Category: Charter schools and privatization

Oakland Charter School Approved Amid Concerns Over Fiscal Impact on District

A coalition of Oakland students, educators, parents, unions, school board members, & community orgs caravaned to Sacramento to ask the State Board of Ed to reject the Latitude charter petition from Education For Change.

By Theresa Harrington, EdSource

A California State Board of Education decision to approve a charter school over a school district’s objections laid bare the limits of the state’s charter laws.

Oakland Unified had refused to approve a charter for the proposed new Latitude 37.8 high school in part because the district faces a fiscal crisis and can’t afford to lose more students, along with the state aid that follows them when they go to charter schools.

Already, 43 charter schools operate in the city, enrolling one in four students in the Alameda County district.

The district is under pressure to cut at least $5.8 million next year and to close district schools to close its budget deficit.

“We did make a tough decision,” Oakland school board President Aimee Eng told the state board. “And we hope the state stands behind our tough decision.”

After intense discussion amid sympathy for Oakland’s situation, the state board during its meeting Thursday approved a new charter high school expected to open in the fall, based on the California Department of Education’s recommendation, which said it met all legal requirements.

The board said the state law does not allow it to consider the charter school’s financial impact on the local district.

However, Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent of the California Department of Education, said California’s charter school laws — passed in the early 1990s — were outdated and needed to be revised.

He pointed out that both the Oakland and Alameda County school boards have approved many charter schools in the past.

“But, they know that at some point, we have to consider the whole ecosystem — the whole community we’re operating in,” Price said, adding that no other local planning body would make a decision about expanding services without considering the financial impacts.

“It’s time for us to take a fresh look at policies in the state,” he said.

Some state board members struggled with the decision. State board member Ilene Straus said she understood that the Oakland school board was grappling with managing its finances and reducing the number of schools in the district.

“I think we’re stuck between wanting great things for kids, which everybody wants, and really clear guidance about what we can approve,” Straus said.

The Education for Change Public Schools charter management organization expects to open Latitude on the site of the organization’s Epic middle charter school next month in the Fruitvale area of Oakland with 50 9th-graders. It will expand to 320 students in grades 9-12 by 2022-23.

 

Published July 20,2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Council Delays Decision on Selling Public Land to Build Charter School

The Oakland school board asked the City Council not to sell the property to the charter school

Derby Street parcel

Ken Epstein

Thirty-six people were signed up to speak at this week’s City Council meeting for and against the proposed sale of public land to an out-of-state developer to build a large charter school in the Fruitvale District.

Aimee Eng

However, the council pulled the item from the agenda, indicating that they needed to talk first to the school district before selling the parcel.

“We received notice from the Oakland Unified School District that we would confer on this matter.  I think it is prudent for us to do so before undertaking action. I would ask that we defer action on this and bring it back to (the Rules Committee) for rescheduling,” said Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Though councilmembers did not discuss or vote on the issue, speakers went ahead with their public comments.

Supporting the sale were children, parents, teachers and administrators of Aspire Eres Academy, a charter elementary school serving 217 students, currently located near Fremont High School in East Oakland.

Mike Hutchinson

They are seeking to build a new home for their school, which is too small and in poor physical condition.

Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent at Aspire Public (Charter) Schools, said that students at Eres Academy “have waited far

too long for an acceptable facility… They need and deserve a new facility.”

She said Aspire has an ongoing working relationship with the city staff to build the school.

“We have been honored to collaborate with the City of Oakland for the last three years to develop a state of the art facility,” she said.

Opposing the sale were school activists, leaders of the Oakland teachers’ union who supported affordable housing at the site and teachers and families from district schools that would be negatively impacted if the large new charter was built near their schools, as well as the Oakland Board of Education.

Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent of Aspire Public (Charter) Schools.

“I want to thank you for postponing the vote tonight,” said School Board President Aimee Eng, who summarized a resolution passed by the board on June 27 opposing the city’s sale of the land for a charter school.

“The school board does not support the sale of the property for the purpose of building an education complex that would house 620 students, which is triple the size of the current school population,” she said.

