs.

Ray Mondragon, deputy chief academic of early childhood learning, is earning $157,000. The position is grant funded.

A number of these positions are newly created and supplement existing top administrators in the district.

Other new officials include Isaac Kos-Read, chief of Communications and Public Affairs, who earns $192,000.  He previously worked as director of External affairs at the Port of Oakland and was a public affairs consultant for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

His position is paid by the Oakland Public Education Fund, which has an office in the school district headquarters.

According to Flint, the district’s spokesman, Kos-Read plays a crucial role at the school district.

“Isaac brings substantial experience and expertise in Public Affairs and Communications, areas where the District has suffered from lack of capacity for years,” he said. “The marginal benefits of adding someone of Isaac’s talents yields benefits far beyond the cost in terms of increased ability to interact with diverse stakeholder groups, identify community concerns, and deal with those issues effectively.”

The Oakland Post is hearing from community members and district staff that they are concerned that the superintendent’s reliance on administrators from outside Oakland contributes to what they say is his team’s relative isolation from the concerns of local people and a tendency to make mistakes in judgment based on ignorance or disregard for local realities.

 Courtesy of the Post New Group, February 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Our Schools Need Latino Teachers

Latino students two

 

By Francisco Ortiz, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch and Kitty Kelly Epstein

Marisol, a very effective Bay Area high school teacher, says that she never had a Latino teacher until she was in the 10th grade.

“Having a Latino teacher made me much more positive about education and caused me to think about teaching,” she said.

Latino students threeMarisol’s experience is not unusual.   Fifty-three percent of students and only 18 percent percent of teachers in California public schools are Latino. There are schools in the Bay Area that have hundreds of Latino children and not a single Latino teacher.

Currently, one of the authors of this article, Mr. Ortiz, is the only Spanish-speaking Latino teacher for the entire upper-elementary grades (4-6) at his school.

He says, “I am able to effectively communicate with the newcomer students in my classroom, as well as other newcomer students in grades 4-6, something which may not always be possible for monolingual English speaking teachers.”

“Although I teach sixth grade,” he continues, “parents from other classrooms say they hope that their children will be my students in the future. Kids from grades 2-5 often see me in the halls and express their excitement to be in my classroom.”

Latino students 1Latino students want to succeed. Whether it’s cultural capital, linguistic

Francisco Ortiz

Francisco Ortiz

capital or a combination of both that allow Latino students to feel more empowered and confident through having Latino teachers, this ever growing and crucially important resource should not be ignored, especially since the Latino population is the fastest growing ethnic group in California’s schools, he said.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled Lynch

Dr. Kimberly Mayfiled-Lynch

Asian, white and Black students also need Latino teachers to share their language, along with their cultural and global wisdom.

Some authors treat the lack of Latino teachers as a problem of recruitment, and some have even argued that Latinos are not interested in becoming teachers.

In reality there are many barriers that stand in the way of Latinos earning the teaching credential.   Standardized tests continue to be a significant barrier for Latinos entering the teaching profession.

Due to the racial wealth gap, many Latino families are challenged by the high fees for the assessments and by the requirement of many programs that candidates work for free as a student teacher.

Another barrier for Latinos who have English as a second language is the writing section of the standardized assessment. Test takers are required to write all responses in English.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Although Spanish is the first language for 40 percent of California students, there is absolutely no credit given for Spanish fluency in fulfilling the requirements for credentialing.

Additionally, traditional recruitment strategies are often not effective for recruiting Latinos. Recruitment of college graduates and career-changers through community-based organizations is more effective than the traditional bureaucratic routes.

In our view the recruitment of teachers of color is a far better way to improve American schools and stabilize the teaching force than the over-testing of everybody, which is currently the favorite project of many policy-makers.

Kimberly Mayfield-Lynch is chair of Black Women Organized for Political Action and chair of the Education Department at Holy Names University.

Francisco Ortiz is a Bay Area teacher and a graduate student researching issues of Latino teacher recruitment.

