Category: Charter schools and privatization

Parents Push Back Against School District Plan to Close and Merge Schools

Kaiser Elementary School parents meet with school district administrator about school closing, Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Running into a wall of outrage from school families and community groups, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) administration and the Oakland Board of Education are struggling to come up with a coherent rationale and reasonable plans to close Oakland neighborhood schools that they hope Oaklanders would be willing to accept.

OUSD is  currently operating under the supervision and fiscal austerity regime imposed by the State of California’s  local representatives – the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) – which are demanding that the district close 24 or more schools in the next few years, which variously has been called right-sizing, merging, relocating or consolidating.

None of the euphemisms for school closing seem to have gained much credibility from parent groups that are fighting to keep from losing their established school communities or face major upheavals  as they move to new schools or try to adapt to new groups of students and teachers on their campuses with what they fear will be  inadequate planning, lack of resources and little to no school community input.

In past presentations to the board and press interviews, FCMAT has said the district has too many schools and cannot afford to operate them, while acknowledging that school closures do not save money.

This year, the administration, under Cohort 2 plans, is urging the school board to close the Henry J. Kaiser campus and merge the school’s students, families and teachers with Sankofa Academy in North Oakland.

Variations of the plan, backed by individual school board members, would merge Kaiser and Sankofa with Peralta Elementary School or Santa Fe Elementary (which is presently closed but temporarily serving the Glenview Elementary community, while their campus is being rebuilt).

The Cohort 2 plan also calls to expand Melrose Leadership Academy and move Oakland SOL, which are outgrowing their campuses. Impacted schools could be Sherman Elementary, Frick Middle School and Maxwell Park.

The district says the merging and closing of schools will free up resources and funds, according to the OUSD Blueprint for Quality Schools Action Plan, is to create “high quality and sustainable schools in every neighborhood,” particularly in flatland schools that have been historically under-resourced and have faced institutionalized disparities.

Speaking at last week’s board meeting, Kaiser parents pleaded with the board not to close their school.

In a Facebook post, the Kaiser advocacy Committee urged  the pubic to attend last week’s school board meeting to “make your voice heard and stand with us as we advocate that the board do right by Oakland children and put a stop to all school closures and consolidations.”

Facing criticisms as a privileged hill school, Kaiser parents emphasized the school’s diversity, high test scores and significantly increasing test scores for African American students.

Kaiser’s student population, which is fairly stable at 268 students, is 21 percent African American, 16 percent Latino and 36 percent white. A majority of the students come from outside the school’s neighborhood attendance area.

If the school were closed, students in the Kaiser attendance area would be eligible to attend Chabot Elementary, where 3.9 percent of the students are African American. Students from outside the Kaiser attendance area would go to Sankofa or could apply to another school in the district.

Parents from Sankofa told the school board that they are open to merging with any other school at their campus, as long as they receive resources and support from the district.

Over the course of a number of years and different superintendents, according to parents and district administrators, many promises were made to Sankofa, including active support, new programs and other resources. But the promises were never kept, and existing resources continued to dry up.

At present, Sankofa has 189 students, 71 percent African American, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent white.

Speakers at the board meeting from Oakland SOL, Frick Middle and Melrose Leadership Academy told the board they needed more time to make sure the moves at their campuses would strengthen, not undermine their schools.  Rather than the board adopting a timeline that institutes changes next school year, they asked board members to give them an additional year to develop collaborative relationships with their newly merged school communities.

Most of the school board members who spoke supported the closure of the Kaiser site but had differing ideas about combining the Kaiser, Santa Fe, Peralta and Sankofa school communities.   However, breaking with the board’s approach, Boardmember Rosie Torres sharply criticized the plan.

She said the district’s promises of supporting the schools – “the ideas, the dreams and pipelines – are not realistic in my view” because OUSD does not have sufficient central office staff to do the work.

When the district closed Roots Academy in June, it promised the school community resources. “(But) we barely offered Roots boxes, when we told them (they would receive) counseling and help transitioning. We’re not doing it right. Let’s not pretend we’re going to do it any better next time.”