In the nearby area to the proposed school site, “there are already 18 district and charter schools, serving a similar population,” she said.  “The demographic data also does not support the need for a school this large.”

A school district analysis indicates that a high number of families in the area already go to neighborhood schools. A huge new school at that location would directly compete with existing schools in the area, she said.

Pamela Long, a veteran teacher at International Community School, said, “I support their need for a new building, but we are asking that it not be two short blocks from our thriving schools.

The land should be used for affordable housing, she said.

Bethany Meyer, a special education teacher and member of the executive board of the teachers’ union, said, “This charter school is going to take about 625 students out of the school district, which is about $7 million in lost revenue.”

“From what I am reading, the city stands to gain about $200,000 from the sale, which doesn’t seem to justify the amount of opposition you’re going to be facing,” she said.

School activist Mike Hutchinson said, “It is the not the responsibility of the City Council to sell (Aspire charter schools) public property, a parcel that was never put out to competitive bid.”
The parcel first had an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the city in October 2015, but “there’s no record of that ENA being extended,” Hutchinson said.

The original ENA included affordable housing on this parcel, and the developer has already knocked down existing affordable housing on adjacent property to make room for this project, he said.

Are Democratic Legislators Working for or Against Oakland Schools?

Teachers and parents protest budget cuts at school board meeting earlier this school year. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

Oakland and several other school districts were hoping this month that legislators would be willing to adopt provisions in the new state budget that would give their districts the financial relief they need to stabilize their finances.

But unfortunately, the Democratic administration was not interested in putting out a helping hand to these cash-strapped districts, which are made up primarily of students of color.

The four districts—Oakland, Inglewood, Vallejo and South Monterey County—were all taken over by the state in the past 15 years and are still struggling to regain stability while repaying loans that were imposed on them by the state.

Oakland was forced to take a $100 million loan in 2003 even though its deficit at the time was only about $37 million. The district is scheduled to continue paying about $6 million a year until 2024.

Although the OUSD superintendent and school board now run the district, a state-appointed trustee still has veto power over all of the district’s financial decisions.

Inglewood, which went into state receivership in 2012, is paying $1.8 million a year on a $29 million state loan debt and remains under the control of a state-appointed administrator.
Legislators recently rejected a recommendation proposed by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, which would have given the districts a five-year deferment on those loans.

The money might have averted a teachers’ strike in Inglewood Unified, where the district and union reached a tentative agreement, contingent on the district being able to receive $4 million in “state relief” for at least two years.

Oakland Unified, which also faces a possible teachers’ strike, wanted to be included in whatever deal was offered to Inglewood.

“To continue to offer high quality education to the young people of Oakland, we believe that our leadership needs this temporary budget relief so that they can make strategic choices to preserve the financial integrity of our district,” said Oakland Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

“The alternative could lead to draconian cuts that would hurt all students in our city.”
Oakland made $9.3 million in cuts this year and must cut another $10 million next year, according to district reports.

Assemblymember Bonta, (D-Oakland), worked with legislators from all four districts to provide the same relief to all of them, while recognizing that his proposal was a long shot, especially for Oakland.

He is now looking for other ways to obtain financial support for Oakland, according to his office.

“The state is not sympathetic to Oakland’s situation,” Bonta told EdSource. “I think there’s definitely push back from the administration on this, otherwise it would have been granted by now.”

Bonta said the governor’s administration does not look favorably at Oakland, in part because Oakland’s fiscal management has been criticized by the Fiscal Crisis Management & Assistance Team (FCMAT).

In an interview with EdSource, Michael Fine, CEO of FCMAT, said a just-completed analysis of district finances to be posted online soon shows that Oakland can meet its financial obligations at this time without state assistance.

“It’s in distress,” he said, “but Oakland doesn’t need this relief right now.”

According to FCMAT, which helped the state run the school district during the period of state receivership between 2003 and 2009, the district’s current financial woes are unrelated to the state takeover.

However, reports from the time show that under state receivership, with the involvement of FCMAT staff, the state spent Oakland’s $100 million state loan without consulting the community and ran the district’s finances without conducting any outside audits.