Kitty Kelly Epstein hosts Education Today on KPFA – FM and writes on issues involving education and urban policy. (A Different View of Urban Schools (2012) Peter Lang).

Courtey of the Post News Group, February 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Construction Chief Tim White Pushed Out of Oakland Unified

Interim Replacement Heads Company Found Guilty of Bribery in Three School Districts

 

Tim White oversaw OUSD construction project, many which won awards , such as the Downtown Education Complex, across the street from the old district headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

For 14 years, Tim White oversaw OUSD construction projects, many of which won award such as the Downtown Education Complex across the street from the old district headquarters at 1025 Second Ave. Photo by Dale Lang, architectual photographer.

 

By Ken Epstein

The new administration of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) seems to be in a rush to replace the widely respected, longtime head of the district’s facilities maintenance and construction department, Timothy White, although White has not resigned from his position.

Tim White

Tim White

After the Berkeley Unified School District contacted OUSD seeking a reference, OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson on Friday sent out an email to staff:

“I want to announce that Timothy White, Deputy Chief of Facilities, Planning and Management, has resigned to accept a position as Executive Director of Facilities in the Berkeley Unified School District.”

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

Under OUSD board policy, employees must submit a resignation in writing to be official. As of Thursday afternoon, White had not resigned and had not accepted employment at Berkeley Unified, according to White.

New construction at Calvin Simmons Middle School on 35th Avenue.

New construction at Calvin Simmons Middle School on 35th Avenue.

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

White said the issue that ultimately led to him being pushed out was his refusal to have his name associated with the school district’s “community engagement process,” surrounding the development and possible sale of the old district headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

“A board member said the whole community process had been a ‘boondgogle,” White said, and the process was supposed to “reset” under White’s leadership and the leadership of his staff.

But it turned out that the changes were only cosmetic, and he was not willing to have his name and reputation associated with them.

“I didn’t want to be associated with certain outcomes that I saw developing,” he said. “I don’t want to be used by certain people. I told them I can’t operate like that,” White said. “I don’t want to be associated with the community process they had already rammed down the community’s throat.”

Seville Group, Inc. currently has a limited role in OUSD, providing program and project management services for the District’s Measures B and J bond and capital projects.

Several of the owners of Seville Group were recently found guilty in a San Diego corruption case that involved bribing school board officials and administrators. The case resulted in across-the-board guilty pleas, jail time, community service, home detention and fines.

According to the Office of the District Attorney in San Diego, 18 defendants connected to three school districts including Sweetwater Union High School District, Southwestern College and the San Ysidro School District – “who included administrators, trustees and contractors – were originally indicted by a grand jury in December 2012 on multiple counts including bribery, perjury, filing a false instrument, influencing an elected official and obtaining something of value to influence a member of a legislative body.”

Three of the defendants, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, were Henry Amigable, a former employee of Seville Construction Services; Renee Flores, an owner of SGI; and Jeff Flores, also an owner of SGI.

“For years, public officials regularly accepted what amounted to bribes in exchange for their votes on multi-million dollar construction projects. The public corruption was nothing short of systemic,” 
said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis.

According to the Bloomberg Business website, Lance Jackson was not CEO at time he was listed on the website but was in charge of oversight of all of SGI’s programs and projects. He had been with Seville Group since May 2002.

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

According to OUSD spokesman Troy Flint, White may “maintain” that he has not resigned. “But it’s a matter of public record” – it was reported at a Berkeley school board meeting that he accepted a job with Berkeley, Flint said

“We took that as a de facto resignation, given that he has accepted employment in another organization,” Flint said.

Flint said the district is aware of the corruption case in San Diego. “That did not affect Lance Jackson in any way. He was not involved in it. That was an isolated incident… The greatest fault lies with (those) public officials.”

A phone call to Seville Group’s headquarters in Pasadena was not returned to the Oakland Post by the time the newspaper went to press.

