Archive for November, 2015

Oakland Schools’ PR Chief Receives New $192,000 Contract

By Ken Epstein

Isaac Kos-Read, chief of Communications and Public Affairs for the Oakland Unified School District, recently signed a $192,000-a-year-contract, extending his previous contract for two years.

Isaac Kos-Read

Isaac Kos-Read

When he was hired last school, his salary was paid by the Oakland Public Education Fund, which has an office in the school district headquarters and is associated with GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools and the Rogers Foundation, both of which are proponents of charter school expansion in Oakland.

Kos-Read’s two-year contact was renewed in June, split between OUSD funding and a grant from Kaiser Foundation. 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.

He serves as the “chief public affairs and communication strategist for the district,” according to the report on the board website written by Jacqueline Minor, the district’s general counsel.

In the last year or so, the district communications’ staff has grown from one or two to a staff of eight – including four people who works in communications and four who work in community engagement.

These staff members have been busy this school year during intense teacher contact negotiations and angry community reactions over the possibility that Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds High schools could be converted to charter schools.

Community engagement staff have also had to respond to concerns and some opposition to the the building of a districtwide commercial kitchen at the site of Foster Middle School, the rebuilding of Glenview Elementary School and the construction of a new district headquarters at Second Avenue and East 10th Street.

Troy Flint, who is part of the district’s communications staff and serves as OUSD spokesman, told the Post earlier this year that 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,” Flint 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.”

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

 

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

The city of Oakland has long been considered the citadel for progressive civil rights and political movements involving activism for racial and social inclusion and equity.

 In response to neighbors’ complaints about the loud sounds of music coming from churches, ministers and churches called for a public demonstration of respect for its churches instead of using the police and fines to punish their congregations.

More than 30 pastors stood in solidarity with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They were joined by city and county officials along with the SambaFunk! drummers, church choirs, gospel soloists and Black Arts groups.

True to its radical and revolutionary roots, Oakland is redefining respect for religion. Ministers called for the city to declare itself, to be a sanctuary city for its sanctuaries.

The First Amendment and religious freedom were embraced by a coalition that included the Oakland NAACP, the Post News Group, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, COGICs, AME, Catholics, the Black Arts Movement, Soul of Oakland, Oakland Private Industry Council, Pastors of Oakland, Baptist Ministers Union, Seventh-day Adventists and many others.

The event took place Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Adeline Street in West Oakland. It was the response to a city noise complaint against Pleasant Grove that kicked off the current solidarity movement.

Speaking at the event, Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said his church has faced similar attempts to silence worship.

He told the crowd that earlier this year “two rogue cops” entered his church one afternoon to tell parishioners to quiet down during a service, where a gumbo band was playing in honor of a church member who had passed away.

But he told the police: “We are going to sing, we are going to shout. We’re going to let nobody tell us to shut up.”

The arts community and the religious community are coming together, said Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! drummers, who performed at the event.

“We came here to stand with you in solidarity,” he said. “This is monumental.”

Said Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke after Theo Williams, “This city has some strong roots, and these roots are in our faith community and our arts community.”

“My city has some SambaFunk!,” she said.

City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who is a rabbi, urged people to raise their voice and sing out in praise.

“It is a miracle that we are still here to sing praises,” said Kaplan, referring to the holocausts faced by Black people during the Middle Passage, Jews during World War II and indigenous people in the United States during the Trail of Tears.

“We give thanks that we have survived to this day,” she said. “Let us use this as a force to unite.”

Bishop Joseph Simmons of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church praised church and community members who have spoken up about attacks on the right to worship.

“I want to thank the people who complained because your complaints made us stand up,” he said.

Rev. Ray Williams of Morning Star Baptist Church said people have to stand up to forces that want to push them out of the city.

“We used to steal away to Jesus to worship,” he said. “(But) we aren’t going to steal away anymore. We’re here to take back what gentrification has taken away from us.”

“We need our council members to have the courage to challenge chase bank for reneging on it’s promise to Oakland,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Racism in Berkeley Schools “Has Been Tolerated for Too Long,” Say Community Leaders

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

By Ken Epstein

Tensions remain high at Berkeley High School in the wake of a student walkout sparked by the discovery in the school library of a written lynching threat against Black students.

Last Thursday’s walkout, which was supported by most of the school’s 3,000 students, drew national media attention. But Black students and community leaders are concerned that now that the immediate incident seems to be resolved, the district wants to go back to business as usual – ignoring the pattern of racist threats at the school and the ongoing discrimination and racial disparities that are plaguing the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The district has announced that a 15-year old student has admitted responsibility for writing the terrorist threat on the school computer. However, school officials have not said what will be done to punish the student or what steps will be taken to reduce the level of hostility to Black students on campus.