When receivership ended and FCMAT left, the district still had a deficit. Gov. Jerry Brown, who was mayor of Oakland at the time of the state takeover of the schools, was deeply involved in engineering the takeover, along with political allies. While mayor, he focused his efforts to support education by creating and fundraising for two Oakland charter schools.

Published by Post staff with material from EdSource/Theresa Harrington.

Published June 22, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parent Clarissa Doutherd Kicks Off Campaign for School Board, District 4


Clarissa Doutherd

By Ken Epstein

Parent leader Clarissa Doutherd kicked off her campaign Sunday for District 4 representative on the Oakland Board of Education, speaking to a large gathering at a BBQ in an East Oakland park.

“I am running for my child,” said Doutherd.

“The thing that has been most critical in his development and my development as a parent and a leader in my community is being in a school environment where I feel like teachers are heard, parents are heard, and students are supported and loved in their full dignity and humanity as learners,” she said, emphasizing the values that motivate her vision for public education.

She is challenging District 4 incumbent Nina Senn, an attorney who has served on the school board since 2015.

Doutherd is executive director of Parent Voices Oakland, an East Bay chapter of Parent Voices California. She has worked for over a decade for grassroots, nonprofit organizations. Recently, she was a leader in the effort to pass Alameda County Measure A, a proposed sales tax for childcare and early education.

She is entering the race at a time when the school board is under intense criticism for continuing financial hardships and budget cuts facing the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) brought on by the district’s former pro-charter school superintendent.

“In this moment, we know there’s a clear need for fiscal transparency,” she said. “I have been through many, many budget fights (as a leader of a) parent-run, parent-led organization, advocating for accountability about where our dollars are spent and really building a movement where we’re all working together.”

School district policy decisions must be based on the needs of schools and the voices of parents, teachers and students, she said, “ensuring that school sites and teachers have the tools they need to support every single child and every single family.”

Doutherd currently serves as co-chair of the Alameda County Early Childhood Policy Committee and as a steering committee member of the Alameda County Early Care and Education Planning Council. She also sits on the Alameda County-Oakland Community Partnership Board for the City of Oakland.

She is the recipient of the prestigious Gloria Steinem “Woman of Vision” award, First 5 of Alameda County Parent Advocate Award and the Oakland District 4 Local Heroes Award.
Looking at the impact of charter schools on the school district, Doutherd said she understands why some people  choose charters. But charters are not the answer because they will not produce equal education for all, she said.

“Charters are a reality. They are here. But as a movement, I want us to ask ourselves not about the individual choices of parents and the things they have to do because our Black and Brown students are struggling in environments that may be hostile to them.”

But what we need to do is look at is how resources are distributed, she said. “Every single child deserves to have the same quality education, no matter where your zip code is, no matter what school you sign up to.”

“People have had to build alternative systems and alternative pathways for themselves,” she continued.  “It’s time to interrupt that. Our schools can get it done.

“As a community, as a movement of parents, teachers, students and youth activists, we have an opportunity to make sure our schools, are performing well, no matter where you live.”

Doutherd said her experiences as a leader have taught her the struggle can be difficult and that it is necessary to speak truth in places where people sometimes want to silence you.

“I’ve been fighting for many years in what (has) felt like an uphill battle,” she said. “But as someone who is willing to fight and not compromise my integrity and my values, I sleep well at night.

“Our elected officials should be able to say the same.”

Doutherd said she talks to families every day “because those are the voices that matter. That is who should be centered in policies.

“That is who our elected officials need to be accountable to. Period.”

For more information, go to www.clarissaforoaklandschools.com

Published June 15, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Open Letter: Councilmember Kaplan Challenges Sale of Public Land for Charter School

 Mayor and City Administrator Don’t Want a Public Lands Policy, Says Kaplan

By Rebecca Kaplan

The Community and Economic Development (CED) committee of the Oakland City Council voted two weeks ago to forward to the full council the sale of public land at Derby Street in the Fruitvale District for development of a charter school.  The sale was on the City Council agenda last week but was withdrawn without explanation. In response to the proposal, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan sent the administration and the mayor the following letter:

Rebecca Kaplan

I am writing to you to share questions and concerns about your proposal to sell a parcel of the City of Oakland’s public land, which is zoned for multi-family residential, to sell for a charter school, without public lands policies regarding jobs and other standards.