For information on the case published by the Office of San Diego County District Attorney go to www.sdcda.org/files/South%20Bay%20Corruption%20Case%20Ends%207-2-14.pdf

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 20, 1015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Campaign to Save Chabot Space & Science Center’s Planetarium Projector

Students visit Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland.

Students visit Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland.

The Eastbay Astronomical Society is launching a program to restore the Zeiss planetarium projector at the Chabot Space & Science Center.

According to the Zeiss representative in the United States (Zeiss is a German company), Phase One of the restoration process would involve a thorough evaluation of the planetarium projector to assess its current condition and determine what needs to be repaired or replaced.

The cost for Phase One is $25,000, and this is the initial goal of the astronomical society’s fundraising campaign.
The outcome of the Phase One evaluation will determine the cost of the actual
Phase Two restoration work.  The estimates range between $100,000, and $300,000.

The Phase Two fundraising goal will be based on the final cost estimate.

The Zeiss projector creates an accurate depiction of the night sky on the cieling of the planetarium.

The Zeiss projector creates an accurate depiction of the night sky on the cieling of the planetarium.

The Save the Zeiss campaign is being organized by the Eastbay Astronomical

Society in support of the Chabot Space & Science Center, located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in Oakland.

Chabot is a non-profit organization with a limited budget and has not been able to fund the maintenance or restoration of the Zeiss planetarium project for the last few
years.

In order to accept donations from the public to the Save the Zeiss campaign, the astronomical society has set up a crowd-funding site, providing information about the Zeiss, and several ways to donate to the cause.

The funding site is located at https://youcaring.com/SaveTheZeiss

For more information, send an email to geraldspace@earthlink.net
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley City Council Approves Investigation of December Protests, Bans Tear Gas, Baton Strikes

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

By Judith Scherr

Two months after Berkeley police injured peaceful protesters with batons, tear gas and projectiles, some 150 activists led by Berkeley High, Berkeley City College and UC Berkeley Black student unions, took the Black Lives Matter message to the streets Tuesday, marching from the Cal Campus to the city council meeting at Old City Hall.

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

The council got the message.

In a series of unanimous votes, the council approved a temporary ban on police use of tear gas, projectiles and over-the-shoulder baton swings for crowd control; asked the Police Review Commission to review both specific tactics used by police at the December protests and general crowd control orders; directed the city manager to write policy for police cameras; and affirmed Berkeley support for national Ferguson Action demands.

“This is what democracy looks like – when the people of Berkeley come out on the streets and demand their elected representatives take action,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, speaking at a rally at Old City Hall before the meeting.  Arreguin authored most the policies the council approved later.

Also addressing the rally, Berkeley High senior Kadijah  Means talked about “what militarization looks like in our community.”

“ It’s not just about tear gas or AK 47s,” she said. “It’s about militarization as a mind set. It’s about cops believing we’re not all part of the same community. Because if they thought they were part of the community, we wouldn’t have the unjust deaths that we do.”

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Inside the council chambers, several dozen speakers lined up to urge council approval of measures to hold police accountable for their actions at the December demonstrations protesting police immunity in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York.

“’I found myself, a Black woman, targeted by officers,’” said Associated Students of the University of California Senator Madison Gordon, reading a letter from an unnamed friend.

“’I found myself bearing the brunt of a beating of a baton across my chest and torso…I was gassed and fell to the ground coughing….The system that promised to protect me, had failed me so horribly and for what?  A peaceful demonstration to display my discontent for this system that continues to display violence and criminal acts on my people every day.’”

Andrea Pritchett from Copwatch said she had requested police operational plans for the demonstrations, but much of the response was blacked out.

“The police department is saying they redacted certain parts of the plan for security procedures,” Pritchett said. “They contain ‘intelligence information.’ My friends, that’s what a militarized police department does.”

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Chamber of Commerce CEO Poly Armstrong, one of three speakers urging opposition to the measures, asked the council not to take crowd control tools away from police were they faced with another “civic uproar.”