BUSD is still undecided on what form the punishment should take, according to district spokesperson Mark Coplan, who said the punishment could range from restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitating the perpetrator through community service, to expulsion.

The student’s punishment will be determined through a confidential process in order to protect the student’s identity.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, members of the Berkeley NAACP and its youth council announced that they would not allow racial justice issues to be swept under the rug.

“I hope the school board understands how serious this is,” said Rayven Wilson, a NAACP Youth Council member. “The Black community sees this as a threat. This is not a joke. We need you to understand our pain is real.”

Moni Law, Youth Council advisor, pointed out that the latest threat follows two incidents at Berkeley High last year – a noose that was found hanging on a tree and racist comments that were printed in the school yearbook.

“This behavior has been tolerated (for) too long,” Law said.

In an interview with the Post, Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen says he wants to work with the district to reduce the ongoing discrimination that impacts Black employees, students and parents in the school district.

Id-Deen said he has been meeting with teacher and classified employees who said they are facing discrimination and harassment at work.

“They have gone to the administration to get the issues resolved,” he said. “The administration, instead of assisting them, has retaliated against them in different ways.”

Id-Deen said he has been trying since June too meet with BUSD Supt. Donald Evans, but no meeting has ever been scheduled.

When the City of Berkeley faced similar issues, it agreed to hire an independent company to handle the employee complaints, he said. “We want them to provide an outside firm to investigate the allegations of employees and put forth solutions.”

Looking at student achievement, he said he was concerned that the data shows that Black students are not doing well in the district, but BUSD is “not doing anything to address that issue.”

Further, in the last six years, Black student enrollment has fallen from 40 percent to 19 percent districtwide, but 60 percent of the students who are suspended are Black, he said.

A number of community people are also concerned about the survival of the African American Studies Department at Berkeley High, which has not had a qualified teacher since the beginning of the school year.

“The Berkeley NAACP strongly encourages the board, in collaboration with the superintendent, to use your powers to fill the vacancy (in African American Studies),” Id-Deen wrote a letter to the superintendent and board, dated Oct. 30.

He said that a highly qualified African American studies teacher who retired from Berkeley High last year, Valarie Trahan, has volunteered to come back to teach the classes but has been ignored by the district.

Berkeley schools Supt. Evans, in a May 19 letter to Berkeley NAACP President Id-Deen, addressed the issues of alleged “unfair and discriminatory hiring and promotional practices within BUSD.”

“It is troubling to hear that some of BUSD staff have come to you with their concerns, as that indicates they may not have felt confident in our ability to resolve their concerns, “ wrote Evans.

“I look forward to hearing more from you on this matter,” he wrote. “This is a critical issue to address for the well-being of our staff and students.”

As of this week, President Id-Deen said Supt. Evans still has not contacted him to schedule a meeting.

Members of the Berkeley NAACP are urging people to come to the Berkeley school board meeting to call on the board to protect the the future of the Black Studies Department at Berkeley High.

The school board meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at 1231 Addison St. in Berkeley.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

High Priced Consultant Still Earning $30,000 a Month at Oakland Unified

Buildings and Grounds Workers Fear They Will Be Replaced by Consultants

By Ken A. Epstein

Lance Jackson, a $30,000-a-month, $360,000-a-year consultant hired by the Oakland Unified School District, has entered his second school year at the helm of the district’s Facilities Planning and

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

Management Department.

Jackson, who is listed on the OUSD website as interim deputy chief of the Facilities department, serves on the district’s top leadership body – the Executive Cabinet – and oversees the expenditure of at least $435 million in taxpayer bond money for the construction and renovation of school buildings.

When he was hired, the district told the Post that Jackson would be working only for a few months while the district conducted a national search to fill the position.

In a Feb. 18 email introducing the consultant, Supt. Antwan Wilson wrote, “Jackson will serve in this role pending the search and selection of a new Deputy Chief for Facilities Planning and Management.”

In addition to his work for Oakland Unified, Jackson is chief operating officer of Seville Group Inc. (SGI), a construction management firm that has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects.

SGI’s contract is up at the end of December, and according to district insiders, OUSD is planning to extend the contract for another year.

Jackson was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his $156,000-a-year position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Originally, the district was planning to submit a contract to the Board of Education for Jackson’s work. In the face of community and school board opposition, his salary has been folded into the contract the district currently has with SGI.

Seville is being paid for Jackson’s work from school bond funds.