During the administration’s prior presentation on the Derby St. parcel, in 2015, you stated that “The new development could also produce over a hundred new affordable housing units for the residents of Oakland.”  In addition, your 2015 report, both verbally and in writing, stated that the negotiations would be for a lease, not a sale.

Now, you have brought forward a proposal to sell the land for a dramatically increased size charter school, not housing, despite our large and growing housing crisis.

In addition, I am concerned about the public lands policy effort.  As you may know, there have been extensive meetings over the past two years to develop a public lands policy.

When I proposed last year to adopt a policy setting certain standards for use of public lands, and for quality jobs, local hiring, and other public benefits for public lands, the administration requested that my proposal not move forward, due to your claim that there was already a public lands policy development process underway covering many of the same topics.

I have been participating in many of those meetings now, and, in recent weeks, the administration has stated that you do not intend to bring forward or propose a public lands policy, for how public land would be used for the public good, local jobs, and other benefits, despite extensive work by a broad community coalition to develop such policies.

Instead, you have suggested a listing and case-by-case basis.  And now, in the absence of either a policy, or of the strategy list the administration says you will bring forward, we are being asked to go ahead with the sale of this particular piece of public land, with no analysis or understanding of how it fits into a public lands policy or strategy.

In addition, it contains no mention of quality jobs, local hiring, ban the box, or other community benefits.

Furthermore, while this decision would have substantial impact on the overall school system in Oakland, we have received letters from OUSD leaders, stating that they have not been consulted on this decision, and expressing further concerns as well.

Please clarify:

  • Why is affordable housing not included?
  • What jobs policies or other community benefits will be included?
  • Why is the administration retracting your prior commitment to a public lands policy? On whose direction was this decision made?
  • What consultations on this decision have taken place? With whom? Has OUSD been included in these discussions?
  • What is your analysis of the potential impact of the proposed project, including the impact on surrounding schools?
 Published May 26, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Council Committee Approves Sale of Public Land to Charter School

Public hearing will be held at Tuesday’s City Council meeting

Activists say the proposed 625-student charter school would drain students from existing nearby schools, such as those at the César Chávez Education Center, located at 2825 International Blvd. in the Fruitvale District.

By Ken Epstein

The City’s Community and Economic Development (CED) voted unanimously to approve the sale of a publicly owned parcel of land for a K-8 charter school in the Fruitvale District that community activists say would compete with and undermine nearby public schools.

Councilmembers Noel Gallo, Annie Campbell Washington and Lynette Gibson McElhaney voted in favor of the sale, which now goes to the City Council for a public hearing next Tuesday.

The school, Aspire Eres Charter Academy, is currently located at 1936 Courtland Ave., near Fremont High School, serving 217 students. The proposed three-story school would serve 620 students, nearly three times as many as attend the existing school.

The 9,000-square-foot property is located on the northwest side of Derby Avenue between East 15th Street and International Blvd, which city staff intends to sell to a private developer for $450,000.

Parents, children and staff at the charter school told city councilmembers they desperately need a larger and more up-to-date space.

“We’re currently in a very cramped, dated facility,” said, Kimi Kean, superintendent of Aspire Public Schools 11 Bay Area campuses.

The sale of the property was already approved by the city’s Planning Commission on April 18.

According city staff, the property must be sold and rather than leased to the developer because of legal requirements connected to the $30 million in funding that the project is receiving from the state.

Opposing the sale of public land to the charter school, school activist Mike Hutchinson said, “Charter schools are in direct competition with our public schools. For every student who goes to charter schools, that (money) doesn’t go to the public school, schools, it goes to the charter school.”

Underscoring the impact of charters on the Oakland Unified School District, a new report released this week says that charters cost OUSD $57.3 million in funding every year. The study, called “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,” was commissioned by In the Public Interest, an Oakland-based think tank.

Furthermore, Hutchinson said, the charter would be located only two blocks away from two elementary schools housed at the Cesar Chavez Education Center, which the school district and the city spent tens of millions of dollars to build.