“As the voice for business in Berkeley, Berkeley businesses would feel extremely uncertain if there were no way for police to protect the people of Berkeley and their businesses downtown,” she said.

The police chief was absent, though he generally attends council meetings when police matters are discussed. City Manager Christine Daniel told the Post he wasn’t asked to attend because he wasn’t required to give a report.

A police spokesperson told this reporter in December that aggressive police tactics responded appropriately to protesters, some of whom had thrown objects such as bottles at police. However, one public speaker called this “collective punishment.”

A unanimous council approved asking the city manager to write a plan within three months for implementation of police body and vehicle cameras, although some public speakers had expressed skepticism. In a recent Emeryville police shooting, the officer’s body camera was off and in the case of Eric Garner, the police officer who choked him was not indicted even though the choking was caught on camera.

The council unanimously affirmed the Ferguson demands that include strict limits on transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement and repurposing funds for alternatives to incarceration.

The council unanimously approved the Police Review Commission conducting an independent review of the December protests and a general review of related crowd control policies, with councilmembers underscoring the PRC needs to use its power to subpoena documents and testimony.

And the council approved the interim ban – to be re-evaluated after the independent review — on police use of tear gas, projectiles and certain baton strikes when dealing with mostly peaceful protesters.

Addressing the young people at the meeting, Councilmember Max Anderson said, “You’re part of a struggle along a continuum. You’re part of an effort to ensure the basic principles of this country are upheld.

“We’ve arrived at a point where an inordinate amount of power resides with the police department and their representatives; we arrived at this because we believed they would always have our best interests to protect and serve the general public. That hasn’t borne itself out. And you’re response is appropriate, courageous and has to be ongoing.”

Courtesy of the Berkeley Post, February 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Black Futures Month: The Need for Black Teachers

Photo Courtesy of Education Week.

Photo Courtesy of Education Week.

By Kimberly Mayfield-Lynch and Kitty Kelly Epstein

American schools need Black teachers. There is considerable documented evidence that Black students do better when they have more African-American teachers.

White and Latino and Asian kids also benefit from learning to respect the leadership and wisdom of the Black adults who teach them. Teachers of all ethnicities learn cultural competence by working with each other.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfield Lynch

Dr. Kimberly Mayfield Lynch

Furthermore, because teaching is a stable job with benefits, economic justice demands that it be available to local residents whose communities suffer from the highest unemployment and the lowest income levels.

American schools also need Latino, Asian, and indigenous teachers, and we will be discussing the specific needs and barriers that face these communities in a follow-up column. Seventy-three percent of students and only 29 percent of teachers come from non-Anglo groups

The educational system makes it difficult for Black and other non-Anglo adults to enter the field.

Policy makers know very well that standardized tests have always operated to the detriment of people of color, ever since they were first created by Eugenics advocate Lewis Terman.

In fact the National Teacher Exam (NTE) was specifically used in Southern states to keep Black teachers out of the classroom in the wake of desegregation (*See reference below) In quiet circles and backrooms the test was referred to as the Negro Teacher Eliminator. The current version of the NTE is the CSET (California Subject Matter Exam Test).

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

State and federal governments have added several other forms of standardized testing that are required of every prospective teacher.

In addition, new teachers are generally required to carry out unpaid student teaching, and this is an overwhelming financial burden for many Black families, given the racial wealth gap.

Oakland has historically done more than most districts to remedy this problem and break down these barriers.

In the early 1990s, the school board led by President Sylvester Hodges frequently asked staff for reports on hiring by ethnicity. In the late 1990s, the district created the Oakland Partnership Program, which recruited, supported and prepared many of the district’s best teacher-leaders and administrators, including Keith Brown who now serves on the OEA Board; Mia Settles, Kyla Johnson, and many others in the district administration and schools.

A few years later, the Effective Teachers for Oakland Task Force, organized by then Mayor Ron Dellums and led by Dr. Mayfield-Lynch, recommended the creation of programs to diversify the teaching force.