She criticized the superintendent’s and staff’s timeline as unrealistic.

Interrupting Torres, School Boardmember Gary Yee accused her of disrespecting the superintendent. “I find that offensive,” he said.  Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell told Torres said the board member should not disrespect her staff.

The board is scheduled to vote on the Cohort 2 mergers and closures at its Wednesday, Sept. 11 meeting.

Published September 5, 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

 

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

Oakland Teachers take on The State

(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.

Standing behind the scenes of the battle between Oakland’s school district and its 3,000 teachers are State representatives controlling the district and enforcing drastic budget cuts.

 

By Ken Epstein

The officials who control the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on behalf of the State of California mostly operate behind the scenes, meeting in private with school board members and district staff.

But this week, the overseers came out publicly in defense of the state’s austerity program for OUSD, as they sought to counter the enormous resistance of striking Oakland teachers, backed by the solid support of students, parents, community, churches and city leaders, fighting for higher teacher salaries, more counselors and nurses, smaller class sizes and a halt to school closures.

​“Under my authority as the Fiscal Oversight Trustee for OUSD, I will stay and/or rescind any agreement that would put the District in financial distress. A 12 percent salary increase would do just that. What the District has on the table now is what the District can afford,” said (State) Fiscal Oversight Trustee Chris Learned in a press statement released by OUSD last Sunday.

Striking teachers march through Oakland streets

Where did the trustee come from, and where did he get the authority to say what he said?

A little history: while OUSD was under receivership (2003-2009), the district was not allowed to hire a superintendent, and the power of the board was suspended. The district did eventually hire a superintendent, and restore the school board. However, what came next was not local control, but modified state control.

“(Since 2008), OUSD began operating with two governing boards responsible for policy—the state Department of Education and the locally elected Oakland Board of Education,” according to the district’s website. A state trustee was appointed with power to nullify district financial decisions.

Rather than serving as an independent outside evaluator, the state forced a $100 million bailout loan on the district in 2003 and spent the money with no local input—a debt which costs OUSD $6 million a year until 2026. The state was in control while a spending spree during the administration of pro-privatization Supt. Antwan Wilson almost bankrupted the district.

Picket sign at teacher protest

The reality of the state’s current authority over Oakland schools, going back to 2003, was presented last October during a rare joint public appearance at a school board meeting of the officials who are in charge of Oakland schools: California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Nick Schweizer, Trustee Chris Learned, Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) CEO Michael Fine, and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Karen Monroe.

The officials came to Oakland to explain the meaning of AB 1840, a new law backed by then Gov. Jerry Brown that would give more power to FCMAT (pronounced FICK-MAT) and Alameda County. They spoke about collaboration and teamwork, while demanding Oakland close schools and cut $30 million from its operating budget.

FCMAT is an independent nonprofit based in Bakersfield, funded by the State and representing the State’s authority in districts throughout California. FCMAT was directly involved in the passage of AB 1840.

Speaking bluntly, FCMAT CEO Fine said the district has no choice but to make budget cuts and close schools.

“If you failed at this, the county superintendent would come in and govern the district,” Fine said. ”The county supt. already has the authority that, if you don’t do what’s right, to impose a functioning budget on you.”

“We do this every day, guide districts through this every day. It is ultimately less painful to make your decisions as early as possible,” he said. “Cutting three dollars today rather than a dollar today, a dollar tomorrow and a dollar (later)…allows the district to get to its new norm much quicker.”

Fine said that the school district has “struggled for many years” to close schools, based on a formula for  the appropriate number of students for the square footage of classroom space.

“That is one of the specific conditions in 1840,” he said. “1840 says that we are going to partner with you so that you can implement these plans in a timely fashion and buy a little bit of time, and it is just a little bit of time, so you can incorporate good decisions.”

While saying the district’s sole responsibility is to “close the gap” and end its “deficit,” Fine admitted closing schools does not save money. “When everything is said and done, the actual dollar savings are relatively small—you don’t see the savings,” he said.