At the time when Tim White was forced out, employees told the Post they were demoralized by the loss of the popular supervisor. They said they were concerned by the lack of support from top management and the potential that they might be replaced by consultants.

The rift between some of the employees and the district appears to have only gotten worse in the months after White left.

Buildings and Grounds workers, who include plumbers, electricians, carpenters and gardeners and total about 80 employees, recently overwhelmingly rejected a new contract, which they feel guts their grievance procedure and sets them up to be fired and replaced by consultants.

Nearly 80 percent of the employees voted against the contract because of their concern that the “superintendent’s ultimate goal is to do away with the Building and Grounds Department and contract everything out to contractors, who do not have the best track record of accountability,” said Dennis Nichols, who works for Buildings and Grounds.

“The workers’ concerns are growing, especially among the people who have been around for a while and can read the writing on the wall – we can see what is happening,” said Nichols.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

Racist Threat at Berkeley High School Sparks Outage, Students Walk Out

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes and rallied at UC Berkeley to protest a racist, terrorist threat. Photo courtesy of Eric Panzer

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes and rallied at UC Berkeley to protest a racist, terrorist threat. Photo courtesy of Eric Panzer

By Ken Epstein

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes, rallied on campus and marched to UC Berkeley yesterday in the wake of news that a racist threat calling for the lynching of Black people was discovered at the school.

Protesters held signs that read: “Black Lives Matter,” “Yup I’m Black,” and “We will not be silent,” among others.

A tweet from one student said, “This happened at our school! When will we as Black Students feel safe?”

A parent tweeted: “Today, my kid texted me that he walked out of class, and I’m proud.”

Berkeley High students rally at UC Berkeley. Photo courtesy of ABC7

Berkeley High students rally at UC Berkeley. Photo courtesy of ABC7.

The racist posting was found by campus security officers Wednesday at about 12:30 p.m. on a computer in the school library.

Written in all capital letters, the post, said: “F**k All the N****rs in the World,” and, “KKK Forever Public Lynching December 9th 2015.”

BHS Principal Sam Pasarow sent an email to the BHS community at 10:24 p.m. Wednesday night notifying the school community about the incident.

“A hateful and racist message was discovered on one of the library computers, containing threatening language toward African Americans,” he said. “The administration is looking into who posted this message, and I urge students, staff, parents and guardians to please contact the school.”

Berkeley High students rally. Photo courtesy aura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group via AP.

Berkeley High students rally. Photo courtesy of A. Oda/Bay Area News Group via AP.

Pasarow called the incident “a hate crime” and assured the community “that we are giving this investigation the utmost attention, as well as involving the Berkeley Police Department.”

According to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan, the screenshot was left open on a computer as a displayed image and that there was no hacking involved to change the actual website’s contents.

Students and community members called on the school and district administrators to address the threat of racist violence and accused the district of weak responses to several racist incidents at Berkeley High in the past year.

A statement released Wednesday by Berkeley High Black Student Union said, “We are disgusted by this act of terror … The safety of Black students has been explicitly threatened, and (we) demand that this is addressed immediately by the Berkeley High administration and Berkeley Police Department.”

“In the past, acts of terror committed against the Black student body have been ignored such as the racist statement written into last year’s yearbook and the noose that was found on campus (in Oct. 2014).”

“We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances.”

A number of the students were critical of the district’s response to the incident. “This incident happened at 12:30, and I didn’t hear about it till 10:30pm?!,” said one student at the protest who was live tweeting.

According to Berkeley HIgh Principal Sam Pasarow, A 15-year-old student has admitted to posting a racist message that prompted a large student walkout at Berkeley High School. The Oakland Tribune reports Friday (http://bayareane.ws/1NTQHtO ) that the student likely will be turned over to juvenile probation for any charges, a student confessed Thursday and is aware of the fear caused by the racist message.

According to Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow, a 15-year-old student has admitted to posting the racist message that prompted the  student walkout. Tthe student likely will be turned over to juvenile probation for any charges.

Said another: “Time and time again the Black community has been threatened, oppressed, and I’m sick and tired. A email is not sufficient.”

The Berkeley NAACP issued a statement calling on the district to launch a serious investigation.

“BUSD must secure all video of the area where this sick picture was posted to identify and punish the perpetrator(s) of this uncivil illogical act,” the statement said. “We need to hear back from the BUSD administration as to (their) investigation plan.”

According to Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen, he has been trying for several months to meet BUSD Supt. Donald Evans to discuss allegations of widespread racial discrimination in the district against Black students and employees. But the superintendent has failed to schedule the meeting.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)