Community Raises Questions Over City Funds, Staff Given to Mayor Schaaf’s Favored Education Nonprofit

Assata Olugbala

By Ken Epstein
Questions are being raised by members of the community whether city staff, funds and resources have been improperly utilized to support Oakland Promise, an education nonprofit that has been widely touted by Libby Schaaf as her greatest accomplishment while mayor of Oakland.

A number of these issues have been have raised at public meetings by community activists Gene Hazzard, Assata Olugbala and others.  Based on these concerns and information, City Council President Rebecca Kaplan requested on Aug. 26 that City Auditor Courtney Ruby audit the Mayor Office’s support for Oakland Promise.

David Silver

“Since it’s the auditor who has the legal authority to investigate those issues, I’ve forwarded the information to her, so we and the public can learn what happened to the public funds,” Kaplan told the Oakland Post.

One question has to do with do with role of Mayor Schaaf’s education czar, David Silver, whose official title is Special Assistant to the Mayor III.  In this capacity, according to the website Transparent California, his city salary for 2018 was $173,627.18 plus $88,334.27 in benefits for a total of $261,961.45.

Gene Hazzard

Yet in addition to working for the Mayor’s Office, Silver has served as staff of Oakland Promise. In an email response to a request for information from the Oakland Post, Oakland Promise reported on Aug. 29, 2018 that Silver was a member of the nonprofit’s staff.

In the 2018 Oakland Promise Annual Report, he was listed a member of Oakland Promise’s “Operations Team.”

In response to questions this week from the Post, Oakland Promise told the Post in an email that Silver received no salary, payment or other benefits for his work at the nonprofit, beyond the salary he earned working for the city.

“Prior to July 1, 2019, while Oakland Promise was a city-driven initiative and a project of the Oakland Public Education Fund, David Silver, in his role as Director of Education for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, worked with City staff, OUSD, the East Bay College Fund, and the Ed Fund to help coordinate the activities of the Oakland Promise to ensure that they served the City’s goals,” according to Maggie Croushore, a member of the Oakland Promise Operations Team and also “Communications & Partnerships, Education, Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf.”

“As of July 1, 2019, as an independent 501c3, Oakland Promise has hired a CEO, Mia Bonta, to set the strategic direction and lead Oakland Promise, reporting to a governing board of the nonprofit organization,” wrote Croushore in an email to the Post on Wednesday.

Asked about Silver’s work schedule, how his work time was separated between his city-paid duties and Oakland Promise responsibilities, Croushore replied:

“This question regarding Mr. Silver’s schedule is best directed to the Mayor’s office or to David Silver directly, as he does not have scheduled hours at Oakland Promise. David Silver serves as a non-voting member of the governing board.”

Silver did not respond to the Oakland Post’s emailed questions.

However, a recent report from the administration on Oakland Promise, presented to the Education Partnership Committee, referred to David Silver’s responsibilities for the nonprofit.

“The Mayor’s Director of Education funded by the city for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019” had decision-making authority on the Oakland Promise, until the hiring of CEO Mia Bonta in July.

Justin Berton, a spokesperson for the mayor, did not respond the Post’s questions but instead praised the work of the nonprofit.

“The Oakland Promise was created by the City of Oakland in partnership with Oakland Unified School District and community partners to dramatically increase the number of Oakland public school students who go to college or trade programs with scholarships, mentors, and the life-skills to end the pattern of generational poverty and institutionalized racism,” he said.

In her letter to the City Auditor, Kaplan said that from 2016-2018, she heard allegations that Mayor Schaaf had ordered that city hall facilities “be given, free of charge, to the Oakland Promise without going through (the) legally-mandated process for use of public facilities.”

Kaplan said she had requested a list of organizations that had been given space in City Hall, but that list did not include Oakland Promise.

Kaplan also pointed out that the administration’s report to the Education Partnership Committee said the City of Oakland from 2016-2018 gave $1.15 million to Oakland Promise’s Kindergarten to College Program and 11th floor City Hall office space, as well as “desktop computers, phone and internet service for approximately five Oakland Promise staff.”

While many people are enthusiastic about the nonprofit if it lives up to its promises for students, several people are  requesting a public  accounting of how Oakland Promise has spent the public money it has collected and to make sure the money it actually being spent the way it claims.

At press time, the City Auditor’s Office had not replied  to the Oakland Post’s questions.

For Gene Hazzard’s website, including his blog, go to www.cleanoakland.com

Published September 6, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post