Fine said that over the course of 27 years, he has had a lot of experience closing schools. “I’ve had to close some….lease some…sell some and exchange some for other properties. It’s a long and difficult process,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of the budget cuts. “You’ve made a very public commitment to a set of reductions that total about $30 million….If you stop at $15 million, you do not achieve the benchmark…It is your job to figure out the details.”

County Supt. of Schools Monroe explained that under the implementation of AB 1840, she is working closely with FCMAT. Trustee Chris Learned now reports to her office, rather than the state.

Calling the budget cuts a team effort with the district, she  explained that her office—the Alameda County Office of Education—and FCMAT will “confer and agree on the operating deficit and the next steps that are part of the legislation.

“If we see that those budget balancing strategies are not being implemented, then we will have to impose strategies,” she said.

In the midst of the ongoing Oakland teachers strike, following on the heels of the successful strike of Los Angeles teachers, new opportunities are now opening up to change the state’s long-term policies of underfunding public education and enforcing austerity on individual school districts.

One sign of that movement occurred Monday when State Supt. of Instruction Tony Thurmond intervened in the Oakland strike, joining teachers and district representatives at the bargaining table in an attempt to close the deep divisions between the parties.

Further, as community awareness grows about the role of the state in this strike, many are looking to the local state legislative delegation—Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks—to muster support in Sacramento for a more positive direction, one that embraces the needs of Oakland teachers, students and community.

Published March 1, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Commentary: Data Points and Dollar Signs: Roots, School Closure, and the New “Demand Rate” Metric

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Jane Nylund

 Ultimately, the growth of charters will be fundamentally constrained as long as districts fail to consolidate or close under-enrolled district schools. Serious attention needs to go into developing a strategy that requires or incentivizes these actions and provides political backing to district and board officials who are trying to make these adjustments.”   

So, in order to follow the direction of CRPE, the district must close and consolidate schools to make room for charter schools. Because of the predictable, crushing loss of revenue, the district is now trying to find ways of generating new revenue. Like clawing back students from charters into district schools.

Hence the proposed closure of ROOTS. In my opinion, ROOTS is also being thrown under the bus to satisfy the requirements of both FCMAT and the terms of AB1840. The students are in danger of losing their school because of political theater. Closing the school won’t save money, won’t improve student outcomes, and won’t create more “opportunity.”

But it will disrupt the education of a student population (ELL/newcomers) that has been extraordinarily communicative as to why their children need and deserve a neighborhood school like ROOTS that supports their unique needs.

That word “opportunity” has been tossed around lately as a silver lining to the ROOTS closure. It has morphed into the concept that some schools have “opportunity” and some don’t. Really? ALL Oakland schools have opportunity. Every single one.

The question is whether the adults in the room have the courage to admit to the students and parents at ROOTS that they aren’t worthy of the district’s attention or finances; that splitting up their population and scattering them like leaves is in the best interest of the community.

History of ROOTS and the Small Schools Initiative

Both ROOTS and CCPA were part of OUSD’s Small School Initiative. It was a huge redesign experiment on our kids, and I want to emphasize the “experiment” part.

The experiment allowed Bill Gates to use our kids as lab rats, collect some data, with the idea that we would learn some really cool stuff about how schools should work and create a lot of new schools.Even though the educators already knew how existing schools should work because, well, they actually do the work. At the school.

Inevitably, part of the experiment would involve merging/expanding the smalls schools that were deemed “successes” and closing the ones that “failed.”

Fast forward, and a lot can change. Neighborhoods, economics, demographics, political climate. Both ROOTS and CCPA are now coexisting, until…the powers that be decide to close ROOTS, supposedly to save money, manage our “portfolio”, and generate some additional revenue. What’s the fun of having a portfolio district if you can’t actually close schools and massage data? (Remember, data points and dollar signs, that’s the theme).