“This will destroy (those schools),” he said.

Tyler Earl, a legal fellow with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), said that selling the property to a developer to build a charter school was a violation “in total disregard of the city’s responsibility to properly consider this land for affordable housing.”

“(You are) getting rid of this land without considering the state law (that says) you must first consider affordable housing. This must be done – it’s required by law, and it’s required by city ordinance,” he said.

Published May 10, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

City Staff Proposes to Sell Public Land to Build a Charter School for 620 Students in Fruitvale District

Aspire Eres Academy charter school, currently at 1936 Courtland Ave. in Oakland.

By Post Staff

Next week’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting is scheduled to consider a City of Oakland staff proposal to sell a 9,000-square-foot parcel of city-owned land to a developer to build a charter school in the Fruitvale District.

Mike Hutchinson

The proposal is to sell the developer, Pacific West Communities, the property to construct an Aspire Eres Academy charter school for $450,000, “serving up to 620 kindergarten through eighth-grade students…and a staff of up to 51 employees.”

The parcel, which has no street address, is located on the northwest side of Derby Avenue between East 15th Street and International Boulevard. The school would be built on the city-owned property and two adjacent pieces of land already controlled by the developer.

The proposed structure would include a three-story campus building with a total floor area of 48,559 square feet.

According to its webpage, the Aspire Eres Charter School, located at 1936 Courtland Ave., currently serves 217 students. The parent organization, Aspire Public Schools, operates 11 schools in the Bay Area, including 7 in Oakland; 14 in the Central Valley, 11 in Los Angeles: and 4 in Memphis, Tennessee.

“This school is going to be placed two blocks away form our César Chávez campus,” said school activist Mike Hutchinson, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Are you going to stand up for our community and defend our public-school sytem, or are you going to sell the property to this company, which will guarantee the destruction of one of signature school sites?

“There is no public good (here) – it actually creates a public harm,” he said.

The issue will be discussed at the Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting, Tuesday, May 8, 1:30 p.m. at Oakland City Hall.

Published May 2, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Veteran teacher Soraya Sajous-Brooks speaks at meeting at Prescott Elementary School. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

At a meeting this week with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, parents and educators at Prescott Elementary School in West Oakland made clear they were determined to block the school district’s offer of three of their classrooms to a charter school.

“The Prescott Community is united in its opposition to the co-location of a charter school – especially the scandal-ridden American Indian Model School (AIMS), on our campus.  Prescott School is for Prescott families, and that includes any AIMS families that want to transfer to our school,” according to a flyer distributed at the school.

The meeting had just started when Toni Cook, a board director at American Indian Model Schools, announced the charter school had not requested space at Prescott and would reject the district’s offer for the classrooms, out of respect for the school and its historic legacy.

“We would not ask for and not accept space at Prescott. This is an institution in the Black community, and we would never take it,” said Cook, who is a former Oakland school board member.

“We would never have asked for Prescott, knowing the history of how much the district has disrupted the school,” she said.

Now an annual cycle, the district offers space to charters to “co-locate” on public school campuses each spring, and the charters must decide by May 1 whether to accept or reject the space.

Besides Prescott, the district has offered space to charters at 25 other Oakland school sites. The district says the offers are required by state law, Prop. 39.

The school community is relieved the issue is resolved this year, but they know charters will be coming back for their school next year, according to Stephanie Parrott, a parent at the school.

“We don’t want the district to hide behind Prop. 39 anymore,” said Parrott. “No other district offers up classrooms the way OUSD does. We beg the district to look at what happens.
“When you put a school on the Prop. 39 list, it is devastating. We’re in a tizzy, and we don’t get anything done. We’re tired,” she said.

Prescott Elementary, located at 920 Campbell St. in West Oakland, has been around for a long time – 149 years at the same site. It is one of the top scoring elementary schools in Oakland and has one of the highest rates of Black student achievement in the city.

Supt. Johnson-Trammell said she would work with the school to increase its enrollment, which is the way not to be on the charter school offer list each year.

However, according to the parents and teachers, the district bureaucracy for years has undermined their efforts to recruit more families to come to the school.

They want the superintendent to do something about that, which she pledged to do.