The district accepted this recommendation, and hired Dr. Rachelle Rogers-Ard to lead Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO), a program that has become a national beacon for effective teacher recruitment and retention.

Education Week and the Center for American Progress have both extolled the diversity and quality of the program.

Four elements make the program especially effective at recruiting and retaining diverse teachers.

First, because the programs recruits local residents and the support is intensive, three-quarters of TTO teachers have been retained over five years. This is exceptional, given the national statistic that half of all teachers quit within five years.

Second, an element of the selection process involves seeing the prospective teacher work with young people.

Third, the support system is intimate and culturally competent. People who need help with finishing required tests get both hand-holding, and rigorous instruction The new teachers join as cohorts, are celebrated for their work and have specific professional development targeted to their needs.

Finally, the program has the beautiful mix of connection and autonomy, which makes school district programs work. Like the African-American Male Achievement Project, TTO is part of the district, but it also has some autonomy and self-direction.

The small cost of running TTO is more than compensated by the fact that it eliminates some of the financial and programmatic cost of constant teacher turnover.

(*Wayne Urban in “Essays in Twentieth Century Southern Education: Exceptionalism and Its Limits (1998) p. 188).

Dr. Kimberly Mayfield-Lynch is chair of the Education Department at Holy Names University; a former Oakland teacher; and the parent of an Oakland student.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein is host of the radio program Education Today on KPFA FM and author of “A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory and Unexplored Realities” (2012) Peter Lang.

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

 

Debate Heating Up Over Future of Five Oakland Public Schools – Superintendent Walks Out of Board Meeting

By Ken A. Epstein

A disagreement has broken out between Supt. Antwan Wilson and the majority on the Oakland Board of Education over the fate of five flatland public schools and the meaning of the policy governing the quality school improvement process that the superintendent is implementing.

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

Near midnight at the end of a tumultuous seven-hour school board meeting on Wednesday, the board voted 4-3 on an amendment to administrative regulations, affirming that the board would have the right to vote on the final proposals on what will happen to Fremont, Castlemont and McClymonds High schools, along with Frick Middle and Brookfield Elementary schools.

The regulations will provide guidelines on how the district administration will move ahead to select the proposals that will totally transform these schools. The schools have been encouraged to submit proposals, as have had charter schools and other outside organizations.

Though several board members argued that the amendment was unnecessary since its substance had already been

Nina Senn

Nina Senn

incorporated in the updated regulations, the motion passed with the support of Nina Senn, Shanthi Gonzales, Roseann Torres and Aimee Eng.

Opposed were Jumoke Hinton, Jody London and Board President James Harris.

Senn, the maker of the motion, said, “We’re all elected to represent ours constituents. Obviously from all the different speakers (at the board meeting), there’s a lot of attention and focus on this work. So this is something that was important to clarify.”

Shanthi Gonzales agreed. “There was a lot of confusion about it. (There) was a missing paragraph from the admin. regs. that was circulated quite widely. It seemed very important to reconfirm that this was everybody’s understanding.”

Shanthi_Gonzales__District_6

Shanthi Gonzales

The problem was that the policy said one thing and the draft administrative regulations said another thing, Gonzales said. “If we actually changed the words in the admin regs, then this is not necessary. But if we have not, then it is necessary.”

Responding at length, Supt Wilson said, “I don’t have any problem with the board voting. But I will not be disrespected in Oakland…. For me its less about the motion – it’s more about the discourse. It’s more about the way it feels. It feels disrespectful.”

Before coming to Oakland, Supt. Wilson read the district policies, which give him the power to do “what I deem necessary,” he said.

Roseann Torres

Roseann Torres

He said he is basing his decisions on policies that were passed by the board of education in 2013 and 2014, and now people are acting surprised by what he is doing. People are saying, “Now we can’t trust you,” he said.

However, he said he is willing to be open and take feedback. “ I don’t see this as something (where) I’m drawing lines in the sand.”

After the motion passed, the superintendent stood up without saying a word and walked out of the meeting.