There are rumblings about test scores compared to CCPA, and that CCPA should expand because it has higher test scores. Meaning what?

Meaning not much. Difference in test scores between schools is generally correlated with several factors: ELL, SPED, wealth, demographics, and test prep. In addition, the populations are self-selected at both schools.  The student populations are NOT THE SAME, and therefore you can’t make any meaningful comparisons regarding test scores (as proxy for learning) when comparing the two schools, or any two (or more) schools for that matter.

Just for starters, ROOTS has nearly half of their students classified as ELL, compared to CCPA which has about one-third. In addition, CCPA received more funding than ROOTS (could be because of the grade makeup), and ROOTS has more inexperienced teachers. In 2016-17, nearly all of the teachers at ROOTS had 1-2 years’ experience. All of these factors can affect outcomes, so it is simply not a fair comparison and should not be the justification for school closure.

The Demand Rate

So, what other metric can the district use to support school closure? The latest weapon in the privatization tool box is something called the demand rate.

The district invented a way to quantify “demand” for a school. It’s a way to manufacture a metric that stands as a proxy for “quality”, but is actually disguised as nothing more than a way to judge a beauty contest; a way to show which schools are more popular, but not necessarily better for certain populations with unique needs, such as ELL (newcomers) and SPED. Oddly enough, the district does not include second or third choice in the demand model. Only first choice.

The district doesn’t consider second or third place worthy of inclusion in the demand calculation. Only winners and losers. And in this case, the loser is ROOTS, and the parents and students who chose it. According to the district, they chose the wrong school. This is not how school choice is supposed to work, but no one should be surprised by this. Nothing about school choice is working the way it was supposed to because the entire concept has been hijacked by billionaires who know what’s best. For them and their kids.

The demand rate will never qualify the reason behind the enrollment at school sites, and this is one of its greatest flaws. This metric will no doubt be used as a tool to justify school closure, not just for ROOTS, but for other district schools. Corporations and billionaires who support the portfolio model believe that schools should be run like businesses (data points and dollar signs). Data can then be manipulated in all kinds of ways to justify school closures.

Finally, the closure of ROOTS is one more way of showing disrespect for the parents and students who chose the school. They are being told that they have better opportunity elsewhere, but not at CCPA (CCPA has indicated it doesn’t want to enroll the ROOTS students). Encoded in this decision is that neighborhood schools aren’t that important.

That having a school within a safe walking distance isn’t important. That having peer, community, and ELL support isn’t important. That it’s better to get into your car (or a bus) and drive across town (assuming you have that luxury) to a different school environment (but not CCPA) because someone who doesn’t even know you or your child’s needs think that’s best. Because of test scores.

Finally, the district did put a price tag on all the disruption and displacement for those families. $81K. That’s all the immediate savings they project the first year for closing ROOTS. If any ROOTS students decide to move, leave the district and/or attend a charter, that’s $8-10K per student. Gone. You do the math. Pitiful.

There happen to be two charter schools right down the street from ROOTS, Aspire and Aurum. Maybe the parents will just decide their student needs to stay in the neighborhood, so they will go to those schools by default. If CCPA won’t enroll them, there aren’t any other neighborhood middle schools left, except for charter schools.

Finally, OUSD has a duty to engage with these parents/students/caregivers openly and honestly, and that isn’t happening. The district has no business closing the school,or any other school, if they aren’t even willing to publicly articulate the reason for the closure (data points and dollar signs).

Parents and students deserve that much. Better yet, leave ROOTS open and get them the support they need. The ROOTS community has exhibited far more courage, honesty, and integrity through this challenging time, and they deserve the same in return.

See: www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-slowdown-bay-area-charter-school-growth.pdf

Posted at Oakland Crossings, January 23, 2019

Sick Outs and Solidarity Schools: Oakland Teachers Prepare for Possible Strike

Oakland teachers hold one-day walkout and picket school district headquarters. Photo courtesy of KQED.