Speakers give numerous examples of how the district has contributed to the school’s enrollment problems

The school has been renamed PLACE@Prescott Elementary School and is only called PLACE at the district’s enrollment office. Parents wanting to enroll at Prescott cannot find the name on the list.

The district removed the school’s two bilingual teachers, and the school has lost English Learner students.

In addition, staff at the enrollment office reportedly discourage families from attending Prescott. They try to persuade Asian and white parents they should not go to a predominately Black school, said veteran teacher Soraya Sajous-Brooks.

“What they’re doing is illegal. Segregation is illegal,” she said. “White families come to the enrollment office, and the staff says, ooh, that won’t work out for (you).”

Responding, Charles Wilson, executive director of Enrollment and Registration, said, “I take these allegations very seriously,” pledging to look into and resolve the issue.

Speakers asked Supt. Johnson-Trammell to support the school adding a sixth-grade at the K-5 school next year. They have 28 families that want to keep their fifth-graders at the school as part of transition to making Prescott a K-8 school.

The superintendent said it was too late to make the change for next year, but she would explore it for the following year.

Published April 27, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Prescott Elementary in West Oakland Says No to Charter School on Campus

Ben “Coach” Taspscott (top right) speaks at a meeting called by the school district Monday at Prescott Elementary to notify the school community of the possible “co-location” of a charter school on the campus. The meeting attendees voted unanimously to refuse to give space to the charter. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

School district officials held a hastily called meeting this week at PLACE@Prescott Elementary School in West Oakland to give the Prescott community notice that it may have to surrender some of its classrooms next year if a charter school decides to “co-locate” there.

The two-dozen angry parents, teachers and community members at the meeting had a message for the district: it’s not going to happen.

Community members at the meeting voted unanimously to refuse to accept the charter at the school.

“We’re not going for it this year. The community has had it, and we’re going to fight,” said Ben “Coach” Tapscott of the New McClymonds Committee.

“They are taking Black kids’ schools. It’s gentrification, and it’s institutionalized racism. It’s not OK,” said Soraya Sajous-Brooks, a 21-year teacher at Prescott.

“I’m fighting for Black and Brown children right now,” she said.

According to a district list published last Friday, American Indian Public Charter School II is requesting space at Prescott (five rooms), which is located at 920 Campbell St., as well as space at Allendale Elementary, West Oakland Middle, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Ralph Bunche High.

The list, which was approved by the school district this week, is a step in the annual lineup of charters requesting to co-locate at Oakland schools. This year, 10 charters are asking for classrooms at 26 schools.

Rather than accept what they see as the step-by-step dismantling of the school, the Prescott community must answer for itself the question: “What is the best thing we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen?” according to transitional kindergarten teacher Lorraine Mann.

“If we give our rooms away, our plans for the school would be blasted to pieces,” said Mann.

“Do you realize how incredibly destabilizing it is to give up classrooms?” asked parent Stephanie Parrott, who pointed out that Prescott is working to expand to become a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, a goal that would be undermined by losing space.

One of the classrooms that would be lost is currently used as the art room.

According to Parrott, Prescott has the highest performance of the five elementary schools currently in West Oakland, while a charter school, Vincent Academy, is the lowest performing.

Community activist Mike Hutchinson said that while the district under state law (Prop. 39) must give “underutilized space” to charters, “We don’t have to displace students to make room for them.”

Sylvester Hodges, former school board member and graduate of Prescott and McClymonds High, said the Prescott community can win if it organizes and unites to stop the encroachment of the charter school.

“Let them know you are not going to allow them on this campus,” he said. “You have to stand fast. Don’t let them scare or frighten you.”

He compared the situation to the falsified history that says Columbus “discovered” America. “Right now, they are discovering Prescott. Let’s send Columbus back across the ocean,” he said.

Hodges said he was active last year when the McClymonds community forced American Indian Charter to withdraw its application for space at the high school.