Asked why Supt. Wilson left the meeting, district spokesperson Troy Flint said, “The superintendent wants everyone’s time to be respected. That’s not happening when redundant motions do something that has already been accomplished and enshrined.”

Flint was asked to specify who was being disrespectful: teachers who came to the meeting demanding a new union contract; students who are demanding to have a voice in the transformation of their schools; community members opposed to their schools becoming charter schools; or board members who passed the motion clarifying the school redesign guidelines?

Declining to be specific, he referred to the board meeting in general, saying, “Seven hours of name calling, metaphorical bomb throwing, there was a certain pointlessness to it all.”

“I think we’ve done better this year than in last years,” Flint continued. “ But we’re starting to relapse … (into) madness. “

The superintendent operates from the point of view of “generosity of spirit,” he said. Progress cannot be made if there is an “assumption of malicious intent,” if everyone’s motives are questioned and maligned.

Shanthi Gonzales introduced a resolution at the end of the meeting calling for staff to review administrative regulations to be sure they are consistent with the quality school policy because “the policy is about the schools themselves building their capacity and creating a process based on the very specific needs of the individual schools.”

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

Residents Want Port of Oakland to Negotiate Development Project’s Impacts

Rendering of Army Base Project

Rendering of Army Base Project

By Ken Epstein

The future of Oakland as a conduit for global commerce took a big step forward recently when the Port of Oakland and Union Pacific Railroad started construction on a project to link the ongoing development at the old Oakland Army Base to the railroad’s main line.

But community activists are asking if Oakland residents are going to be part of this commercial future and if they are going to have a say in this public investment.

They want the port to sit down with them to negotiate the benefits and the impact of this project. They say the port had a few meetings with them and then stopped meeting.

“They’ve presented nothing to us –they have not given us any idea of the level of community benefits they are considering,” said Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks Alliance.

“We’ve given them proposals, and they have not responded to us.” Gordon said. Port officials only met with local residents three times to discuss community benefits, the last time right before the election, said.

Amy Tharpe, Port of Oakland

Amy Tharpe, Port of Oakland

In addition, she said, the port never explained the development plan to the community.

As of Wednesday of this week, the port has sent a message offering to schedule a meeting in February to talk with community members.

“The Port of Oakland has never sat down and said what benefits represent their commitment to the people of Oakland, said Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks.

“My question is: ’Why does the port continue to demand unilateral control over the community benefit discussion with West Oakland residents? What are they so afraid of?’” Asked Beveridge.

In response to community complaints, the port is saying it will restart community benefits meetings after it picks a developer for the port side of the Army Base development project.

The $25 million project is financed by the Port of Oakland and the California Transportation Commission’s Trade Corridors Improvement Fund. It’s part of a $100 million port effort to significantly expand Oakland rail capacity.

A 7,400-foot lead track and the reconfiguration of adjacent tracks should be completed in October. Once finished, the port will be better positioned to receive bulk rail shipments at the former army base from Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.

The port and City of Oakland expect to transform Trans-Pacific supply chains at the 360-acre former army base logistics center. Located on the Port’s Outer Harbor, it would include warehousing, trans-load facilities and a dry-bulk cargo terminal.

“Connecting the Oakland Army Base to the national rail network is a milestone for us,” said Chris Chan, the port’s engineering director. “To be successful, we must have good rail access.”

Bulk shipments of commodities such as Midwest grain and beef could be delivered to Oakland by rail, trans-loaded into containers at the port, and then exported via Asia-bound container vessels.

According, to Amy Tharpe, the port’s Director of Social Responsibility, the Port of Oakland is interested in meeting with community members who will be impacted by the Army Base project.

“The Port of Oakland is committed to developing a community benefits package for the redevelopment of the Port’s portion of the former Oakland Army Base,” said Tharpe.

“To ensure this we have to hear from the people in our community who will be impacted by the project and could benefit from it,” she said. “We’ve held several meetings that began last year with multiple key stakeholders from more than ten community groups.”