 

By Zack Haber

Pressure is mounting as Oakland teachers and their supporters push for decreased class sizes, a 12 percent pay increase for educators, the hiring of more counselors, and for the district to cancel plans to close up to 24 schools in the next few years.

After teachers have worked for over a year and a half without a contract with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), a vote to strike has been scheduled from Jan. 29 – Feb. 1 for all 3000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) union.

While the OEA is leading negotiations and strike preparations, school-based coalitions of teachers are also taking action. Teachers have begun holding one-day sick-outs and marches to the district headquarters at 11th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

One group, the Wildcat Underground, made up of Oakland High School teachers, has called for and participated in two sickouts.

“The sick outs are our way of flexing. We’re showing that teachers are ready to strike, that we’re organized and mobilized,”said Oakland High School teacher Alex Webster Guiney.

The momentum behind sick outs is growing. While the vast majority of those who participated in the first sick out in December were teachers from Oakland High School, many teachers from at least nine different schools, including Skyline and Fremont High Schools, called in sick and participated in the second sick out.

On the morning of the second sick out, at 8 am, several hundred community members joined an Oakland teachers’ protest, meeting in front of Oakland Technical High School and marching – while chanting and carrying signs – about two and a half miles to OUSD’s headquarters.

In an email to OUSD staff, superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the district was disappointed in the sick out actions. Since OEA did not officially sanction the sick outs, Trammell characterized them as “unauthorized.”

After the Wildcat Underground led action, OEA president Keith Brown and vice presidents Ismael Armendariz and Chaz Garcia wrote a letter to the district sympathizing with the sick out teachers.

“When we tell our members to ‘let the process work,’ they look at us like we’re fools,” the letter stated. “I can’t blame them. They’re being priced out of their apartments when negotiations seem to go nowhere.”

OEA and individual teachers are working to set up solidarity schools, also called strike schools.

“Strike schools are places in the community that are holding space for people to send their children during the exact same hours that schools are open,” said Fremont High School teacher Kehinde Shalter, who thinks it’s important to provide parents safe educational places to leave their children while parents work.

Salter’s been working to secure spaces for these schools. The East Bay Youth Center, Peralta College, and the main and MLK branches of the Oakland public library have already agreed to host students during the strike.

Coliseum College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) teacher Becca Rozo-Marsh wants help from community volunteers at solidarity schools so more teachers can spend their time on the picket line. She’s been happy at the response she’s gotten so far as she’s reached out to parents and activists.

“We’ve had an outpouring of support from community members, and our role has been to bring those resources together and coordinate them,” she said.

Published January 22, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Ask: “Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?”

“Who are really the key players here. It appears board members don’t have any control,” said a Roots parent

Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots International Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the district so far has not determined how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district provide answers why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 charter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies about the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, indicate that school districts save no money and that the long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of students who are displaced as well as those who attend the receiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board.

School district officials say that the decision to close the school in June means they have to move ahead quickly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokesman John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administration  seems to have been decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommendation. Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with the Roots community in December, the week before the holiday break, to notify teachers and parents that their school would close.

The district is already starting to counsel students and parents about other schools in East Oakland they can attend next year instead of Roots. No decision has been announced about paying for bus transportation for the families.

And CCPA (Coliseum College Prep Academy), the more favored public school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra classroom space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expansion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the community,” according to a CCPA newsletter. The CCPA administration told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision? Asked Sylvia Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any answers,” she said.  “Who are really the key players here? It appears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications related to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communications and reports by district officials, the PRA requested said, “The documents should include exchanges with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-appointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and atate legislators and representatives of GO Public School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School Association.”

Asked why the district objects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school community, District spokesman Sasaki emphasized that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elmhurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Urban Promise Academy, according to the district – would not disrupt the educational stability of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is look at are aimed at making the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still working to determine what the savings will be  with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

In a strong statement of support for Roots, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said:

“Our association firmly believes that every student deserves a quality public education. So, we are dismayed by discussion of school closures and consolidations,  particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We should be building up our community schools, not shutting them down.”

Published January 19, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post