Published March 30, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

State “Culpable” for School District’s Financial Crisis, Says Former County Schools’ Superintendent

By Ken Epstein

The State of California, which is legally responsible for overseeing the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) budget, is “culpable” for the ongoing financial crisis caused by lack of fiscal controls and

Sheila Jordan, former Alameda County Superintendent of Schools

overspending that came to light at the end of the administration of former Superintendent Antwan Wilson, according to Sheila Jordan, who served as Alameda County Superintendent of Schools for four terms.

Jordan, county superintendent for 16 years from 1999- 2014, told the Oakland Post that she feels compelled to speak out.

“People call me,” she said. “They stop me in the street and ask, ‘What is going on? How is it possible that Oakland is in financial trouble again?’”

She said that the state, acting through a trustee, had one role to play in Oakland – fiscal oversight – and it did not do it.

“They’re culpable,” said Jordan.

“With all the additional spending that was going on, the overspending was extremely visible,” she said.” I believe the state has a great deal of culpability in this current situation.”

When the district went into receivership and was forced to take a $100 million state loan in 2003, then State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell dissolved the board and appointed a state administrator to operate the district, with a focus on stabilizing the budget.

Until that loan is paid off, the trustee – paid by the district – comes in a couple of days a week to review the local budget and decisions that have financial implications.

The trustee, who reports directly to the state superintendent of instruction, has the power to “stay and rescind,” which means he or she can block district decisions before they are approved by the ad- ministration or board or undo the decisions after they are approved.

In a situation where the trustee has so much power, a recommendation or a few words of advice can carry a lot of weight.

The way it works, she said, is that “the trustee speaks to the board and superintendent and says you can’t do that.”

“They are paying a trustee from the state to have that oversight,” Jordan continued. “It’s not the district’s choice, but rather the state imposes the trustee. It is the trustee’s responsibility is to let the board and superintendent know if there is a problem.”

“To my knowledge, the trustee never contacted the county to say there was a problem or report to the Board of

Education to let the board know there was a problem. There are no reports of the trustee talking to the board.”

Jack O’Connell, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction

The former state trustee, Carlene Naylor, retired soon after the district’s financial crisis became public. She was formerly associate superintendent of business services at the Alameda County Office of Education.

“If expenditures being made were so dangerous to the financial health to the district, why didn’t the state step in? asked Jordan.

The overall fiscal problems resulted from a “lack of leadership.” The district’s responsibility is to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenue, she said.

In the business office, she said, there is not sufficient staff and expertise, and the school board “has a certain culpability, too, because they needed to tell the superintendent they would not approve the budget.”

OUSD’s current fiscal condition can be traced to the highly contentious state take- over of the district in 2003, according to a number of former district employees and long- time observers who spoke to the Oakland Post.

At the time, State Schools’ Supt. O’Connell and influential State Senator Don Perata were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt.

Don Perata, former East Bay state senator

OUSD had adequate money on hand in a construction fund that could have temporarily paid off the shortfall, but the state would not allow Oakland to tap into that fund, though the practice was allowed in other districts.

The loan from the state was spent by the state – with no outside oversight. The state administrator, a trainee of the Broad Foundation, spent the money as he saw fit.

No audits were conducted for six years.

A number of Broad interns and trainees have held central office positions ever since the takeover, including former Supt. Antwan Wilson

The Broad (rhymes with load) Foundation and the Broad Academy for training superintendents are central players in school privatization and corporate charter school growth in the U.S., as well in Oakland Unified.

Under state receivership, the district closed 14 schools, and charter schools flourished – now numbering over 40, including a number that are located or co-located at district campuses.

A state-sponsored attempt to turn over the OUSD head- quarters property at 1025 Second Ave. to private real estate developers was quashed, thanks to a public outcry and the efforts of then Mayor Ron Dellums.

The Oakland Post was not able to reach the former trustee for comment.

In reply to the Oakland Post’s questions, a spokesman for the California Department of Education (CDE) wrote:

“The CDE is working with the trustee and the Alameda County Office of Education, which is also responsible for fiscal oversight, to monitor the situation in Oakland very carefully.

“(The) trustee, whose authority is limited solely to monitoring and reviewing the operation of the school district…may stay or rescind an action of the governing board of the school district that, in the judgment of the trustee, may affect the financial condition of the school district.”

Published December 14, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post