“Once a development partner is selected,” she continued, “the Port will schedule more community meetings to create a specific community benefits agreement.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 8, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

City Council and Mayor Pledge Actions to Reduce Systemic Racial Injustice

District Attorney O’Malley Speaks at Council Meeting

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council this week continued to come to grips with issues raised at a recent public hearing “on racial inequality within the economic and criminal justice systems.”

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca Kaplan

Recommended by Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the discussion was placed on the agenda to allow councilmembers to continue their discussions on concrete policy

changes they want to implement in the wake of the public hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24 that addressed the loss of Black lives and impact of violence on the community.

The hearing was planned in consultation with a number of activists.

In an interview with the Post this week, Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the council and McElhaney for their leadership on these issues.

“I intend to work with the council to implement the recommendations that come from their deliberations. I think these public discussions are very healthy for the city.”

 

Alameda County D.A. Nancy O’Malley speaks at Oakland City Council Meeting.

Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington said they wanted to work with Councilmember Desley Books, who is pushing to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the city.

“It’ a piece of work I’d like to get heavily involved in,” said Campbell Washington. The existence of such a department would encourage the city council at every meeting to look at issues from the point view of race and equity, she said.

Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and Guillen are calling for the Oakland Police Department to hire more local residents and ensure that the new hires are more reflective of the composition of Oakland communities.

Over 1,000 Oakland residents have applied for OPD jobs in the last three years, said Kaplan, and only 35 have been accepted.

Kaplan also urged the council and city staff to move ahead with a “disparity” study, called for by City Charter and already funded by the council.

Noel Gallo

Noel Gallo

The previous study found that city grants and contracts were going to “white men and that women-owned and minority-owned businesses were dramatically underrepresented.”

“(The study) is about five years overdue at this point,” she said.

Kaplan also criticized “differential outcomes in prosecutions.”

“Black people get longer sentences (when they are) prosecuted for the same offenses,” Kaplan said. “That includes demonstrators (who face) differential enforcement. I want to ask that (issue) be looked at as well.”

Speaking at the meeting, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley disagreed with comments about racial disparities in prosecutions.

“I’m very data driven, (and) nothing has shown up to be true about that (allegation),” she said.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

However, she said the “dialogue that is being raised up is very significant, and it is a moment that we should not let pass us by.”  Her office wants to look at “what we can do to empower young people who find themselves on the other side of the law.”

More diversion programs that create education and job opportunities for youth are a necessity, she said.

In addition, O’Malley said her office has formed a working group on “fair and equitable policing and prosecution (that will) look at our practices.”

Both Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb have committed themselves to working on proposal submitted by the Coalition for Police Accountability to place on the November 2016 ballot an independent civilian oversight panel that would have the power to investigate and discipline police misconduct.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

In addition to coordinating the various efforts of some of the councilmembers, McElhaney said she is working to establish a “citizens’ human rights commission, (as) an ongoing way for the community to stay involved.”

McElhaney told the Post she is also working to revive the joint city-school district Education Partnership Committee, which will examine ways to dismantle the “school to prison pipeline.”

Mayor Schaaf told the Post that she was excited to meet with Rev. Jesse Jackson to support his work “to uncover the outrageous disparity and lack of minority hiring” in the tech industry.

“We have a chance to apply pressure to oppose the lack of diversity and to correct it,” she said.

Annie Campbell Washington. Photo Courtesy East Bay Express.

Annie Campbell Washington. Photo Courtesy East Bay Express.

She said that she wants to fully implement community policing in Oakland, which means that the public should have full access to the footage produced by police body cameras.

Mayor Schaaf also wants police to walk beats and get to know community members.

“I want to emphasize that I want them getting out of their cars,” she said.

Post publisher Paul Cobb said he hopes the City Council Ethics Commission would examine the role of the City Attorney’s office for its role in not helping the city speed up its implementation of federal Judge Thelton Henderson’s orders to improve OPD.

Courtesy of the Oaland Post, February 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)